Aphrodisia: Goddess of Love
The recent article here on apomorphine offered a window into a simple type of aphrodisiac, the dopamine agonist drug. But although dopamine boosts desire and pleasure, it is not keyed directly to sexual pleasure. Dopamine agonists would just as happily increase the pleasure of gambling, driving fast, or any other risky activity. People want to zero in on sexual pleasure.
Now science promises something that is closer to the ideal aphrodisiac than anything else up until now. It is called Bremelanotide, and it is a synthetic peptide analogue of alpha MSH. You may be thinking to yourself, "I thought MSH stimulated formation of pigment cells in the skin, melanocytes." And you would be correct. In fact that is what put researchers on the trail of Bremelanotide--research into ideal skin tanning agents. One thing led to another, and before you know it an aphrodisiac was born.
This abstract discusses PT-141, the original name for Bremelanotide. This piece offers a more sensationalized look at the drug. But this article provides the clearest look at PT-141 so far. Here are excerpts from the recent Observer reprinting of the article:
Let us spray
Billed as libido in an atomiser, PT-141 will finally offer women the chance to turn on their sexual desire as and when they need it. Or so the science says. But there are concerns. Will sex in a spray usher in an age of 'McNookie' - quick easy couplings low on emotional nutrition? Julian Dibbell reports
Sunday April 23, 2006
Horn of rhinoceros. Penis of tiger. Root of sea holly. Husk of the emerald-green blister beetle known as the Spanish fly. So colourful and exotic is the list of substances that have been claimed to heighten sexual appetite that it is hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment on first beholding the latest entry - a small, white plastic nasal inhaler containing an odourless, colourless synthetic chemical called PT-141. Plain as it is, however, there is one thing that distinguishes PT-141 from the 4,000 years' worth of recorded medicinal aphrodisiacs that precede it: this one actually works.
And it could reach the market in as little as three years. The full range of possible risks and side effects has yet to be determined, but already this much is known: a dose of PT-141 results, in most cases, in a stirring in the loins in as little as 15 minutes. Women, according to one set of results, feel 'genital warmth, tingling and throbbing', not to mention 'a strong desire to have sex'.
Among men who have been tested with the drug more extensively, the data set is richer: 'With PT-141, you feel good,' reported anonymous patient 007: 'not only sexually aroused, you feel younger and more energetic.' According to another patient, 'It helped the libido. So you have the urge and the desire...' Tales of pharmaceutically induced sexual prowess among 58-year-olds are common enough in the age of the Little Blue Pill, but they don't typically involve quite so urgent a repertoire. Or, as patient 128 put it: 'My wife knows. She can tell the difference between Viagra and PT-141.'
The precise mechanisms by which PT-141 does its job remain unclear, but the rough idea is this: where Viagra acts on the circulatory system, helping blood flow into the penis, PT-141 goes to the brain itself. 'It's not merely allowing a sexual response to take place more easily,' explains Michael A Perelman, co-director of the Human Sexuality Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a sexual-medicine adviser on the PT-141 trials. 'It may be having an effect, literally, on how we think and feel.'
Palatin Technologies, the New Jersey-based maker of PT-141, has hopes of its own. Once the company gets Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the drug, Palatin plans to market it to the same people targeted by Viagra: male erectile-dysfunction patients. Approval as a treatment for female sexual dysfunction may follow. In the wake of Pfizer's failed attempts to prove Viagra works for women and amid growing recognition that it also doesn't work for large numbers of men, these two markets alone could make PT-141 a pharmaceutical blockbuster.
But let's face facts: a drug that makes you not only able but eager and willing isn't going to remain the exclusive property of the severely impaired. As with Viagra, there will be extensive off-label use of PT-141. Fast-acting and long-lasting, packaged in an easily concealed, single-use nasal inhaler, unaffected by food or alcohol consumption, PT-141 seems bound to take its place alongside cocaine, poppers and alcohol in the pantheon of club drugs.
But the potential market for PT-141 is all of us. Consider the precedent: a little more than four decades ago, it was another drug's arrival in the marketplace that triggered the sexual revolution. Before the advent of the birth-control pill, sex and procreation had been eternally, inseparably linked. After it, the link was pretty much optional. Momentous things ensued: chiefly women's liberation and the abortion controversy, all of them arguably the pill's indirect consequences, all of them reverberating to this day. And if all that can follow from a drug which simply made pregnancy less a matter of fate than of choice, what then to expect from a drug that does the same thing to passion itself? More, including skeptical voices, at the Source.
An aphrodisiac that works, and works for both women and men? Consider the market for such a drug. But would the regulatory agencies approve it? Try to consider yourself on the jury of a date rape case. Traces of PT-141 were found in the coed's urine, but did she know she was taking it?
Or imagine a society where there are not enough closed doors and private rooms to contain all the lustful copulating. No work is getting done. The economy is crashing. Hordes of sex-repressed barbarian invaders march over the writhing couples and groupings without having to fire a shot.
Government regulators can imagine those scenarios and more. If PT-141 is safe and effective as an aphrodisiac for men and women, would the governments allow citizens to have it?