Episode 83 | Cindy Eckert | Are You Satisfied With Your Sex Life?
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I know this is a bold question… but what if I asked you if you were satisfied with your sex life? You might think, “That’s a little too personal to be talking about.”
The guest of today’s NEW PODCAST EPISODE, Cindy Eckert, is at the forefront of a movement to de-stigmatize this discussion, of sexual vitality, specifically as it relates to low libido.
Cindy is the creator of Addyi, a little pink pill to treat women with low or no sexual desire. It has been labeled by the media as the female viagra.
She fought an uphill battle to get ADDYI approved by the FDA, and sold her company for 1 billion dollars.
Through that experience, she got a first-hand lesson of what it meant for women to advocate for each other…. for better health outcomes, for better research for women, and for better business opportunities for women.
Cindy is on a mission to put women on top. And that’s what prompted her to launch The Pink Ceiling in 2016… It was her way of helping female-focused businesses with capital as well a s mentorship.
You can’t miss Cindy when she walks into the room. She’s unapologetically pink… from her clothes to her accessories.
I’m excited about today’s show. Cindy is such a powerhouse when it comes to getting the attention and funding for women’s health issues… something that is desperately needed in this country!
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Follow Along With The Transcript
Kathy Smith: Cindy, welcome to the show.
Cindy Eckert: Thank you for having me, Kathy. What a delight. I have to say this. I have to just brag on you. I feel like you’ve been part of my wellness across my life, so what a thrill for me to now be speaking with you here today.
Kathy Smith: Oh, I know. And also how we got connected. For the listeners, we have a mutual friend. I’m going to give her a shout out, Fran Lasker. When Fran told me about Cindy, I was just gaga. So I’m excited to have her on the show.
Let’s just start out with something very simple. Tell me what pink means to you. Because if you go to your Instagram, you can see all around you have taken this color pink and given it new meaning. Tell me what it means to you.
Cindy Eckert: Pink, for me, was the transition from underestimated to unapologetic. And I’ll tell you what I mean by that. I’ve been in a male-dominated industry. I’ve taken on subject matters that are considered, by many, taboo. And so with that has been a lot of underestimation. When I walk into the room, I don’t look exactly what everybody would expect. And I think you have a choice when that happens to you. You can either internalize that and lean away from it in self-doubt. You wear this sensible pant suit or show up the way that the world wants you too. Or in my case, you can just go right for it, show up in blazing hot pink because that’s a conversation we need to have.
I love pink. I’ve loved it my whole life from my childhood. And so much of that is really owning, I think, the power is authentically you.
Kathy Smith: Well not only did you show up in pink, but you also started discussing a subject that had been, up until then, I don’t know about taboo. But there was a stigma attached to this. And so we usually don’t have discussions with our doctors about our sex and our sexuality. For myself, we go to our girlfriends.
And more and more, I find myself in conversations with other women about their libidos and many women, again, have zero or very low libido. And the topic just isn’t really something that anybody feels comfortable talking, again, with the medical community. So what prompted you to jump into this category?
Cindy Eckert: I just think about it. Sex is part of the human experience for most of us. Isn’t absurd that we actually don’t talk about it? And while we may want to respect certain elements of privacy, it really sort of embodies so much of our moxy, how we show up in this world, our relationships and connection with others and so I looked at the field of sexual medicine, which is surprisingly a relatively young field. So I had built a company with one of the male drugs. By the way, there were 25 of them. There are now 26 different FDA approved drugs to treat some form of male sexual dysfunction.
And I’m looking around and there isn’t not even one for women despite the fact that we have actually an even higher prevalence of sexual dysfunction. It just ignited me.
And so I love the category in the sense that it has such an impact on our lives, and yet, it was crazy to me that we weren’t even addressing the biological basis for some of these things that effect women in the bedroom.
Kathy Smith: It is crazy. When I read that statistic, 26 to 0 or 1 now, that’s unbelievable. And yet, we know that satisfying sex depends on several things. There’s got to be the desire, the arousal, and many things affect it. And yet, one of the things that they’re just saying that the brain is the most important sex organ when it comes to women. And it seems like this is what you stumbled across where it’s really interesting how obviously when you eliminate things like depression or illness or too much stress – when you eliminate that, those issues that are in your life, you come up with there’s still this large group of women that feel bad, the fact that they don’t have any desire anymore. So let’s talk about that group of women. Because I didn’t quite understand how prevalent the problem is. So can you talk about it?
Cindy Eckert: Absolutely. Women having a lack of interest – they once had interest, they were happy with, something has changed. It is far and away the most common issue for women in the bedroom. It’s the most common female dysfunction. It has a medical name. It’s called HSDD. That’s hypoactive sexual desire disorder. By the way, we’ve known that since the 1970s. It’s been in the medical literature, and yet, here I was standing in 2011, running this male company with one of the 26 different drugs, and I’m watching this spectacular science emerge in terms of our understanding and what ignites desire in women.
So you’re absolutely right. We ignite in the brain. We’re not on demand. It’s not directed blood flow like the Viagra and the Cialis of the world. We ignite in the mind and what we had seen is brain scan imaging.
So you take a woman who has frustrating low libido. She’s bothered by it. You take a woman who is happy with the normal ebb and flow of her desire. Put them both in a functional MRI. Expose them to erotic cues, their brains light up totally differently. The contrast is so stark. And it wasn’t one study. It was study after study after study, and I’m standing at these medical conferences watching what is really spectacular science and yet, everyone’s running away, not running toward it. I’ll tell you why.
Because when something goes wrong for a guy, not only is it potentially a national emergency, but we treat it seriously. We absolutely, at face value, acknowledge that there’s a biological basis. If something goes wrong for women, we go, “Oh. Psychology.” And we pat her on the shoulder and we tell her to relax or take a vacation. And that really was outrageous to me.
Sex is multifactorial. We bring things into the bedroom. We bring social factors, how we were raised, religion potentially. It’s got a psychological basis – how we feel about ourselves, how we feel in the relationship. But by god, men and women alike walk biology into the bedroom and what we were doing is just completely ignoring that aspect for women. But we had the science and that’s why I got started here.
Kathy Smith: Yeah, it’s interesting because when I was probably early 50s, I wrote a book called Living Through Menopause. And then I wrote another book called Flex Appeal. The Flex Appeal was my journey through this which was this idea that you get to a point in your life and there’s shifting hormones, there’s shifting stresses. And this idea that that playful spirit that you had when you were younger before kids, before mortgages, before businesses that came and went, before heartbreak and also lots of successes and the stress of all that.
What I notice is that when that shift happened and it was happening for all my girlfriends but for different reasons, and that’s why it’s important to talk about it. Because once again, once you rule out certain things like the stresses, the hormonal changes, then you come to this point and you’re saying, “Okay. Is this normal or not normal?”
I did a little research, as I was prepping for my talk with you, and it’s interesting how every year, every decade, our sexual desire diminishes. And so when I was in L.A. recently, I did a little poll with a group of ten girlfriends, asking them things like:
Do you masturbate? But also, how often do you have sex?
At first, when you think about these questions I’m asking, everybody looks at each other and it’s like, “What? What are we talking about now?”
But I honestly have to tell you it opened up this rich discussion about why or why not certain people do masturbate. And then we got into a little giggle fest, because there is a product out there that a couple of women were using. It’s this exchange of information. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, I think there’s an acknowledgement that that’s fine if you’re satisfied with it. But it comes down to if you’re not satisfied and yet at the same time, let’s open the discussion so this isn’t something that we feel embarrassed to talk about.
Cindy Eckert: You’re absolutely right, because we all have – that is so true – a different sexual appetite. And I think when you look at, in this condition specifically, what they’re really looking for is were you once happy? Has that changed? Has that change been persistent? And here’s a really important question. And do you care? Which is what you’re saying. You would never, I think, seek a treatment for something that isn’t bothering you.
But what I will tell you from years of speaking to women who are really bothered by this, in so many ways, they lost, I think, a sense of self through this, that sexual sort of mojo in terms of how they show up in the room. And they also are often losing relationships over it because of this dynamic and they have partners who couldn’t possibly understand – because we don’t talk about it – that it could be something other than them.
I’ll tell you a story. I was presenting one day on a stage in D.C. and I went right after my talk and I was at Starbucks in the line, and a guy standing behind me, tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and he said, “I think what you’re doing is really cool.”
I smiled and said, “Thank you so much.” And then I thought to myself, “How does he know what I’m doing?”
And he clearly knew the wheels were turning and he said, “I was the AV guy when you just gave a talk.”
I said, “Oh wow. Thank you.”
And then he held my arm for one beat longer and his eyes teared up, and he said, “I just got divorced.”
I said, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
And he goes, “Yeah, but I think this was it and I never considered that it wasn’t about me.”
And I thought this is the story that I hear over and over again for women who raise their hand and say, “Hey, something’s changed. Something’s different. “No one knows their body better. Right? We know our bodies better than anyone else. Something’s changed. Something’s different. Is there something you can do about it? And everyone is very quick – and I don’t think in a mean-spirited way – but very quick to pat them on the shoulder and tell them they’re just stressed out, they need to have a break. And it’s really so wrong with what we know scientifically to not consider the possibility that something is happening for them in brain chemistry that is completely outside of their control.
Kathy Smith: So you need more than a warm bath, a bubble bath or listening to relaxing music to get you in the mood.
Cindy Eckert: Yes. Women, were quite animalistic when we have sex. I like to say we shut off all the tabs in our brain to enjoy it. And really that’s what you see on these brain scans. So you see that women can’t shut down – like very classically very type A, highly functioning in terms of the information processing center of her brain, she can’t shut to basically connect into the sexual experience. But that’s because an imbalance has been created. And who knows why? Child birth, long-term use of birth control. There’s a variety of factors that are certainly discussed in the scientific community as to why this happens.
But you need this balance of dopamine and serotonin to respond to sexual cues, and for many of us at some point in our life, that will go off kilter.
Kathy Smith: And so you’re not able to turn off that chatter and all that noise to kind of focus on yourself. Let’s go to the broader topic of women’s health issues and talk about the gender biases in research. Now a lot of research that we have on drugs and other treatments has been done mainly on men and you’ve mentioned this today and in other interviews. That’s one of the reasons obviously you jumped into this category.
It’s interesting because I actually did a press tour with a doctor – Noel Bairey Merz – was a doctor from Cedar Sinai. And one of the things that we were talking about was heart disease. Because the gender biases, the tell-tale heart attack sign of feeling like there’s an elephant sitting on your chest isn’t as common in women as men. And many women feel the pressure in their upper back or they feel jaw pain or shortness of breath or even feeling nauseated and dizzy.
Even though heart attacks and heart disease is the leading cause of death in both genders, but more women were more likely to die after a heart attack. And part of that was because when you’re going to the doctor, they weren’t picking up on these other cues. That was in the 1990s. And they started noticing these things. But still, in research – because, again, I’ve checked this out – even though they’re having more women in research studies, they’re not really paying attention as much to the gender differences. Can you address it a little bit?
Cindy Eckert: Where do I begin? You’ve hit my absolute crusade. I will tell that if you present it in an ER today, Kathy, and you followed a man, you gave actually the identical symptoms to what he presented with– identical, verbatim– you would wait longer to be seen than he would. And it goes back to that idea of this psychology. When things go wrong for women, we are very quick to think they’re just freaking out. And I think it’s pervasive, it’s amplified a thousand-fold when it comes to sexual issues, but it is a truth across medicine. And this is the dirty little secret. It’s not that we don’t know that there are opportunities but the path will be longer and the hurdles will be higher as you try to mark something down for women because of that basic belief system and that societal narrative that we’re not even conscious of, I think, until we really set back and explore it.
I’m very proud of the fact that our clinical trials had 13,000 women worth of data. Just as a contrast, the average new drug approval in the United States is 760 patients. Now look, that includes rare diseases, smaller population sizes. But let me give you the parallel. If this is women’s most common issue, then ED is men’s most common issue in the bedroom. Viagra was approved on one-third as many patients as we had in our trials. They were fast-tracked for approval so they met, by the FDA’s standards, such an important unmet medical need that they were fast tracked. They got approved in six months. It took me six years in the regulatory queue with three times as many patients worth of data.
This is a real problem. Four percent of all dollars go to women’s health – research dollars. Four percent for those things that effect more than half of the population. So it is so important that we not allow a system that really studies things in men and goes, “Ah, let’s see if it works in women.”
It’s actually kind of what happens. I’m being a little irreverent about it, but look at the track record thus far. And again, as I said, it’s not that we don’t understand or that companies don’t understand the market opportunity. They just shy away from putting any dollars. So we have a pipeline issue.
Kathy Smith: Yeah. And I think that’s important for women to just really acknowledge this. Because again, the differences between men and women, how we respond to drugs, and more women have reactions to drugs, this idea of what our symptoms and to be aware of them. For instance, again, I mentioned heart attack. But again, I just read this recently, that with strokes, which women have 55,000 more strokes than men. And yet, the weakness on the one side (the lost speech and balance and the confusion), those are typical symptoms. But women can also have things like agitation, vomiting, the hiccups, fainting.
And to me, it’s fascinating to think that if you went to the doctor with those symptoms or even if you went to the doctor, as a woman, I didn’t know that. And so I didn’t know that those were some of the different symptoms you might be having.
And therefore, because we’re promoting loss of speech, loss of balance, you might be aware of that. But you might not be thinking, “Oh, I’m feeling agitated, and I have this pain and I’m vomiting.” So anyway, when you mentioned the four percent number, this discussion is so imperative and so important. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m so impressed with everything, obviously, that you’ve done. But this idea that you’ve started the Pink Ceiling and Pinkubator.
And I briefly touched on it in the intro, but just women helping women. Can you talk a little bit about what that Pink Ceiling or Pinkubator. I honestly don’t quite know the difference between the two. So let’s talk about it.
Cindy Eckert: The Pink Ceiling is kind of the whole pink company. But Pinkubator are all the different companies we bring in under our full– they have access to my business team, and we help get them to the market.
And here’s what happened. You said it so well in the intro. I had a front row lesson in terms of what it means for women to advocate for themselves. When I went through this journey with Addyi, women showed up at a federal agency and talked about their most private issues going on behind the closed door of their bedroom. That made all the difference.
For me, as I [inaudible] that business, I got a big paycheck, it’s putting my money where my mouth is. I want to change the game in women’s health, and I’m going to bet on those female founders with these game-changing ideas that this system, at large, doesn’t invest in. So I look at things that are not only groundbreaking first, but often catalyst in social conversations that we should be having.
I’ll give you some examples. An extraordinary founder who has a company called Lia Diagnostics. Her name is Bethany. She has invented the first ever flushable pregnancy test. It’s completely biodegradable. It begs the question of discretion. Most women today test at work by the way, and they don’t want to leave it in the trash can. They don’t want everybody to see it.
Or let’s talk about how many women are struggling with infertility and they don’t want to walk into their own bathroom and be reminded they’re not pregnant again. It’s just a more thoughtful – if you will – invention. It’s not your mother’s pregnancy test anymore that’s 80% plastic. And if Bethany shows up in Silicon Valley to get investing, everybody goes, “Eh. Niche market. Does that really matter?”
The first conversation is are these just girls trying to hide the evidence? It’s so tone deaf actually to what that is. So I’m thrilled. She’s gotten through the FDA. She is soon going to launch. It’s a groundbreaking first. She’ll completely disrupt that industry. We have a technology that with a single dip of liquid in 30 seconds, I can touch a disc and it will tell me whether or not there’s a date rape drug in that drink. I have two nieces – one of whom is still in college. That can’t come quickly enough, because that’s a real issue.
I’m working with an Alzheimer’s company on something. I’m working with a breast cancer company. And it’s those things – again, those ideas – that are overlooked that’s always my signal to run in.
Kathy Smith: So both those products seem remarkable. And each of them could have their own podcast by the way. They’re so great. But let’s talk about this idea of taking chances, taking risks. I know on the big, big level, you’re doing it. But let’s just get down to the young, the middle aged, the older person who has an idea, who wants to do something with their lives, who wants to step out– I don’t care if it’s bake cupcakes and sell them– but wants to do something.
And especially, why don’t we get into this second act type of thing. When somebody feels like, “I’ve done it. I’ve had a profession before. I’m now at a certain age.” That age can be 40, 50, 60 and beyond, but whatever. I’m a big believer and my audience knows this. But whatever age you are, it’s important to keep learning. It’s important to get out there and do the things you love, because we’re living so much longer now. So this idea of retiring and just living in the past. I used to do this. I used to be a teacher. I used to run a business. I used to have a restaurant. I hear that so much – I used to.
In their eyes and whatever, you can see they want to do something else. What do you say to people who are wanting to try something but maybe don’t have the confidence to step in? How do they find their pink?
Cindy Eckert: I say what are you waiting for? It’s exactly as you said. Everybody says, “I used to this,” or whatever that may be. Well, no one can ever take that away from you. You have extraordinary skills so why not swing for the thing that really tears the sheets off in the morning and you can get excited about.
I’m working with two women right now. They’re in their 60s. They have extraordinary careers. And do you know what? They want to build a startup together. I love it. They want to build a startup with a product that’s going to help other women. They are energized in a way– and I’ve known them for a while– that I haven’t seen in a long time. And it’s really because their passion is leading them forward. Again, I think it’s a little bit of what do you have to lose?
I understand there’s financial considerations and all of those things in taking a risk. But you actually have a fall back plan. Especially if you’re considering the second act. You can always go back to what you were doing before, but you’re going to be sorry if you don’t take the shot. I think it’s a matter of getting in the room.
I say this a lot so forgive me. I’m a bit of a broken record. But I often say, “Success is not about having all the answers. Success comes from having the courage.” I didn’t know as I started out on this path. I didn’t know how do many of the things that I have been forced to do over the time of building businesses and everything else. But that’s part of the fun. That’s part of the ride. And I think that every time I got to that moment where I flinched just a little bit or I was losing some of that confidence, what I knew in my heart was I was capable. And I had the courage to push through that, and that’s what I’d say to all of your listeners.
I get nervous in the moment. Am I completely confident when I get up to give the talk? I probably have some nerves underneath there, but I do know that I’m capable.
Kathy Smith: That’s a powerful statement. And I agree. I have stepped into so many things. I said yes to it. And as I’m saying yes, I’m going, “Oh shit. How am I going to get this done?” And as you go, you realize, to your point, that taking that risk, stepping outside your comfort zone gives you that confidence that you are confident and you will figure it out. And it becomes the interesting topic of the day. It gets you out of bed. I just have that image of you saying you’re throwing off the sheets. I like it.
I’m involved with a new business. Exactly. At this stage in my life, that gets me excited. And I really do want to encourage our listeners to whatever. And it doesn’t have to be business. It could be also just things like taking a new course, whether it’s a musical instrument or helping out in the world or getting involved with a political campaign or whatever, do something that gets you excited.
To that, I have to say let’s just talk about what do you have. I know there’s a lot of things on your plate. Before I let you go, is there something you want to share with our listeners? We’ll let everybody know where they can find you – about the website, all your social media accounts and everything. And we’ll let them know that. But is there a take away here that you want to tell people about?
Cindy Eckert: I think it’s ever so simple. I think the change only comes when we own it, when women sort of own it all the way through. I am so passionate about the next stage of the female sexual revolution. I don’t think you can go through that and stop at reproduction. In fact, my radical thought is part of the reason we continue to sort of swirl and politicize in everything reproduction is because all of us haven’t owned it through pleasure and satisfaction.
And I think that you do have that right. You have this right to desire, and that can be in the bedroom, the board room, or whatever place you want. But I think it really, at the core of it, comes down to owning it.
Kathy Smith: That reminds me. I’m going through this 21-day abundance challenge with Deepak Chopra and one of the things that’s the recurring message through this with our assignments and the meditations is that understand that you deserve. This is your right. It’s not something that you have to feel embarrassed about or feel selfish. Just going through that process, that realizing how our conditioning, our upbringing, our religion, our own mindset has sometimes cornered us and boxed us into, “Oh, everybody else deserves this, but I’m here to serve,” or whatever.
Just the subtle shift about deserving it, it actually just puts a smile on my face. Oh, I deserve to have pleasure.
Cindy Eckert: You do. Absolutely. I love that thought.
Kathy Smith: Yeah, I do. Well, Cindy, it’s been a pleasure. As I said, I’ll let everybody know where to find you. And I look forward to talking more to you and meeting you in person and showing up at one of your talks or workshops around the country. Because I’ve seen you and you move mountains and you move audiences, and you’re a powerhouse beyond. I feel it a privilege to have you on the show. So thank you so much.
Cindy Eckert: Thank you so much. You’re a woman on top, putting women on top. That’s all we need to do. Thank you.
Kathy Smith: I love that image. Thank you so much.