Viagra's effects on women

Originally Published: February 11, 2005 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 7, 2009
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Alice,

My girlfriend is interested in all kinds of sexual experimentation, and she's recently been wondering what it would be like for a woman to take Viagra. I know it is intended to increase bloodflow in a man. What would it do to a woman? Also, what are the side effects? Would they be any different for a woman? And is there any safe and legal way for a woman to obtain Viagra? I'd like to support my girlfriend's curiousity, but I don't want to see her hurt herself.

Thanks!

Dear Reader,

Experimenting with Viagra may seem like a logical sexual exploration for your girlfriend, however the drug has not been studied as a sexual aid in women and has unknown side effects. Viagra, whose active ingredient is sildenafil, was launched in 1998 for use in men with erectile dysfunction (ED). Men may have problems with erections for a variety of psychological and physiological reasons. Only a health care provider can determine if Viagra is appropriate for their individual situation. Viagra works by allowing increased blood flow to the penis, thus causing an erection. Sildenafil is also used for both men and women in treating pulmonary arterial hypertension, a form of high blood pressure that limits blood flow from the heart to the lungs. It works by increasing blood supply to the lungs and easing the heart's workload.

Some researchers theorize that sildenafil may have a similar sexual effect in women as it does in men, allowing the erectile tissue of the clitoris to engorge with blood. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), sildenafil may increase sexual function among women taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are antidepressant medications, also known as SRIs. People on SRIs often report low libido and difficulty achieving orgasm. In this study, women who take SRIs were randomly assigned to take sildenafil or a sugar-pill placebo. Women taking both SRIs and sildenafil reported significantly improved orgasm function, although they did not have an increase in sexual desire. It is difficult to generalize these results beyond the specific study population because there is no indication that sildenafil would boost sexual function for women who aren't taking antidepressants. Secondly, the research was funded by several pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Viagra's manufacturer.

Other companies have tried to develop a female equivalent of Viagra, but to no avail. While there is no form of sildenafil that has received approval for women from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some health care providers have reported prescribing Viagra to women who had physiological sexual dysfunctions. They do not recommend Viagra for women who have psychological sexual dysfunctions.

Men who take Viagra by prescription risk side effects, such as skin flush, headaches, indigestion, and muscle pain. Some men report that high doses cause visual disturbances, including seeing a blue "haze" surrounding objects. Priapism, a prolonged, often painful erection, has also been reported. Viagra users who take heart medications that include nitrates risk dangerously low blood pressure. Because sildenafil has not received FDA approval for women, side effects in women are not known. Women could experience side effects similar to men, but they could also experience others.

Mail-order and Internet pharmacies have tried to cash in on the popularity of ED medications by offering Viagra or "natural" or "herbal" equivalents of Viagra without a prescription. Women who obtain the drug from their partner, a mail-order pharmacy, or the Internet run the risk of consuming a less than pure product or experiencing unpredictable side effects.

Rather than taking a risk with your girlfriend's health, she could explore other sexual interests. Perhaps adding sex toys, lotions and potions, role-playing, and/or watching erotic videos/DVDs will add to the excitement of her next sexual experience, and yours, too! You and your girlfriend may also want to check out the Go Ask Alice! Sexuality Archive for ideas and tips to use in your next sexual adventure.

The realm of human sexuality is only limited by our imagination. Since you and your partner are comfortable discussing your likes and dislikes, you could encourage your partner to experiment with safer methods of arousal. Have fun!

Alice