Clinical Review

2019 Update on female sexual dysfunction

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The recent FDA approval of bremelanotide (Vyleesi) will give clinicians an additional option for treating premenopausal women with HSDD. In this Update, Dr. Barbara Levy explores the drug’s efficacy, dosing, and adverse effects with Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, one of the investigators involved in the bremelanotide clinical trials, and discusses how this medication differs from flibanserin.



Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is the most prevalent sexual health problem in women of all ages, with population-based studies showing that about 36% to 39% of women report low sexual desire, and 8% to 10% meet the diagnostic criteria of low sexual desire and associated distress.1,2 An expanded definition of HSDD may include3:

  • lack of motivation for sexual activity (reduced or absent spontaneous desire or responsive desire to erotic cues and stimulation; inability to maintain desire or interest through sexual activity)
  • loss of desire to initiate or participate in sexual activity (including avoiding situations that could lead to sexual activity) combined with significant personal distress (frustration, loss, sadness, worry) (FIGURE).4

Despite the high prevalence of HSDD, patients often are uncomfortable and reluctant to voice concerns about low sexual desire to their ObGyn. Further, clinicians may feel ill equipped to diagnose and treat patients with HSDD. ObGyns, however, are well positioned to initiate a general discussion about sexual concerns with patients and use screening tools, such as the Decreased Sexual Desire Screener (DSDS), to facilitate a discussion and clarify a diagnosis of generalized acquired HSDD (TABLES 1 and 2).5 Helpful guidance on HSDD is available from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health.6-8

Importantly, clinicians have a new treatment option they can offer to patients with HSDD. Bremelanotide was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 21, 2019, to treat acquired, generalized HSDD in premenopausal women. Up until this approval, flibanserin (approved in 2015) was the only drug FDA approved for the treatment of HSDD.

Assessing and treating HSDD today can be likened to managing depression 30 years ago, before selective serotonin receptor inhibitors were available. ObGyns would refer patients with depression to other health care providers, or not even ask patients about depressive symptoms because we had so little to offer. Once safe and effective antidepressants became available, knowing we could provide pharmacologic options made inquiring about depressive symptoms and the use of screening tools more readily incorporated into standard clinical practice. Depression is now recognized as a medical condition with biologic underpinnings, just like HSDD, and treatment options are available for both disorders.

For this Update, I had the opportunity to discuss the clinical trial experience with bremelanotide for HSDD with Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, including efficacy and safety, dosage and administration, contraindications, and adverse events. She also details an ideal patient for treatment with bremelanotide, and we review pertinent aspects of flibanserin for comparative purposes.

Bremelanotide: A new therapeutic option

According to the product labeling for bremelanotide, the drug is indicated for the treatment of premenopausal women with acquired, generalized HSDD (low sexual desire that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty).9 This means that the HSDD developed in a woman who previously did not have problems with sexual desire, and that it occurred regardless of the type of stimulation, situation, or partner. In addition, the HSDD should not result from a coexisting medical or psychiatric condition, problems with the relationship, or the effects of a medication or drug substance.

Flibanserin also is indicated for the treatment of premenopausal women with HSDD. While both bremelanotide and flibanserin have indications only for premenopausal women, 2 studies of flibanserin in postmenopausal women have been published.10,11 Results from these studies in naturally menopausal women suggest that flibanserin may be efficacious in this population, with improvement in sexual desire, reduced distress associated with low desire, and improvement in the number of satisfying sexual events (SSEs).

No trials of bremelanotide in postmenopausal women have been published, but since this drug acts on central nervous system receptors, as does flibanserin, it may have similar effectiveness in postmenopausal women as well.

Continue to: Clinical trials show bremelanotide improves desire, reduces distress...


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