FDA approves first libido pill for women – here’s what you need to know

The Sprout crew

It’s been a big week for Sprout Pharmaceuticals with the FDA approval of Flibanserin, the first drug to treat female sexual desire disorder and a $1bn acquisition by Canadian drug company Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which was announced 36 hours after the drug was approved. 

Flibanserin (trade name Addyi) has been around for a while and well studied but failed approval in 2010 and 2013 because of concerns over its effectiveness and side effects, which include nausea, dizziness, fatigue and fainting. I first came across it when I was researching my Orgasm book in 2006 when the original makers Boehringer Ingelheim did tests and found it boosted libido for women as an anti-depressant. MORE +

Power to the vagina: conversations about female sexuality

Mistress Absolute in some 'cuntry attire'.

This week I took part in a panel discussion on female empowerment and liberation with Scarlet Ladies Talk. My fellow speakers were sex worker, activist and educator Charlotte Rose and writer, confidence and creativity coach Dannie-Lu Carr along with founders Sarah Beilfuss and Jannette Davies. 

Why call it Scarlet Ladies? Because the two words are ill at ease and and they want to challenge preconceptions about female sexuality. The capital A in their logo is for Hester Prynne, the young woman in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book The Scarlet Letter who is forced to wear a scarlet A for ‘adulterer’ on her dress to shame herself in front of a crowd who want to know who the father of her illegitimate child is.  MORE +

Scarlet Ladies Talk: Power to the Vagina

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Welcome to our new media partner, Scarlet Ladies Talk, a London-based network which hosts talks, socials and workshops on female sexuality. They had a launch party in July and will be hosting their first panel discussion this Monday 10th August. I have been invited to join the panel and the theme is “Power to the Vagina” – sexual liberation and what being empowered and liberated really means to us. 

Charlotte Rose, sex worker, political candidate, activist and educator will be on the panel along with Dannie-Lu Carr, coach, actor, practitioner and author of Brilliant Assertiveness and founders Sarah Beilfuss and Jannette DaviesMORE +

In conversation with: Scarlet Ladies Talk

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This week I met Sarah Beilfuss and Jannette Davies, the founders of Scarlet Ladies Talk – a new community for women to talk about sex and empowerment. We spent the afternoon talking about all sorts – their goals with SLT, the contraceptive pill vs the condom & other methods (15!), coaching, nutrition and the benefits of bodybuilding (Sarah does all three), feminism, orgasms, babies, men, money… We also laughed a lot, which left me feeling energised and uplifted and so I’m looking forward to working with them on some projects.  MORE +

Review – Rosie Wilby ‘Nineties Woman’

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Last week I went to see Rosie Wilby’s award-winning show Nineties Woman. Rosie is an award-winning comedian, Radio 4 regular and has been on the stand up circuit since 2006. I have read her Facebook posts about the nature of friendship and monogamy and she has obviously given both subjects a great deal of thought, so I was looking forward to seeing her live show. MORE +

Sweetening the Pill – A Documentary

Holly Grigg-Spall

The invention of the contraceptive pill has been called the most important scientific invention of the 20th century. In the 60s and 70s it gave women the freedom to experiment sexually and they could decide if and when they wanted to start a family. Having kids in your 20s and being a stay-at-home mum while dad went out to work was the norm, which is what my mother did having three children in her 20s.  MORE +

Live art – Nicola Canavan “Raising the Skirt”

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“‘Raising the Skirt’ has influenced my practice for many years,” says artist Nicola Canavan “by questioning notions of beauty and the status of women socially and culturally across many religions, and how this affects how the female body is translated across mass media; I feel it would be an important step back to go forward; to reclaim the cunt as a powerful tool in assertion.”  MORE +

Spare Rib – the complete collection digitised

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All 239 editions available to read online for the first time. 

I first came across Spare Rib at university when I was 19 after reading a photocopied article in the library. Back then I had no laptop, email account or mobile phone so spent most of my time in the library reading books and magazines. These days we’re online 24/7, which isn’t always a good thing but the plus side of the digital world is that mags like this can be rediscovered and shared by a new generation. Social media makes it easy to start campaigns online – No More Page 3 and The EverydaySexism Project are two feminist campaigns that have taken off this year. MORE +

Living History: Bound Feet Women of China by Jo Farrell

Jo Farrell Photography

This week Newsnight has been featuring reports from the documentary series Return to White Horse Village about the upheaval of a rural community in China as the village is turned into a city. Last night’s episode focused on the women and how their lives are changing with urbanisation – the city bringing money and freedom from a life in the fields doing back-breaking work to support their families. One woman had never read a book or travelled outside of the village, another spoke of her frustration at being told by her elders that she has to “put up with it” [do the work] like everyone else.  MORE +

The Women’s Equality Party is a force for change

iStockphoto © Graffizone

Last Tuesday 400 people came together for the first Women’s Equality Party fundraiser. Nicci Talbot went along to hear what co-founder Sandi Toksvig has to say about equality for all, finding her political home – and whether she’ll stand for Mayor of London.

This week I went along to the first fundraiser for the Women’s Equality Party, a new political party that is campaigning for gender equality to the benefit of all. It is a movement that began three months ago at the WOW Festival and has clearly struck a chord looking at the 400 women (and men) gathered at Conway Hall. Messages from supporters on the screen at the front of the hall included “Feeling utterly underrepresented” and “I see modesty holding girls back from achieving success and happiness.”

The aim of tonight’s show – part performance, part manifesto – was to raise money and gather support via regional WEP groups. The first hour was a stand up routine from Sandi, which went down a storm. She is great at galvanising a crowd and finding common ground with other women. Pant jokes aside, she also talked passionately about the issues we are facing globally and what can be done practically to help.  

Next came a philosophical tour of the origins of freethinking, her upbringing and the various female trailblazers that inspired her to write a book on unsung heroes. They are women whose achievements have been overlooked because of their sex and circumstances – not that long ago women couldn’t own property or patent a device leaving the men in their lives to take the credit, for example, Catherine Littlefield Greene who invented the mechanical cotton gin in 1793 to speed up cotton production. It was her helper Eli Whitney who patented it and who is credited with its invention in history books. 

Women like Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer programme. Melitta Bentz, who invented the coffee filter system in 1908. Phyllis Pearsall, who walked 3,000 miles around London to bring us the first A-Z map. Ruth Wakefield, who invented the chocolate chip cookie, Josephine Cochrane, the dishwasher (and later KitchenAid), and Stephanie Kwolek who invented Kevlar, the fibre used in bulletproof vests and body armour. 

Even Florence Nightingale was underrated. “Lady with the Lamp” was a phrase invented by a Times journalist. “Lady with the Hammer” would have been more apt given her willingness to break into medical supply rooms to help the men of the Crimean.

The first book Sandi read as a child was “Out and About with Janet and John”, a tale of high street shopping with mother buying John a blue cap and father following on with a brown one. 

“What I found odd is that the same shopkeeper served both of them and failed to mention to father that mother had already bought John a cap…”

“And I wondered, where is Janet? She needs a new cap…”

Sandi studied law at Cambridge University with the intention of becoming a human rights lawyer, but fell in love with anthropology thanks to an inspiring female tutor who taught her to question everything. “I remember her holding up a picture of a bone with 28 incisions carved in it. “This is often considered to be man’s first attempt at a calendar” she explained, waiting as we dutifully wrote this down. “My question to you is this – what man needs to mark 28 days? I would suggest to you that this is woman’s first attempt at a calendar.”

So why give up a successful broadcasting career to set up a political party?

“I’m 57. As I grow older, I grow bolder. I want to do more.”

She is angry with what she sees happening around her and questions why things continue to be done in the same way. People are not engaging in politics (40% of 18-25-year-olds failed to vote at the last election) and she feels the current representation isn’t diverse enough. She was also struck by the extreme reactions post election, from depression to elation, and feels the answer is to build a new consensus from the ground up.

WEP is non-partisan but she has supported all three of the main political parties at one time or another. On her 21st birthday at university she voted Tory and was delighted when Thatcher got in – at last a female leader. Then Section 28 was introduced prohibiting ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, followed by the Poll Tax so that was the end of that. She joined the Labour Party but they didn’t oppose Clause 28 either. They didn’t seem to care and so Charles Kennedy urged her to join the Liberal Democrats – “He said ‘we care’.”

“I have been searching all of my life to find my political home.”

And so the Women’s Equality Party was born. 

Statistics from the World Economics Forum show that women aren’t achieving their potential and we need to examine the reasons why. She says one is lack of confidence – men and women are conditioned differently from childhood. Men are brought up to be confident while, “Women are brought up to laugh alone with salad”… Secondly, lack of opportunities and thirdly, what we’re taught about how the world should run.

A female student from Cambridge emailed her recently to comment on the differences in male and female speech patterns and how this relates to politics and law. Research shows that men are louder and more antagonistic (known as duelling) and women use more integrative ways to connect with other women. Something that was evident in the Leaders’ Debates pre-election. 

She also thinks we’ve got stuck in a codified world, i.e. relying on things to be written down. When we codify things [in politics] it can lead to one side blaming the other and seeing nothing good in what the opposition has to say. She also hates the way political speeches “sound like they’ve been written by a committee. They’re not from the heart”.

The House of Commons is adversarial, about combat and opposition – there are red lines on the carpet to divide the parties, which are two swords’ lengths apart. The default position is to shout at the opposition and not listen. And the chamber is crumbling and full of asbestos so perhaps it’s time for something new? 

How would things be in a new round chamber? Would the physicality lead to new ways of relating and problem solving? It would be holistic and intuitive, not just left and right brain. What if we generated a conversation and worked together? We need to find new ways forward. Doing more of the same won’t solve the financial mess we’re in…

Things are clearly ripe for change.

The thought of five more years of Tory rule has caused deep depression and people want alternative voices – the rapid rise of UKIP is a prime example of this hunger, and this has motivated WEP. There are now 41 branches around UK, many of who came along to talk about their motivations for getting involved. 17-year-old Katie from Cornwall is the youngest founder of a group and had travelled to London with her mum. Sarah from Cardiff wants to provide a voice for black and ethnic minorities, “I’d rather join a moving train than two parked cars!” 150 people turned up to the first WEP meeting in Brighton. My local branch in Hastings launched this week and I’ll go to the first meeting on the 18th June. 

Post interval, part two was a Q&A with co-founder, journalist Catherine Mayer. A woman called Stacey did the signing so there was chuckling over the first word “Minge”, but this was to make a point that there’s no sign language in the House of Commons. 

Women do 75% of the world’s work – true or false?

It’s actually 80%, which had most of us sitting on our hands.

Catherine explained that she was at a debate on Women in Politics at the WOW festival in March with female politicians from the three main parties and despite the difference in political views, all agreed that certain things around equality need to change. She has also been inspired by the rapid rise of UKIP, which has shown that it’s possible to effect change quickly. She announced her intention to set up a women’s party and said she’d be in the bar afterwards if anyone wanted to discuss it. The next day she phoned Sandi who said she’d be planning to do the same thing, and so they decided to work together. 

There are lots of other women’s equality groups such as The Fawcett Society, so what makes WEP unique?

What is their vision? 

They want to retain a sense of mystery as things are developing but have six core objectives and are working on a long-term plan to get MPs elected in 2020. 

  1. Equal representation in business and politics
  2. Equal pay – it is 45 years since the Equal Pay Act so how do we still not have equal pay?
  3. Equal opportunities in parenting
  4. Equality in the media
  5. Equality in education
  6. Reduction in violence against women

The aim is to gather enough support so that the other parties have to look at their agenda and become more like them. “We could be the world’s first global political party”. 

Will Sandi run for Mayor of London? Catherine said she’d make a great Mayor to which Sandi replied, “Well I can’t be worse than Boris.”

To finish the night she had us all conducting Beethoven to an imaginary orchestra – something she does to prepare herself for a live show. To echo his sentiments and reinforce their own, “We need to grab life by the throat”.  

And so they are. 

#WEP_UK will hold their first policy launch in September 2015. 

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