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Woeful Ignorance Among the Pros

Nearly 100 university and drug company scientists gathered last weekend to talk about studying Viagra for women, and one researcher put up an anatomical slide of the female genitals for all to see.
It was like the first day of class in Clitoris 101, says Dr. Irvin Goldstein, a leading impotence researcher who will oversee Berman’s study. He laughs when he recalls the questions at hand: “What is the clitoris, and is it important?”
“It was really bizarre,” says Goldstein. “We’re really at that basic level in this field about women.”
The meeting itself was groundbreaking. The last time scientists had worked together to study female sexual response was almost three decades earlier when sexologists Masters and Johnson took on the task.
But it made a sad statement about how far behind we are in understanding the inner workings of women’s sexual organs. So if Viagra is ever going to be approved specifically for use in women, scientists will have to play some serious catch-up.

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In the meantime, doctors have already begun to prescribe Viagra to their female patients, outside of clinical studies. And that’s a concern to scientists like Dr. Harin Padma-Nathan, a urologist and director of the Male Clinic in Santa Barbara.
“It’s presumptive and inappropriate,” he says, “to give a drug to women that’s designed for only a subset of men. We can’t assume that it’s safe in women just because it’s safe in men.”
Padma-Nathan plans to prescribe the drug for women, but only under the tight protocols of a clinical trial. Though he isn’t so concerned about major safety issues, he already has reservations about its effectiveness: “Nobody has shown that if you increase blood flow in women they’ll have better sexual function,” he says.
Nobody, perhaps, except Laurie Kline, whose only side effects were dry sinuses and a slightly light-headed feeling.
“I finally realized this wasn’t my fault,” says Kline, who had stopped having sex with her husband and was often brought to tears over her sexual inabilities. “Thank God there’s something available. For women, it’s going to be incredible.”

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