MODE - July 2000

Love Potion Number 9

Move over Viagra. Doctors and drug companies have learned that women Want to feel that rush just as much as men do.

By Karen Moline

"Nice girls don't." How many timed did we hear that when we were growing up? Nice girls don't smoke or drink or eat that second piece of chocolate cake. They don't fool around on a first date or complain about their husbands' performance in the boudoir or dare to do anything to enhance their own pleasure. And nice girls certainly don't write books with graphic sexual scenes in them.

But this nice girl did just that, and I discovered how squeamish and repressed many people are when it comes to dealing with sexual behavior and fantasies, whether modest or explicit. Especially when I gave a draft of my second novel, Belladonna, to a lawyer friend to critique. I wanted his blustery, type A perspective on the male characters, even though I had a feeling he wouldn't like it.

He didn't. He really didn't.

After slashing my characters and plot to shreds, this normally glib and superconfident man had one last comment: "Um...er...um...well, I know I've been critical," he stuttered. I could practically feel him blushing over the phone. "But...um...do you have any of that cream?"

"What cream?" I asked.

"You know," he said, "that aphrodisiac cream."

"Oh, that," I replied, laughing. He was referring to the cinnamon-scented potion I had conceived as part of my plot, It was a concoction that, once applied to a woman's most private parts, was guaranteed to make her delirious with desire. "Sorry, I don't have any. I made that up. It's a novel. It's fiction."

"Well," he said, "if you ever do have some, let me know." Soon there may very well be something to tell my friend. A few drug companies have been developing, or at least investigating, "female Viagras," topical sex stimulants in cream form that would basically drive women crazy.

This is a breakthrough for the gentler sex. A staggering 43 percent of women have some form of sexual dysfunction, according to a University of Chicago study recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That's nearly half of the female population-a truly shocking figure.

"Unfortunately for women," says Natan Bar-Charma, MD, a urologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, "it's physiologically easier to induce an erection than it is to enhance female sexual pleasure."

You may have heard that women can take Viagra, too- it apparently has helped many people. It works by increasing blood flow to the genital area (the clitoris in particular). However, women who take it risk getting what's called a Viagra effect, nasty complications like migraines and blurred vision.

Enter Jed C. Kaminetsky, MD, clinical assistant professor of urology at New York University School of Medicine in Manhattan, who treats both men and women for sexual dysfunction. "Sexual history is so phallo-centric," he says. "I have a very big practice of men with dysfunction, especially since Viagra got all the attention, but I was treating only half of the problem." That's when he decided that an aphrodisiac cream for women didn't have to be fictional, like my Belladonna potion. It could be real, and it could work.

Dr. Kaminetsky began experimenting with the Viagra principal-increasing blood flow to the sexual organs-and formulated a couple of creams to be applied topically to the external female genitalia. The first contains a ground-up version of the active ingredient in Viagra (sildenafil citrate), but because it's considered an "off-label" use of the drug-legal but unapproved by the FDA for that purpose-it is available only through Dr. Kaminetsky by prescription. For the thousands of women who've used it, he says, it's been remarkably successful, giving them what he describes a "a hot, tingly feeling" and greatly improving sexual response.

"You put it on and wait about 20 minutes to half an hour; then you start to get very warm and well-lubricated," says one of his patients.

For those who can't get to Dr. Kaminetsky's Manhattan office, he's created a similar over-the-counter product, which he's calling Dream Cream. Its primary active ingredient is an amino acid (L-arginine), of the building blocks of protein that you eat in food every day.

For reasons that are not yet known, L-arginine increases blood flow to the genitals, so it works on the body the way sildenafil citrate does, but it is not considered a drug (you can get Cream Cream at www.femalesexualtherapy.com).*

"I've been testing it on patients for the past year, so I'm a very popular person at the hospitals where I work," Dr. Kaminetsky says with a laugh. "Some of my wife's friends have been using it, and they're very happy."

But that's not all. The FDA recently approved a vacuum pump, called EROS-CTD, which helps send blood to a woman's genitals. (Talk about an unusual sex toy!) And Vivus, Inc., a pharmaceutical company, is currently developing its own "dream cream," called Alista. The active ingredients in this product are postaglandins, natural substances both men and women excrete during sex that have a hormone-like effect on the body, helping the blood vessels to expand. (If you just can't wait until Alista hits the market-it may take several years-talk to your gynecologist to see if you might qualify for the preclinical trials expected to start later this year.)

Dr. Kaminetsky believes that products like these will have a major impact on female sexuality. "Women who haven't wanted sex for a long time now want it and are getting pleasure out of it," he says. "and that's going to change the dynamics of a couple's sexual behavior. It can help you get out of a rut in the bedroom and make you excited to be having sex again."

"I couldn't agree with him more," says Betty, another patient. "After I had my son and many miscarriages, my hormones were shifting and my libido really suffered. It just didn't happen for me anymore. Using the cream gave my husband and me a new project to do together. Sex became fun again, instead of painful and unpleasant. It really revived our sex life. My husband puts the cream on me and then a dab on himself. We know we're going to relax and have fun. It makes us find the time to have "dates" with each other."

Clearly, women have a lot to look forward to as more and more of the big drug companies realize that we want to ride the Viagra wave, too, and so develop better products for us. We certainly deserve no less.

In the meantime, though, I decided to collaborate with Christopher Brosius of Demeter Fragrances to make the Belladonna Crème d'Amour from my novel a reality. This love potion is not a miracle drug, but it works on the notion that smell, the most potent of our senses, can stimulate us to new heights of pleasure, even if the effect is subtle. You shouldn't rub this mix-cinnamon, ginger, honey, fig leaf, nutmeg, clove, and allspice in an almond-oil base-on sensitive areas because it may irritate, but it works to heighten awareness when you dab it on other parts of your body.

So bring on the dream creams and love potions! We women-and even those skeptical men (like my lawyer friend)-are ready for them. And maybe one day we'll get to the point where moms everywhere will be telling their daughters, "Nice girls do!"

*As with all drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, please consult with a doctor before use.