The arrival of Viagra (sildenafil citrate) came on the market in 1998 as the first drug to treat impotence. Impotence is the consistent inability among men to achieve and sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse and/or to achieve ejaculation. Like the contraceptive pill in the 1960s it was greeted as a life changer giving men a chance to enjoy more and better sex when they wanted it. Of course it was never going to be that easy and the complications would take a while to emerge. In this blog I will share some thoughts on impotence and Viagra mainly in physiological terms; I will explore further psychological and relational aspects in later blogs.
There are other drugs for erectile dysfunction such as Cialis and Levitra as well as generic versions for example Kamagra. For simplicity I will use the term Viagra to refer to all the different versions.
Key findings from a 2018 survey of 2000 men, carried out by Atomik Research and sponsored by Co-Op Pharmacy, showed 43% of men between 18-60 were suffering from impotence and only 28% of those surveyed had discussed it with a GP. These are worrying figures and we can see why Viagra has been such a success story. Millions of men have taken Viagra apparently without any major incident or serious drawbacks. Although given the reluctance of men to talk to their GPs about sexual problems there may significant numbers who are suffering side effects that impair their sex lives.
Impotence is caused by reduced blood flow to the penis and Viagra works by increasing blood flow. A study of 23,000 men, cited by Pfizer the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Viagra in 2019, claims that 72% – 85% of men taking Viagra (the differences relate to the dosage 25 mg, 50mg and 100 mg) achieved erections hard enough for sex compared to 50% of those men on a placebo. This looks encouraging.
It can take around 15 minutes to one hour for Viagra to bring about an erection suitable for intercourse. On average these effects last 2-3 hours, may be up to 4-5 hours depending on your body’s metabolism. Viagra can help maintain an erection after ejaculation and can reduce the time it takes to achieve another erection following ejaculation. Some men say it can be more difficult to orgasm with Viagra, which may or may not be an advantage for their partners. Pfizer advise Viagra only works when you are sexually aroused, it does not make you feel aroused or cause instant hard-ons. In theory you will not be left with an unwanted erection if you are no longer horny.
A higher dose does not necessarily mean a better hard-on but it is likely to produce more side effects. These can include headaches, flushes, indigestion, abnormal vision, stuffy or runny nose, muscle pain, nausea and dizziness. There are also negative interactions with prescription drugs, over the counter medications and natural supplements. Viagra does not work well following a fatty meal or alcohol, which is tough for those who like to wine and dine as a prelude to sex.
There are men who do not have erectile problems who use Viagra to improve their sexual performance. However the recreational use of Viagra can be dangerous, especially if combined with other recreational drugs as in chem sex; this is an issue because chems can make it difficult to achieve and sustain an erection. Taking Viagra at the same time as recreational drugs such as chems, ecstasy, cocaine, crystal meth, poppers, and speed can produce a range of side effects including serious risks of a fatal drop in blood pressure and/or additional pressure on the heart. There are instances of men taking large doses of Viagra and enduring erections that last many hours. These are often painful and if not treated can damage the penis. In 2013 a Columbian man took a large dose and ended up with an inflamed and gangrenous penis that had to be amputated.
We have to recognise the benefits for men who can buy Viagra without a prescription, however apart from the recreational risks outlined above there are concerns about self-mediation and missing the signs of serious illness. High blood pressure and diabetes are two conditions that diminish the blood flow and therefore impotence can be a symptom. In the US diabetes is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction and impotence can be the first sign of heart disease especially in young men. If left unchecked these conditions can have long term and tragic results.
Viagra has undoubtedly helped many men and couples regain a sex life or find sex more satisfying, however this little blue pill is not always an effective treatment for erectile difficulties. Men who cannot tolerate side effects or for whom Viagra is not medically advised may want to explore other ways of enjoying sex if they are and their partners are able to talk about it. Viagra often reduces spontaneity and mean partners have to plan when to have sex, which again requires talking about it. Openly discussing the impact of impotence on a relationship is not easy; sometimes the conversation never happens. This is where counselling and psychotherapy can help by offering a safe space to have these conversations as individual or as a couple.
TRADE – Free, confidential health advice, information, services and support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
Urological Science Research Foundation
Further Reading by Angela Rogers –