health care

Can women take Viagra?

  • Viagra is licensed for use in men to treat Erectile Dysfunction.
  • Female Sexual Dysfunction can occur at any age and has many underlying causes, both physical and psychological.
  • The use of Viagra by women has not been extensively studied or recommended by experts, so women should not take this medicine.
  • Although many products available online claim to help improve sexual desire in women, many are unlicensed and unregulated.  Women should consult their own doctor or a sexual health clinic to discuss their health concerns.

What is Viagra?

Viagra, or sildenafil citrate as it is also known, is a medicine used to treat Erectile Dysfunction (ED) in men. Although normally prescribed by doctors as an effective treatment for this condition, over the counter Viagra can also now be bought online or from a pharmacy.

The discovery of Viagra revolutionised sex and for the first time, the taboo topic of ED was being openly discussed by men. Why?  Because Viagra actually worked.

Rarely does a medicine have such a profound effect on popular culture. In the way that oral contraception for women had changed the sexual health landscape before it, the very name Viagra has become synonymous with sexual health. A simple online search can reveal how commonly the name is both used and misused.

Originally trialled to be used as an antihypertensive, its accidental discovery is enshrined in medical folklore.  Rather than only dilating blood vessels in the heart, Sildenafil was dilating blood vessels in the penis also. Viagra had been born.

Known as an oral phosphodiesterase type-5 inhibitor, it works by increasing blood flow to the penis.  Other medicines in this category include Vardenafil (Levitra), Tadalafil (Cialis) and Avanafil (Spedra).

Contrary to popular belief, Viagra does not help in premature ejaculation (PE)- it only helps with getting or maintaining an erection in diagnosed erectile dysfunction.  There are a number of treatments available for PE including Priligy. This was the first medicine developed specifically for this condition.  So if you or your partner are wondering “Does Viagra make you last longer?” unfortunately it does not.

Women’s sexual problems

Sexual problems in women can occur at any age, and are estimated to get worse as women get older.  Often termed Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), the types of issues include a lack of sexual desire and/or arousal, painful intercourse and orgasm problems.  

The World Health Organisation states, ‘If not addressed, sexual dysfunction can cause great suffering, by damaging a person’s ability to form or to sustain an intimate relationship.’

According to the Sexual Advice Association, investigations into sexual problems in women should look at both physical and/or psychological causes. Indeed, a sexual health doctor or counsellor can ascertain the underlying causes behind a sexual problem and can recommend the appropriate treatment.

A quick look online reveals the extent of this problem, with many websites encouraging readers to ‘buy female Viagra’ or advertising ‘Viagra for women’ so if you find yourself asking “Why do I have a low sex drive?” do not worry, you are not alone.  

So- can women take Viagra?

The quick answer is.. no! Of course, the premise is straightforward- if Viagra increases blood flow to the penis, then similarly improved blood flow to the female genitals could help both lubrication and achieving orgasm.  

Although some anecdotal evidence exists (Sex and the City has a lot to answer for!) to suggest the possibility of an increase in sexual pleasure in women who take Viagra, the benefits have never been extensively studied or proven.

Indeed, both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) in the UK and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have only ever approved its use in men.

And since the causes of FSD are multifaceted, an appointment with a trained physician is a far more sensible and less risky choice than trying Viagra.

What does Viagra do to women?

If you have been caught up in the moment and have taken Viagra, contacting your doctor or pharmacist to seek advice would be a good idea.  Chances are that most frontline healthcare workers have previous experience of this issue- so no need to be embarrassed.

Viagra does not stay in a person’s system for long (around 4 hours).  As there have not been many studies of Viagra use in females, the long-term effects of the drug in women are unknown.  In the short term, the possible side effects are the same as what some men would experience, such as headaches, flushing, sore muscles, indigestion, nausea, nasal congestion and visual disturbances, although some very serious side effects are possible.

Viagra also does not mix well with certain other medical conditions and some prescribed/recreational drugs.  So make sure when you seek advice that you are honest and open about your health.

Addyi (Flibanserin)

Currently only available in the US, Addyi is an FDA approved treatment for low sexual desire in women.  As a new medicine, it can only be prescribed by trained specialists, and there are no immediate plans for it to be made available in the UK.

Although Addyi’s mechanism of action is largely unknown, theoretically it works by affecting a woman’s brain chemistry.  This is important as Viagra has a proven physiological effect unlike Addyi which works on the brain. This makes the term ‘female viagra’, commonly used when referencing this medicine, both confusing and misleading.

There are many other products on the market, mostly herbal, that claim to improve sexual experience for women. If any of these products were as effective as they claim to be, their use would be widespread and regulated.

The use of Viagra by women has been popularised online and in magazines through anecdotal evidence of an increase in sexual satisfaction.  Even if this benefit does exist for some, it is outweighed by the risk of using a medicine which is not only licensed just for men, but which can also cause some adverse effects. 

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