Effect of Viagra on Women and Female Sexuality

ED Drug Impacts Both Men and Women's Sex Lives

Viagra Pills
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Why Should Viagra Concern Women?

When women go through menopause, the hormonal changes they experience often lead to a drop in libido and less interest in sex. It's nature taking its course - just another phase in the female life cycle. It's the way we're built and programmed, biologically speaking.

So what do we do about Viagra and the other ED (erectile dysfunction) drugs that are now commonplace and marketed directly to men in TV commercials and magazine ads?

It's an important question to ponder because as every woman knows, it takes two to tango. Viagra's impact on men's sex lives also impacts women's sex lives.

Meika Loe has pondered this very question in her book, The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America. And the answers she's uncovered are disturbing. Loe, who is Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology and Women's Studies at Colgate University, has also written extensively about sex and senior women.

Loe spoke to About.com about Viagra (marketed by Pfizer) and how women's sexuality has been affected by the introduction of these ED drugs.

Viagra is marketed to aging men whose female counterparts are going through their own sexual crisis: menopause. These women want less sex but their partners now want more.

Isn't this counter-intuitive? Doesn't this turn the bedroom into a battlefield at a time when women are already vulnerable (e.g., empty nest syndrome, feeling less attractive as we age, physical changes due to menopause including hair loss and weight gain, etc.)

I recently visited my ob/gyn, and upon hearing about my research, she volunteered that many of her women patients have complained that Viagra has not helped their sex lives. The introduction of the pill has made sexuality, among other things, intercourse-focused and thus less satisfying.

I hear this kind of thing over and over.

My analysis of syndicated advice columns after Viagra's debut in 1998 revealed many negative responses among women. Women writing to Dear Abby, for example, were either no longer interested in sex (and thus Viagra created new unwelcome pressure to be sexually active again), or fearing their husbands were having affairs in the context of their newfound sexual potency, and/or experiencing sometimes painful physiological effects of reigniting their sex lives later in life.

It seems that Viagra raised quite a few questions for married women about marital obligation, for example. Then again, there were other letters that reflected excitement about husbands feeling healthy and confident after a period of impotence, so the response to Viagra in the population is quite complex.

I would have liked to see an explosion of people communicating about sexuality after Viagra's release, but in our pill-for-everything culture, we tend to let the pill do the work and forget that it may not be an end-all be-all. Viagra tended to just exacerbate or throw light on already existing problems in relationships.

It should be telling that at this point, almost 10 years after Viagra's debut, only 50% of men who received prescriptions for Viagra end up refilling their prescriptions.

It's not simply about a man being able to have pleasurable sex. It's also about power and dominance, virility despite aging. It's a way for men to deny that they are past their sexual peak. What are the long-term implications for a society that has Viagra in its drug arsenal?

Viagra was the harbinger of things to come in the form of the pharmacology of aging and sexuality (sexual medicine is in expansion mode post-Viagra).

All of this is due to a combination of, among other things, changing demographics (e.g. aging population), direct to consumer advertising/ consumer-based medicine (Viagra being one of the first drugs to be advertised directly to the consumer) and pharmaceutical expansion.

It is important to see that Viagra's popularity fits in a particular cultural moment in our history, and there will be/have been plenty of other products to follow (including medications) that emphasize the holy triumvirate: youth, vitality, and performance.

In short, as a sociologist, I see Viagra as a cultural product and thus a window onto our culture. It helps us see where we are when it comes to sexuality (and our ambivalence), gender (masculinity and sexual performance packaged together), medicine (quick-fix and lifestyle enhancement emphasis more than ever), and aging (we’re uncomfortable with it but do we all want to be 18 again?).

Pfizer has helped to reinforce these traditional and not-so-traditional ideals with Viagra and it has been fascinating to see how successful they have been here and around the world with this youth, vitality, and performance-based message.

Again, now that the initial curiosity factor has disappeared, it is unclear how successful sexual dysfunction medication really is. Viagra has spurred several like products – Cialis and Levitra. But the refill rate on all three is low.

Viagra is certainly sociologically significant as it has highlighted many social problems in the way we do health and gender and sexuality in our society.

Is Viagra Use Common Within the General Population?

How does this affect behavior or alter men and women's sexual intimacy?

It is difficult to find demographic information about who uses Viagra, but in Internet chatrooms, doctors' offices, pharmacies, etc. you find men of all ages interested in discussing the drug.

I spoke with young men who had purchased Viagra out of insecurity - a 'just in case' situation where they felt they had to live up to some social standard their first time and had purchased the pills (or borrowed them) to have some assurance of adequate performance.

I also spoke with men in their 80s who felt like it gave them 'life' again.

Meika Loe, author of The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America, acknowledges that Viagra and other ED (erectile dysfunction) drugs create additional pressure in the already complex sex lives of men and women. In her interview with About.com, she also noted how it underscores the sexual ambivalence present in our society - our obsession and disgust with sex.

Viagra use has a dark side. John Jamelske, the 67-year-old man who held a number of young women captive as sexual slaves in an underground bunker, took Viagra. Two toxicologists, Harold Milman and S.B. Arnold, have stated in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy that "the drug has been suggested as a contributing factor in 22 cases involving aggression, 13 involving rape, and 6 involving murder." Clearly, Viagra is linked to violence against women.

In the course of my research I found that Pfizer had consulted with quite a few experts about possible litigation down the line regarding Viagra. A pill for sexual potency can be a dangerous thing in a culture that is highly ambivalent about sexuality - both obsessed and disgusted with it at the same time.

This sexual ambivalence is what we have inherited from the Puritans. It is one reason sexuality itself is so emotionally charged and controversial in this country (we see this in regards to sex education, advertising, reproductive politics, etc.).

In the U.S. we seem to spend just as much time and effort on censoring sexuality as we do encouraging it, which makes for a very confused populace!

We see this confusion in our bedrooms and in the society at large, and when Viagra is added to the mix it can highlight the issues we have with sexuality as a society.

Speaking of sexual ambivalence...we're a culture that's afraid to talk about sex with our children. So how is it that Viagra and ED drug commercials run during primetime and no one bats an eye?

At least one Pfizer TV ad was pulled off the air (the one where the man gets devil horns after taking Viagra) but you’re right – it’s everywhere. Or it was for many years. Viagra racecars. Viagra ads during the Superbowl – and Janet Jackson got flack for showing a breast when during the commercial breaks, ads discussing penises and erections, and beer ads promoting sexuality like crazy were considered appropriate!

Viagra was even posted over home base when Pfizer was the primary sponsor of pro baseball. Now we see Levitra and Cialis advertised just as often.

It goes back to that Puritan ethic. We’re obsessed with sex and also offended by it – it’s a fine line. An African American woman’s breast crossed the line for some people. Sexuality in the context of medical dysfunction (complete with scientific imprimatuer and legitimacy) seems to pass.

When we look at the way men and women 'use' pharmaceutical interventions, men focus on performance (Viagra) and women focus on appearance (Botox). Or is this a gendered generalization?

Sociologists would say that these are the values/characteristics we teach each sex to value most. Men are about what they DO, women are about how they LOOK.

We reinforce this constantly in our society (just look at ads – men are generally depicted as active, women as body parts, or still lives, or close-ups). So it follows that our drug use maintains these gendered distinctions.

What would you like to stress to women of every age about Viagra and women's sexuality?

Living in the pharmaceutical era it sometimes seems easiest and most expedient to turn to medication to enhance our lives or fix our problems. However, we can’t forget to attend to ourselves, our relationships, and our lives.

Many men found that while Viagra may have helped them physiologically (although for many it didn’t work or came wiyh a host of scary side-effects), it was no solution to general sexual or life satisfaction. In some cases it actually exacerbated existing issues in peoples’ relationships or sense of self.

Men and women are wonderfully complex and diverse creatures when it comes to sexuality AND in general. Simple solutions can end up oversimplifying — and doing us a disservice in the process.

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Lowen, Linda. "Effect of Viagra on Women and Female Sexuality." ThoughtCo, May. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/effect-of-viagra-on-women-3534404. Lowen, Linda. (2017, May 5). Effect of Viagra on Women and Female Sexuality. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/effect-of-viagra-on-women-3534404 Lowen, Linda. "Effect of Viagra on Women and Female Sexuality." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/effect-of-viagra-on-women-3534404 (accessed December 12, 2017).