After a lifetime of neglect, the world has discovered the female libido. Well, maybe not the world. Maybe not even the nation. Let’s call it the equivalent of a county in Iowa. It’s a start.
That said, you can’t broadcast this news on a billboard, you can’t post about it on Instagram, you can’t tell your friends on Facebook in so many words, and you probably can’t talk about it at work. Decency standards, what a buzzkill.
Female arousal is not an easy nut to crack. Bad pun. Let’s try that again. Female arousal is misunderstood, neglected, complicated, intricate. Male arousal couldn’t be easier, so let’s ignore them just this once.
In the new Hulu film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson’s character has to hire someone to help her achieve her first orgasm, which could be fun. But there are other avenues.
Vella Bioscience is offering its Women’s Pleasure Serum. Maude, the makers of one of the sleekest vibrators around, has Libido gummies. Bonafide Health presents Ristela tablets for increased sexual satisfaction. And Dame sells bottles of a warming Arousal Serum.
These new solutions for women have the stylish packaging and ingredients befitting a beauty product. Some of them are even sold in the cosmetics sections of Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Sephora.
Something’s coming, something good … maybe tonight.
Stigma, prudishness, puritanism, disgust—there are a multitude of reasons why women’s sexual well-being has been misunderstood and underserved. Bulbul Hooda, the chief marketing officer of Vella Bioscience, boils it down to two: “Female pleasure is not necessary for procreation,” she says. “And female anatomy is far more complex [than men’s].
“With men, sexual function is binary. It’s working or it’s broken. For women, it’s almost never broken. You are on a spectrum and you are impacted less by your anatomy but more by your moods, your environment, your hormones. Desire plays such a big role that she never gets to the second or third stage”—meaning arousal and orgasm.
Harin Padma-Nathan, M.D., one of the doctors who helped create Viagra and Cialis, turned his attention to women’s enjoyment. Even though some products suggest they can jump-start the libido, they really center more on sexual arousal than on the drive itself. “There are no products that increase libido,” he says definitively. Instead, his Vella Women’s Pleasure Serum addresses the physical aspects of arousal. “Men’s and women’s anatomy are actually very similar,” Hooda explains. “They share a smooth muscle tissue. Viagra works on the smooth muscle tissue, increasing blood flow and facilitating an erection.” For women, the same smooth muscle tissue is exposed in the vagina, meaning there’s no need to take a pill that enters the bloodstream. Lucky us!
Vella’s magic ingredient is CBD—yes, that CBD, the cannabidiol that’s added to nearly every trendy product today. But this CBD is different, and it’s backed by a clinical study that proves its efficacy. Dr. Padma-Nathan found that by encapsulating 20 milligrams of liposomal CBD and applying that to the inner labia and clitoris, it penetrates the skin, increasing blood flow and promoting the body’s natural lubrication. What’s more, it’s effective regardless of the user’s age or menopausal status.
“Our team studied women 23 to 61 years of age who applied Vella once per week for four weeks,” says Dr. Padma-Nathan. They found that 63 percent “had an increase in frequency and/or maintenance of lubrication and nine out of ten had some aspect of orgasm improved.” More statistics: “Forty percent had an increase in the frequency of orgasm, 50 percent had an increase in the ease of orgasm, and 60 percent had an increase in the intensity of orgasms.” Thank you, doctor.
Dr. Padma-Nathan’s goals are far from modest. “My hopes for Vella are that it spurs a new sexual revolution—one of sexual orgasm, equality, and liberation,” he has said.
For the first time, scientists recently measured bodily signs of the female orgasm and discovered, among other revelations, that moaning is not one of them. “Pleasurable satisfaction” is the most common experience, report the researchers at the University of Ottawa. Could this mark the end of the fake orgasm?
In a survey of more than 3,000 people, Maude discovered an unsurprising chasm between desire and reality: 93 percent of men and 84 percent of women wanted to have sex every day. In fact, only 6 percent of men and 16 percent of women actually do.
Maude decided to approach sexual pleasure by focusing on health and the rituals that make sex sexy. “Your internal health is so related to your sexual wellness,” says Éva Goicochea, the founder and C.E.O. of Maude. “You can set the mood through scent and body products.... There has to be some holistic approach to being in the mood.” She partnered with Asystem, makers of clinical-based supplements, to create Libido, a gummy “that mirrors an after-dinner mint,” she says. “It creates a ritual that reminds me of my sex life.”
Maude and Asystem offer different formulas for women and men that address their different needs. Blood flow is key to both, and Maude’s Libido contains a blend of ingredients, including L-arginine, L-citrulline, and French maritime pine bark that increase blood flow to key muscles, says Henry Simonds, the general manager of Asystem. He claims that the formula also helps reduce stress and increase the body’s testosterone levels over time. And even though it’s called Libido, “we’ve used ingredients that target arousal,” he says.
Ristela, a supplement, contains some similar ingredients to Maude’s Libido to pump blood to the genitals. It’s also been proven to work on women who take S.S.R.I.’s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which can diminish sexual desire and sexual response, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a gynecologist and the chief medical officer at Bonafide Health. “Ristela isn’t meant to elevate sex drive per se, but it raises the orgasmic potential and helps women get to a better event,” she says. Unlike Viagra, it’s not a drug; nor is it a “one and done,” says Dr. Dweck. You’re meant to take two tablets every day. “We see optimal results after eight weeks, but some people have results after a couple of weeks.” Dr. Dweck adds, helpfully, “If you’re with a partner, you need to like that partner.”
Some people believe in less scientific means to increase arousal. “Jewelry is the one I trust most,” says Brooke Garber Neidich, owner and creative director of Sidney Garber jewelry. “Ideally, it should be delivered in bed.”
Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor in chief, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies