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When it comes to dealing with sexual issues, men have two advantages over women. It’s easy to tell when a man is aroused. Men also have more options for prescription medications to treat sexual problems.
With no female version of Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra available, more women are turning to over-the-counter drugs and devices, like lubricants, massage oils, arousal gels, herbal supplements and vibrators.
These types of products, which often include a stimulating peppermint oil, show up in drugstores alongside heating pads and bandages. While some women swear by them, few rigorous studies have shown their effectiveness.
One exception is a small clinical trial in 2010 that found that women using Zestra oil saw improvements in sexual desire and arousal. Most other studies, though, are carried out by the companies themselves, with the results never published in a scientific journal.
Complicating matters is the fact that female sexual dysfunction is a controversial topic. In a 1999 survey, 43 percent of women reported some type of sexual dysfunction, such as lack or desire or arousal, difficulty achieving orgasm, or pain during intercourse. The condition has also been added to the DSM-V, the latest edition of the psychiatric diagnostic manual.
Some sex experts, however, claim that the pharmaceutical industry—along with healthcare professionals and journalists—have overhyped the condition. For women facing a lagging libido, these comments risk trivializing their experience.
It’s clear, though, that sexual arousal for women is a different kind of animal than for men. Other factors—like the quality of the relationship or even exercise—may boost sex drive in women as much as a minty over-the-counter gel.