In 1998, Viagra was first introduced to the world, and it is fair to say
that the world has not been the same since. The impact of this
medication has been enormous, not just in the narrow area of treating
erectile dysfunction (ED) for which it was approved, but also in
the way we think of sex and sexuality, and even in the realm of
relationships between men and women.
Millions of men in the United States have tried Pfizer’s wonder
drug, sildenafil, better known as Viagra, and there are thus millions
of women who have also seen its effects on their husbands,
boyfriends, and lovers. Many other millions of men and women
wonder about whether Viagra can offer a solution for their own
sexual and emotional problems or for the problems of their partners.
We human beings are sexual animals, after all. And unfortunately,
our sex lives are not always the way we want them to be. So
it’s no surprise that when sex goes sour, relationships suffer in other
ways as well.
Everyone wants to know about Viagra, and many are interested
in trying it, whether or not they think they have an erection problem.
There are always a good number of Viagra questions, such
as, “What happens when a young, healthy man with normal sexual
function takes Viagra?” Or “Can a woman tell during sex that her
partner has taken Viagra?” Or “Is it true that Viagra increases a
man’s sex drive?”
Viagra quickly tapped into a set of wishful fantasies that mirrored
our culture’s hunger for certainty and the quick fix. Supported
by stories that described elderly men restored to such sexual vitality
by Viagra that they abandoned their wives in favor of younger
women, a conventional wisdom arose that Viagra was a fountain of
youth, a sure cure, the real deal. Baby boomers could now look forward
to fabulous sex well into their nineties. Men shared Viagra
stories with each other at cocktail parties or around the office water
“All we can say is ‘Wow!'” says one man, and other men listening
in wonder how their lives might be different if they also took
the magic blue pill.
Women too have been targeted to confirm Viagra’s ability to
create satisfaction and serenity within a relationship where frustration
and friction had once been the rule. One of the most successful
early Pfizer ads showed a series of couples happily dancing
together after Viagra apparently cured the loss of rhythm in their
Viagra jokes became a staple of comedy acts on late-night television (Have you
heard the one about the man who swallowed Viagra, but it stuck in
his throat? He wound up with a very stiff neck!), thus ensuring its
place in our cultural lexicon. Viagra tapped into both our fantasies
and our embarrassment about sexuality in a way that no other drug
had ever done. When, for example, was the last time you heard a
joke about a new cholesterol-lowering medication?
Skillful marketing contributed to our perception of Viagra as
the pill that put the “man” in “manly.” Star professional athletes-vigorous
men such as baseball’s Most Valuable Player Rafael
Palmeiro of the Texas Rangers and NASCAR driver Mark
Martin-endorse the medication in widely seen advertisements.
Other kinds of athletes use Viagra as well. Hugh Hefner, the aging
head of the Playboy empire who is known for his bevy of beautiful
blondes, gives Viagra credit for maintaining his pleasure quotient.
Rumor has it that he provides bowls of Viagra tablets at his famous
Yes, the drug is enormously powerful, and it can be a lifesaver
for many men, but it has also turned a bright spotlight on previously
hidden areas of sexuality and relationships. In particular, it
forces couples to decide what is real in their relationships and what
is not. I have come to see Viagra as providing a window into the
psyche of men, and perhaps indirectly into the psyche of women as
well, since women are not immune from unduly high expectations
regarding the benefits of Viagra and its potential to provide sexual