Boner in a Bottle

The truth about how advertisers sold us on ED pills isn’t very sexy. Is our sexual wellbeing at risk? What about our partners’?

After a couple of glasses of Dewar’s the other day, my next-door neighbor, who’s 41, leaned my way and out of the blue started gushing about Cialis. We’d been talking about basketball, and suddenly, bingo, Tony was off and running, weaving and bobbing, describing the nonstop sex he had had for 36 hours. Meanwhile, Sandra, his wife, the woman he presumably had the sex with, was chatting up my wife in the kitchen 20 feet away about the neighborhood real estate market, as our three kids were killing each other in the bedroom, playing Nintendo.

Tony seemed to be in an extreme state of post-coital bliss. He kept crowing about the best sex he’d ever had. And the thing about Tony is, he and I never talk anything personal. Tony, I think, needed to proclaim what Cialis had done for him, for his wife, for the whole world.

Chalk it up to a newfound sense that men can and should have great sex for the rest of our lives. Call it our national erection, a god-given mandate that the trio of ED drugs out there—Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis—were placed on earth to bring peace and goodwill to our horny world.

Tony, mind you, is a serious sports guy. I doubt he’s ever asked for salad dressing on the side. Nor has he ever ironed a shirt, consumed an asparagus spear, or entertained thoughts of enrolling in a Bikram Yoga class.

But as word of the power of ED (erectile dysfunction) drugs spreads, even the most macho of our brothers is taking these sex pharmaceuticals for a spin and then boasting to anyone who’ll listen. Chalk it up to the New New-Age Guy.

???

ED drugs are for the worried well. They’re accessories to modern life. Like Starbucks and digital cable. Starbucks sells high-priced caffeine by the vente and we gladly pay for it. Verizon FiOS gives us TV on our terms. Plastic surgery shapes and contours everything from noses and breasts to bellies to glutes. So why should ED drugs be any different? Aren’t they what life in the 21st century is all about? Sex—how we want it and when we want it. It’s what we deserve. Even though we might not need these drugs, they sure make us feel good.

Everyone seems to have an ED-drug favorite—sort of like beer (Miller vs. Bud) or trucks (Chevy vs. Ford). And maybe like with beer and trucks, these pills seem to work so well that many men don’t want to go without. To many guys in their mid-40s and older, the pharmaceutical ménage a trois is pretty much a rock-solid insurance policy against penile deflation due to age, anxiety, smoking (which constricts blood flow), diabetes, sleep deprivation, even (some say), alcohol and marijuana.

The Big Three are also touted to perk up limp members nailed by anti-depressants. Men who take drugs for stomach ulcers, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and high blood pressure (particularly diuretics) often have problems getting erections, but drug-makers say these penis-uppers can cure even the droopiest of dog tails. And if premature ejaculation hounds you, studies show these drugs can make you last longer. There’s more: Urologists say these pharmaceuticals can shorten the so-called refractory period, so you can come back sooner for more.

Where’d these powerful, popular drugs come from and how’d they jumpstart such a national craze?

Remember way back in 1998, when Viagra was launched as the world’s first drug to help get an erection? Viagra’s TV huckster was none other than 75-year-old Bob Dole, who broke all kinds of taboos by lecturing to millions of Americans that he was impotent from prostate cancer and that Viagra helped him have sex again. The image of Bob Dole having sex was bad enough, but the mention of impotence—what man out there wanted to cop to that?

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About Stephen G. Bloom

Stephen G. Bloom, the Bessie Dutton Murray Professor of Journalism at the University of Iowa, is the author of Postviile: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, Inside the Writer's MInd, The Oxford Project (with Peter Feldstein), and Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls. For more than 20 years, he was an award-winning reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, San Jose Mercury News, and Sacramento Bee. His work has appeared in many publications, including the London Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, Smithsonian, Russian Esquire, and the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry. He writes frequently about issues men talk about when they're not around women. Check out more here.

Comments

  1. Great article. Lots to keep in mind as I get older. I’m in my mid thirties and am happy to hear that these drugs won’t do anything for me. One less thing to think about. I don’t want to be that 60-year-old who wants to have sex out of the blue either. I think I’ll ask first.

  2. Tom Matlack says:

    “Your penis is your penis, usually till death do you part. Learn to accept it, care for it, pay attention to it.” Great line from a great story. I find this whole ED thing more than mildly disturbing, like the stories of guys doing X and ED drugs together and going on some never ended sexual romp. Seems to me that sex is actually about a physical connection between two people that is certainly erotic but also emotional. Getting off, or even getting hard, is merely a side show for something more important. I am pretty sick of being bombarded with ads that tell me a drug will improve my sex life. It is irrelevant.

    • So, you’re saying that having an erection is irrelevant to your sex life? That doesn’t really make sense to me.

  3. David Wise says:

    No question that intimacy is the most important of sex and a relationship. But when you don’t have intimacy, the best thing to do is love the one you’re with, as the song goes. By the way, Viagra gives me and my older brother chest pains, so those drugs aren’t for everyone. I still have a bottle I won’t use.

  4. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Bloom’s piece has to be the stupidest thing I’ve read in months. It’s an example of what we might call the “quick, fake expose involving no research,” and is probably a reason that Schools of Journalism shouldn’t be part of higher education. I’m a 65 year old university professor in great physical shape. I take a good amount of blood pressure medication, and you better believe I use Viagra. I’d rather take Cialis, but it’s not on my insurance’s formulary. I can get hard without it (sometimes) but it’s good insurance that things will go well. My wife is 61 and we have pleasant, regular sex. Better than plaesant, actually. Most women of that age need help with llubrication, and we use KY. Maybe the need for that’s an illusion too.

    I wonder if Bloom had one toke too many when he heard (or believed) the bit about 36 hours. Cannabis would probably be as good a marital aid as Viagra, but it’s illegal in our state.

    • I was also bothered by the ablist implication that getting sick should mean goodbye erections, and you should like it too. Unhealthy people can’t just accept what their bodies can naturally do.

  5. “In exceedingly rare cases, men who take Viagra have reported that for a while they see the world with a bluish tint. (Great. My fantasy: making love to a blue-eyed woman with blue nipples.)” – author

    Avatar fans rejoice! :)

    Henry, I took something different from the article then you did. I didn’t get the impression that the author was saying that ED drugs should never be used. I think he was just pointing out just how often they are unreasonably peddled. And how many men relay on ED drugs when they might not really even need it because they have unrealistic expectations about sex and their own bodies capabilities. ED drugs probably get peddled to men as often as anti-wrinkle creams get peddled to women. And I have been using anti-wrinkle creams since I was 20! So I can imagine the allure to have such a promising product peddled that sells the dream that your body can still function the same at 40, 50, 60, or 70 that it did when you were 20. Especially when it comes to something like sex for men who all to often use it as a barometer of their own worth as a man.

    The author makes a really good point about the type of men projected to be using ED through advertising. Healthy mid-30s men that look like they got their stuff together. I remember one particular commercial where a very good looking African American male in a nice suit is walking through his office with a big smile while everyone keeps telling him something is different about him. At the end of the commercial the mystery is finally revealed he uses a sexually enhancing drug.

    Good article and not something I’ve considered before as a woman but it makes complete sense.

  6. I am utterly mystified by the attitude that it’s greedy or unfair for men to want to have great sex well into old age (and even disability, as you mention with drugs that inhibit erections).

  7. Dawn, where do you get the impression that anyone said it was greedy or unfair for men to want to have great sex into old age? The truth is our bodies change as we get older. Often, in men and women, the simple physical feeling of desire is lessened with age. There seems to be a struggle beween the actual physical desire and the wanting of the actual physical desire. When I’m hungry I eat. When I am tired. I sleep. But when it comes to sex, it seems that we have so many products peddled to us to make us *feel* something that naturally might not be coming to us in a certain point and time. I love cheescake, but I don’t take a pill to make me desire more cheesecake. I eat it when I have a craving for it, sparingly. That doesn’t mean a man or woman can’t have great sex well into old age. We just have to be realistic about how are bodies change and to not buy into the myth that what we were at 20 should be what we are at 50.

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