Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Roundup: Progress on Microbicides? Will Viagra Have “Stiff” Competition?

Martha Kempner

In this week's sexual health roundup: scientists in China discover an HIV-blocking molecule that may become the basis for an effective microbicide; psychologists find that men believe women in red are more attractive and more willing to have sex; and the FDA approves a competitor to Viagra that acts fasters but warns that over-the-counter versions might not be all natural as promised. 

Scientist in China Take First Step in Developing Microbicide

In a new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Chinese researchers write about discovering a molecule that blocks HIV from entering into human cells. Researchers believe this could eventually be developed into a microbicide that could reduce the sexual transmission of HIV.

Scientists around the world have been searching for an HIV microbicide — a gel, foam, cream, or suppository that when applied topically inside the vagina or rectum could decrease or prevent sexual transmission of HIV. Also of interest are microbicides that include a spermicide (thereby also preventing pregnancy). The World Health Organization (WHO) has said this about the importance of microbicides:

The availability of microbicides would greatly empower women to protect themselves and their partners. Unlike male or female condoms, microbicides are a potential preventive option that women can easily control and do not require the cooperation, consent or even knowledge of their power.

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According to WHO, there are no effective microbicides currently available.

The new study could represent an important advance toward development of an effective microbicide. Researchers believe the molecule they discovered, TD-0680, could be developed into a gel that would prevent sexual transmission by killing off the virus as it tries enter the body. Unprotected sex accounts for more than 90 percent of AIDS infections in China, the researchers said in a statement.

Lady in Red: Research Suggests that Men Think Women in Red Are Up for Sex

The color red has many connotations in our society: think scarlet letter or red state/blue state. It also makes you hungry which is why interior designers suggest it for dining room walls.

Now researchers at the University of South Brittany in France have found a new meaning for the color red. Apparently, men believe that women in red are more likely to, well, put out.

Psychologists enrolled 120 male undergraduate students ages 18 to 21 to study how men react to what women are wearing. The volunteers were shown pictures of the same 20-year-old woman in an ordinary t-shirt; one group of men saw her in a red t-shirt, one in white, one in blue, and the last in green. The students then completed a survey which asked them to rate, on a scale of one to nine, how attractive they thought she was and how likely she would be to have sex with a man on the first date.

The woman was judged to be most attractive when she was wearing the red top, followed by white, blue, and green.  Similarly, she was thought most likely to agree to sex when she wore red, followed by blue, green, and white. 

The researchers say the results supported their hypothesis that men see red as an invitation for sex and suggest a possible biological explanation for this: 

“… biological evolution could also explain the importance of redness. During their fertility phase, the perineum of female baboons, macaques and chimpanzees becomes red, probably to attract males.” 

Red dress, red lips, red perineum… it may all be the same. 

FDA Approves a Viagra Competitor and Warns of A Dangerous “All Natural” Version

Last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug designed to help men achieve erections. Called Stendra, the drug is meant to help men with erectile dysfunction (ED), characterized by the inability to achieve or sustain an erection that is firm enough for sexual intercourse.  Unlike Viagra, which works in 30-minutes to an hour, Stendra provides an erection in 15 minutes or less.  

Stendra has the same side effects and restrictions as Viagra and other ED drugs. Side effects include, headache, redness of the face and other areas, nasal congestion, common cold-like symptoms and back pain, as well as that dangerous erection lasting more than four hours for which men must seek immediate medical care (at the 4 hour and one minute mark, I suppose). These drugs are not safe for men with certain heart conditions.  Still, the FDA said that the new drug was safe and “expands the available treatment options to men experiencing erectile dysfunction.”  

While its manufacturer is clearly hoping to give Viagra a run its money, Stendra may not be the stiff competition (pun intended and stolen from a headline) it had hoped to be in the marketplace; business analysts believe the new drug will reach $68 million in sales this year and will peak (another completely intended pun) in 2017 at $459 million. By contrast, Viagra did $2 billion in sales just last year.

While some men seek help for ED from their doctor, others apparently just go to the corner store.  I remember the bodega in my New York City apartment building — which was often out of milk and eggs but always had packages of horny goat weed in stock next to the condoms. Though these over-the-counter “male enhancement” drugs are packaged as “all natural,”  it turns out that at least one brand contained numerous, potentially dangerous, chemicals.

The FDA issued a warning last week about X-rock. While its label says it contains only herbal ingredients — including horny goat weed, ginggang root, and maca root — it actually contained chemicals including hydroxythiohomosildenafil and sildenafil, one of the main components of Viagra. These ingredients could cause a severe reaction in men taking heart medications, such as nitroglycerin and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

In response to the FDA’s warning, the manufacturer recalled the supplement and apologized for the “incomplete” labeling.  Seems like a bit of an understatement.  

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