She’s brought us vagina eggs made from rose quartz, a ‘V steam’ (a gadget that claims to steam clean your uterus) and a candle called ‘This Smells Like My Orgasm’. And now Gwyneth Paltrow has tightened her grip on the sexual wellness market even further by producing a supplement which claims to boost the female libido. Her new little bottle of 60 capsules known as DTF (as in ‘down to fuck’) is selling on her lifestyle website Goop for $55 – around £40 – and is aimed at supporting, ‘women’s sexual desire, arousal and mood’ and must be taken twice a day, every day, for two months to work.
The supplement contains ingredients such as shatavari, saffron and fenugreek extract, all well known in the sexual wellness market as libido boosters and helpful aids to arousal. But is the complexity of the female libido really something that can be resolved simply by popping a pill twice a day?
Marian O’Connor, Consultant Psychosexual Therapist and Couple Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist at Tavistock Relationships thinks this idea is nonsensical. 'A women’s libido is much more complicated than that,' explains O’Connor. 'A supplement can make you feel desire in the same way as putting on sexy underwear. It will work if you’re in a happy, sexual and playful relationship. But if you’re in a relationship where you’re rowing constantly or you’re physically exhausted from work and home life, or struggling with perimenopausal symptoms, taking a supplement is going to do absolutely nothing.
'A women’s libido is much more complicated than that,' explains O’Connor. 'A supplement can make you feel desire in the same way as putting on sexy underwear. It will work if you’re in a happy, sexual and playful relationship. But if you’re in a relationship where you’re rowing constantly or you’re physically exhausted from juggling work and kids or struggling with perimenopausal symptoms, taking a supplement is going to do absolutely nothing.'
The issue of a low libido so often with women, says O’Connor, is the discrepancy between physiological and psychological arousal – and how desire often starts and end in the head. “A man may stroke a woman’s breasts and her nipples may become engorged and she may become lubricated, but if in her head, she’s just thinking she wants to go to sleep because she’s got to get up early for work, she won’t feel desire,' she says. Simply put, in the same way most personal trainers will tell you, you can’t out-exercise a terrible diet, you can’t simply supplement your way to better sex, no matter how glossy the packaging.
According to O’Connor, having good sex depends on so many factors; how much sleep you’ve had, how stressed you are at work, how you feel about your body, what hormonal shifts you’re going through, such as pregnancy, motherhood, or the perimenopause, and how you feel about the person lying next to you in bed. It’s not only naïve to suggest a supplement can magic away all these elements, but cajoling women to part with their hard-earned cash on a promise to revive their flagging libidos feels wrong. 'Companies have been desperate to monetise the female libido and they’ve already been marketing testosterone for this purpose and it’s potentially such a big market – look at Viagra for men,' adds O’Connor. 'But essentially, a stronger libido and desire is about being close to your partner and wanting to have sex with them.'
Indeed, a 2012 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that psychological factors, not physical ones, predict whether women regain their sex drive after childbirth. The biggest motivator: feeling connected to your partner. ' In long-term relationships, you’re not overcome with lust and desire like you were at the beginning and this connection can wane and it does become harder to get turned on,' says O’Connor. 'Studies show that divorcing your partner and finding a new relationship stimulates desire as new experiences pump out the brain chemical dopamine and gives you endorphins which trigger your sex drive.'
That’s not to say you need to ditch your partner if you want better sex. Scheduling it in a long-term relationship – however dull that may sound – could be helpful in firing up a dormant libido. “The more you do it, the more you will want it,” says O’Connor. Finding time to fire up your own sexual imagination is important, too. 'Whether that’s reading erotic literature or watching a sexy movie, try and make time for your own sexual pleasure and fantasies as that might drive you to explore them with your partner,' she adds.
While O’Connor is sceptical about Paltrow’s new supplement, she does think her work in expanding the conversation around sexual wellness and female pleasure is very welcome. 'Women’s sexual pleasure has historically been overlooked and not talked about enough so the fact that she’s focusing on it – with products and advice – is widening the playground and making it less taboo and that’s only a good thing.'