Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Monday, 31 December 2007

A decade of the love drug

By Clare Murphy
Health reporter, BBC News

It is 10 years since the impotence pill Viagra hit the market. Hailed at the time as a wonder drug that would have an impact as revolutionary as the contraceptive pill, now some are having second thoughts about the medicine of love.

Viagra medication
But is it what she really wants?

According to its maker, Pfizer, Viagra has been used to treat nearly 30m men in 120 countries in the last 10 years.

Men who had resigned themselves to a life of celibacy were suddenly able to perform. Sparks were rekindled in previously sexless marriages, rescuing relationships which were floundering on the rocks.

But the critics claim that the physical, intimate act which lies at the heart of humanity has now been comprehensively medicalised.

From the young, healthy man who is encouraged to constantly question his performance to the elderly man who can never hang up his boots, Viagra, they argue, has raised expectations and lowered satisfaction by making everyone sign up to the ideal of non-stop bustle in the bedroom.

"You can't blame Viagra for single-handedly creating a society in which a man is judged by the size of his erection, and a woman for her ability to arouse one," says Lori Boul, a psychologist specialising in sex therapy.

"But it has certainly played its part in making sure those expectations remain alive and well."

The quest for a cure

Viagra - and its followers Levitra and Cialis - did not in any event mark the medicalisation of sex.

We don't talk about medicalising eyesight when we hand out glasses
Dr John Dean
Sexual health specialist

From the Greeks and herbal aphrodisiacs to the Victorians and their rather more sinister-sounding electric belts, man has long looked for ways to help his member out with varying degrees of success.

Twentieth Century innovations saw the most desperate even opt for injections straight into the organ.

But the difference with Viagra was that it actually worked, and that everybody could get their hands on it.

The drug is everywhere. If you can't get it on the NHS - and access is restricted to those with very specific conditions - then a quick flick through your spam should do the trick.

The British Medical Association recently argued that NHS access should be widened to stop men resorting to pills bought on the internet which could be both fake and harmful.

So if anything, the next decade may see more and more men seeking help. But what of the partners who are expected to deal with the consequences of those little blue pills?

What women want

Dr John Dean, president-elect of the International Society for Sexual Medicine and an ardent advocate of the medication, concedes that one of the problems of the last decade is the fact that women have not been sufficiently involved in the whole process of prescribing Viagra.

According to recent research, half the men who go home to their partners after obtaining a prescription don't go back for more.

What we have learnt in the last decade is that you simply cannot send people away with a pill and expect them to get on with it
Lori Boul

For some, the Viagra revolution has simply confirmed what they have long suspected: women are not all that interested in penetrative sex, and find their partners new found erections a bane rather than a boon.

"This notion that women simply aren't interested is both patronising and misguided," says Dr Dean.

"Of course we mustn't forget the emotional, cerebral aspect to sex. But to suggest that all women want is a cuddle and a chat, while men are completely focused on their penises, is insulting to both sexes.

"Both are interested in both, and the challenge for the next decade is to ensure both get equal attention, particularly with the arrival of more treatments aimed at women."

Let's talk

Even those who question the overall benefits of this new generation of medication can agree that it has at least facilitated discussion around a subject that has long been taboo.

Sex therapists have noted that some of the most restrictive Middle Eastern states find the discussion of sexual relations - within marriage at least - easier than in many Western societies.

"It has opened up the discussion for people who never felt able to talk about these things," says Ms Boul. "We live in a country with poor sex education and where many simply do not understand how their bodies work.

"But we need to talk more. What we have learnt in the last decade is that you simply cannot send people away with a pill and expect them to get on with it. It just doesn't work."

Viagra: the hard sell
08 Feb 05 |  Business
Erectile dysfunction
12 Oct 04 |  Medical notes

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