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Is low sexual desire in women a medical condition?

The FDA is giving the green light to flibanserin, the first prescription medication for women's sexual dysfunction
Sprout CEO on FDA's approval of women's sex drug Addyi 05:15

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of the first prescription drug to boost low libido in women was welcome news for many women struggling with sexual dysfunction.

But the news has some critics asking: Is lack of sexual desire a medical condition that needs to be treated with a pill? With hectic work and social schedules, kids running around the house and countless other distractions, what's normal and what isn't when it comes to a woman's sex drive?

First, experts note that the new drug, flibaneserin, which will be marketed as Addyi, is targeted to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) -- defined as "persistently or recurrently deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity" that causes "marked distress or interpersonal difficulty" -- in premenopausal women.

"It's not going to treat all female sexual dysfunction," Dr. Holly Thacker, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women's Health, told CBS News. "The person has to have the correct diagnosis. It is not a medication that's going to fix personal problems. If someone is not attracted to their partner or spouse, or is having relationship issues, it will not change that."

Thacker also emphasized that the pill is not for women who are hormonally deficient, such as those who are going through menopause.

According to Even the Score, a women's sexual health campaign backed by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, about one in 10 women suffer from HSDD. Other surveys estimate that 8 to 14 percent of women ages 20 to 49 have the condition, or about 5.5 to 8.6 million women in the United States.

Sprout Pharmaceuticals CEO Cindy Whitehead told "CBS This Morning" that there is a clear difference between women who have HSDD and those who have just lost the spark in their relationship.

"Low desire is not HSDD," she said. "If you're not interested in sex because you have no time, no privacy, no energy at the end of the day, that's normal. Normal desire fluctuates. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a medical condition, and a medical condition we've known about since 1977."

Whitehead explained that health care providers have a list of criteria women must meet to get an HSDD diagnosis.

"There' a diagnostic questionnaire that health care providers walk through," she said. "They really look to, did women have a desire in the past? Have they lost something, a normal they used to know? Are they bothered by it? If you're not bothered by it, you'd never be a candidate for medical treatment. And do you want to do something about it?"

Relationship issues, hormonal deficiencies and side effects from other medications also need to be ruled out before a diagnosis is given.

While the new pill will not be the right option for everyone, and has side effects that need to be taken into consideration, some experts say it is important for women who need treatment to have the option.

"Some women think they have low sex drive, but they really don't necessarily," Thacker said. "They're just normal women. The opponents of flibanserin are not wanting to medicalize what for some women is a normal condition, and that's true. However, there are still women who clearly have a significant dysfunction that's not in the normal realm and is not improved by other therapies."

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