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Young men and Viagra

It has become new performance ‘tool’

Kampala, Uganda | AGENCIES | Once solely deemed “an older man’s drug,” Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medications are becoming commonplace in younger men’s lives. But why are these young men relying on this little blue pill when they clearly have no physiological impediment?

It’s been over two decades since Viagra—the little blue pill— came onto the market to change the lives of millions of males. Although its initial intention was to treat angina and high blood pressure, it soon became a hit in the bedroom after showing its ‘magic’ as an erectile dysfunction (ED) drug, especially for older males.

However, in the last few years, more and more young males have been turning to this pharmaceutical solution despite not having age-related ED issues. For some, it’s something new to try and a bit of fun. But when we look into the many personal reasons behind this trend, we can see it’s a lot deeper and emotionally rooted than thought.

So, is Viagra a harmless quick fix, or are young males now relying on these pills too much, creating a wider cause for concern? And what can this tell us about the relationship between the physical and mental health of men?

Viagra’s over-the-counter journey

Initially named compound UK-92,480, sildenafil (sold under the brand name Viagra) was developed to treat hypertension and angina, when reduced blood flow to the heart causes chest pains.

In the 1980s, Pfizer biologists started testing the drug for its anti-angina and anti-hypertensive potential. However, patients soon began reporting other effects the drug had been having on their body. One such effect was improved blood flow to the penis, which gave a boost to their sex lives.

Dr. Ratush said Viagra’s potential as a treatment for erectile dysfunction was discovered serendipitously.

“The history of the pharmacology of these products [t]hat started with Viagra was initially intended for the use of cardiac patients because the hope was that they were going to be able to dilate small cardiac vessels and allow for the heart to have oxygen. [They later] noticed that whether or not it had a cardiac effect, a lot of the men reported having erections that they might not have otherwise had normally because they might have had problems in more than one place with their blood flow,” he said.

In 1998, the FDA approved the drug for use as a first-line oral treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). For the following years, patients would have to go to their physician to get it prescribed.

In 2018, however, Viagra Connect hit the U.K. market as a consumer-ready over-the-counter version. Within its first year, according to the company, seven million pills were sold in the U.K. About two-thirds of the customers were between the ages of 25 and 54.

Dr. Ratush said Viagra is easy to get, and people only need to tell their physicians the truth.

“If you have insurance or if you could afford to pay out of pocket to see a physician, then you can get this prescription,” he said.

3 men on their experiences with Viagra

Our first guest said he was 19 and with his first girlfriend when he first tried Viagra.

“[I had] been with my girlfriend for almost a year, but we hadn’t had sex yet. Neither of us had done it before. We were both really into it [b]ut every time that I tried to put it in, my penis would go soft. I quite quickly saw my doctor about it because it was putting a strain on our relationship,” he said.

A few sessions of sex therapy initially failed to produce any improvement.

“I felt so ashamed and useless. I don’t know why my girlfriend stayed with me. It was making her upset. It made her feel like she wasn’t attractive enough. But I knew that there was something wrong with me. I was so anxious about losing my virginity,” he said.

That’s when the doctor reluctantly prescribed him Viagra.

“I got too nervous the first time I took it, so I didn’t feel aroused enough to do it. But after another attempt, we were finally able to have sex. It felt amazing. I was so relieved. And that sort of broke down a barrier,” he recounted.

“For me, Viagra pushed me over this mental wall that I had built up around sex, where nothing else seemed to work,” says Guest 1.

For our second guest ‘R’, who is in his 50s, healthy, and exercises regularly, his first experience with Viagra was when he recently came out of a long-term relationship.

“[L]ast year, I had some anxiety about whether I will be able to keep an erection with some casual partners. And this, in part, was triggered by an experience with a particular casual partner who kind of primed me ahead of our encounter, that, you know, he wants to make sure that there wasn’t going to be a problem,” he said.

Our third guest Scott, who was the only one comfortable enough to use his first name, said he first tried Viagra out of curiosity.

“[The] first time I used Viagra would have been when I was maybe 19 or 20 years old, seven or eight years ago. [It] was on a night out, so I’d actually met a girl. We’d [gone] out clubbing, and I had a lot to drink,” he said.

When a friend offered him a Viagra pill from the few in his wallet, Scott said he decided to try and take one before they went back to the hotel.

One benefit he noticed from taking Viagra was the shortened wait time between getting erections or rounds of intercourse.

“[W]ith Viagra, you don’t need no breaks in between, you can finish and go again straight away. So that’s sort of what it brings to the table. So, if you’re ever trying to sort of impress a lady or on a weekend away, Viagra sort of allows you to go and go again,” said Scott.

The side effects of Viagra

The side effects people most commonly report with Viagra are heartburn, skin flushing, vision changes, and upset stomach.

“I would describe it as quite unpleasant. Maybe 30 minutes after popping the pill, I had a headache, flushing— face was red, heart was racing. It was uncomfortable, and not a feeling that I would associate with sex at all.” said R of his experience.

Most of these effects subside within about five hours as the medication has a metabolic half-life of about 4 hours.

“Mostly, it’s very effective, and [people] don’t have any side effects, but side effects that they can notice, because it’s working throughout the system, [are] palpitations, quite extreme headaches, that sense of feeling really pressured. And so some guys will stop taking it because the side effects are counterproductive,” detailed Dr. Saddington.

“If you’re feeling like you’re gonna have a heart attack, or you’ve got a raging headache, you’re not exactly going to feel sexual or turned on,” he added.

Scott also shared his tale of caution when it comes to mixing different drugs.

“[A] lot of the time when I’ve used [Viagra], I’ve been sort of under the influence of alcohol. [I] have had one side effect where I was partaking in other narcotics [and] experienced really bad heart palpitations. Apart from that, whenever I’ve been sort of semi-sober or just had a few drinks, I’ve never had any side effects at all.”

Why are young men using Viagra?

Both our experts and our guests said that Viagra use in younger males wasn’t physically rooted but was seen as “more of a help” about performance anxiety and a psychological boost.

“Even amongst men who had a successful pharmacological effect, ie, they were able to achieve and maintain an erection for said activity, more than half of them stop using the product within a few months. And that clearly indicates that there was a psychological component that was never being addressed,” explained Dr. Ratush.

Dr. Saddington agreed.

He said young men “are using Viagra as a way of reassurance. [T]hey can get erections at other times, but they get anxious, particularly in new situations, new relationships, or if they’re going out casually, that they’re using Viagra as a backup really, because they’re anxious something might go wrong.”

However, relying on Viagra for peace of mind can become problematic, said Dr. Ratush.

“It’s so tempting to use a pharmaceutical as a crutch when it is as effective as it is, and with limited downside[s] as it has— flushing headaches, low blood pressure, and maybe a little bit of racing heart rate,” he told MNT.

Communication can solve many problems

Dr. Ratush likened Viagra to workout supplements and said that men, in general, were open to trying such things. However, such a pharmaceutical solution, he said, has made people push the root causes under the carpet.

“The unfortunate part is that people moved away from actual ‘talk therapy’ as a way of addressing their sexual issues,” he said.

“[I]f there was communication with [their] partner, the fear about performance anxiety might not be there. So, before [taking] a medication like this, therapists [sh]ould be working with men and their partners to create a way of communicating to one another so that they could feel as comfortable as possible in their lovemaking,” said Ratush

Dr. Ratush said that not talking and being transparent with a partner can have a wider negative impact on psychosexual well-being and increase dependency on medications such as Viagra.

The pressure to perform and the lack of communication risks creating bigger relationship problems.

“What it tells me most is that there’s a big divide amongst heterosexual couples, between men and women in what they understand about one another. [B]ecause clearly, there’s much that men can still learn about themselves sexually, and how they function and how to optimize their own physiology and functionality,” said Dr. Ratush.

Behind younger adults seeking to use Viagra, according to our experts, could also be social media and porn as influencing factors. However, it all boils down to sex education.

‘[I]’d certainly say that for a lot of young men, their sex education comes from porn. So if it’s based on seeing men, [that] are performing in a very virile way, [that] appear to be able to have sex when they want to, in whatever position [f]or a long period of time, [and] if they’re judging themselves against that, they’re not going to be able to behave or act sexually in the same way. So there’s going to be a lot of anxiety about [that],” said Dr. Saddington.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this amazing information about viagra use in young adults. However, I would like to know, apart from all those side effects, what could be the long term effect of relying on penagra for an erection everyday, for years? Some books say sight loss, does this occur If one takes an overdose on daily basis or even small appropriate doses of say 50 mg can also cause sight loss plus other serious long term effects on someone’s life? Thank you.

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