You don’t hear about it much, but it’s a condition that affects millions of women. The clinical term is hypoactive sexual desire disorder—a lack of sexual desire—and it can be distressing and demoralizing for women and their partners.

Treatment options, which have been limited, received a potential boost recently, thanks to a study led by Dr. Anita Clayton (Med ’82), professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the UVA School of Medicine.

“This is an important milestone for an under-recognized condition for which there is no FDA-approved treatment,” Clayton says.

Instead of focusing on hormone levels, researchers looked at the brain and its reaction to flibanserin, a drug developed in the 1990s as an anti-depressant. One of the medication’s side effects is to heighten sexual urges in women by stimulating one serotonin receptor in the brain and blocking another.

A trial involving 1,378 pre-menopausal women with HSDD showed that daily doses of flibanserin led to more “satisfying sexual events,” increased sexual desire and decreased distress due to the disorder.

All of the women were in stable relationships with a sexually functioning partner for at least one year.

“We’re not talking about women who simply don’t want to have sex or aren’t concerned about a lack of desire,” Clayton says. “It’s about the women who suffer significant mental distress from their lack of desire.”