Special Report: Men on Viagra

By Susie Bright
May 11, 1998 10:32PM (UTC)
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When I first read about Viagra, I had an irresistible urge to talk to every
man I'd ever had a decent conversation with about sex. "What do you think of
this new drug?" I asked them. Most of my friends hadn't tried it, but every one
of them reacted to the news of this drug in a way that revealed his own strong
feelings about his sexuality, lovers and mortality. Because their responses ran
the gamut from the hilarious to the intimate, I thought I'd let them speak for

Jim Petersen, Playboy senior editor, 50 years old


How important is Viagra? There are only two events in this century that I regret
missing: Woodstock and buying Pfizer at $58 last year.

In 22 years as the Playboy Advisor, I got maybe a half dozen letters about
impotence. Either it didn't exist in the numbers that women's libbers would
have us believe, or I assumed that people who were impotent wouldn't be
picking up a magazine with a nude centerfold. On the other hand, not a day
went by without someone asking about changes in his erection. Or how, with
age, he was no longer able to hit the headboard when he came. We would give
the same basic advice: It's age. Your tongue is still warm. That male anxiety
about his body is universal -- cut to the Rolling Stones: "Am I tough enough.
Am I rich enough?"

This pill is going to be huge. The birth control pill gave women control of
their bodies in their youth; Viagra gives men control of their bodies in the latter
third of their lives. Both were recreational drugs, but Viagra more so. It will
medicalize male sexuality. Women have been going to their gynecologists
once a year forever. Men don't have a plumbing doctor. Now they do --
although male resistance to other men telling them what to do with their dicks
will create a huge off-label underground.


Hefner did go public in the New York Times. He said he tried it, and the
following Monday went out and bought a chunk of Viagra stock. The story I
heard through the Playboy grapevine was that orgy night had been reinstated
at the Mansion, that the staff was pulling out the oversize cushions in the
game room.

Dr. Marty Klein, sex therapist/author ("Ask Me Anything")

Give this to an angry couple and all you get is an angry couple with an
erection. The level of naiveti about Viagra -- in both physicians and the public
-- is astounding. In my 19 years as a sex therapist, I have worked with
hundreds of erection problems. In very, very few was the erection really the
issue. For most individuals and couples, an unreliable erection is an
opportunity to learn more about sex, intimacy and self -- with greater sexual
satisfaction a very possible result. It's a shame that so many people will rob
themselves of this opportunity by using Viagra. They'll get better erections, all
right, but for most people that won't solve the anxiety, anger, inhibition,
unresolved trauma or unrealistic expectations that are really blocking sexual
satisfaction. Compared to these, an unreliable erection is small potatoes.


I predict that in six months everyone will be scratching their heads
wondering what went wrong with the Viagra revolution: "Why didn't it make
sex better for me/us?" "Why didn't more patients return for another supply?"
"Why, if we're having more sex, are we kissing and cuddling less?" "How
could more reliable erections actually undermine or even destroy some
long-term relationships?" These are the kinds of questions people will be
asking after the Christmas hangover wears off.

Walter Kendrick, historian, author ("The Secret Museum:
Pornography in Modern Culture"), 51


As usual, my response to the recent uproar has been mostly "meta." It
strikes me as yet another step on the road from the phallus to the dick -- that
is, from the hidden emblem of male power to a piece of fallible flesh. Instead
of keeping the actual penis out of sight and mind, dealing instead with all
sorts of phallic symbols, our public culture is coming more and more to talk
about the actual penis, which is a pretty vulnerable organ, after all.
I'd connect the Viagra flare-up to the recent surprise success of "The Full
Monty," in which the cold factory chimneys of depressed Sheffield represent
the death of the old male potency, while the guys learn to show off their real
organs to delight the gals and assert a new kind of sexuality: the penis as
theme park. Of course, the viewer of "The Full Monty" doesn't get to see the
full monty; the public world isn't quite ready for that yet. But the time will
come -- and soon, mark my words.

Michael Anderson, editor, New York Times Book Review, 46

I don't know anyone who has had any dealings with Viagra. My
response to the response is, first, my usual scorn for the sniggering that Americans
find inescapable in discussing sex; second, given the age I am, I appreciate
that anxiety about declining sexual function is both incredibly stressful and
incredibly shaming -- but, hell, anything that increases happiness gets my
vote; third, the belief that all problems can be solved by pills is ridiculous.


Michael Lowenthal, author/editor ("Flesh and the Word"), 28

I don't know anybody who's tried it, but it sounds great to me. I'd love to
get my paws on a batch and see what happens.

In New York City, Mayor Giuliani wants to restrict sales of the stuff, and also
control the price. It's already selling on the black market in the city! And even
pharmacies are charging up to $16 per pill, when it's supposed to be $10. What
if high schoolers get their hands on it?! It might add a whole new dimension to
"spin the bottle."


Mike South, adult video pro-am producer/director, 40

No one I know has taken it. Rumors have it that [a famous porn star] is
using Caverject, though. [Caverject is an erection-inducing drug that is
injected directly into the shaft of the penis. The downside is that you have an
erection for four hours, whether you want it or not, and no matter how many
times you ejaculate.] Personally I like the idea that Mother Nature knows best,
as opposed to better living through chemistry. I would probably try it once,
just to say I did.

Michael Castleman, medical journalist/author ("Sexual Solutions:
For Men and the Women Who Love Them"), 48

Personally I have mixed feelings about Viagra. It seems like a good thing
for a small group of men -- say, guys with diabetic impotence. But it also
seems destined to be used mostly by men who don't medically need it, who
simply want "erection insurance." Nothing wrong with that, as long as the
guy understands that lovemaking is a sensual, playful, whole-body experience
that includes the penis but is by no means limited to it. My beef with Viagra is
that for lots of guys, it will simply reinforce the notion that sex equals
penis/penis equals sex, and that all women want is a hard cock.


Erotica Author, 53

I started using it about two weeks ago. I had my usual annual physical
with my doctor, and when he asked me how my sex life was, I said it was fine,
but sometimes I had trouble with my erections. I knew Viagra was coming out
soon. He made me come in another time, another $40, to tell me the whole
deal about the precautions and so on.

The first time it was really weird waiting for it to "come on." I felt like I
was waiting for an acid tab to hit. There actually was a feeling in my pelvis,
just below my anus, that was like a certain readiness, like something was
going to happen.

As soon as my partner started touching me, I got hard, very quickly, and
according to her, harder and bigger than I've ever been. It didn't seem that
way to me, though. Nevertheless, I lasted longer than usual, and it actually
hurt her to fuck me in our usual way, I really had to adjust to avoid causing
her pain.


I usually participate in getting an erection, touching it or squeezing my
PC muscle. But with the pill, I just sat back and watched, in a way it was like I
was watching my penis and my lover having a good time. I was a little separate
from it, which distressed her. Of course, she wanted me to be totally present.
But I think it's because this is all so new, it's a new world, and I don't yet know
how to be more casual, more comfortable with it.

Catering manager, 49

Yeah, I tried it, and I still can't believe it. It's like being a fat person all
your life and overnight you turn into Kate Moss. You can't believe it, you keep
touching it like it's not yours. Can this really be me?

Jack Boulware, journalist, author ("Sex, American Style"), 37


Just when you think the public debate can't get more explicit or
sex-obsessed, here comes this little boner pill for men. I think it's wonderful
that we can be so open about impotence, discussing the frequency of male
sexual needs, etc., and at the same time I'm nervous. If we're talking about this
as if it were a very common problem, doesn't this mean there are an awful lot
of frustrated women walking the planet? And what's going to happen when
the pill kicks in? Will there be another baby boom? Probably not, because --
conveniently perhaps? -- we're also hearing high success rates with the
morning after pill. Could this be a pharmaceutical conspiracy to make us
purchase more sex pills?

Dan Savage, writer/sex advice columnist, 33

I don't know anyone who's tried it yet, but I'm trying to get my hands on
some. Not that I NEED it, you know. I just want to see what it's like. But I
DON'T NEED IT, of course.

Carter Wilson, novelist, professor, 56

Have you noticed gay men either don't have as many impotence
problems, or don't talk about them at all in public? Partly it's because they're
into pleasing others with other projectile parts of themselves and partly (I
think) because the mechanics of gay sex don't always require an
erection, and then also probably because there's more understanding because
we're on the same "team" as they say on "Seinfeld."

It would be (I remember, it is) exhausting to have to "show hard"
all through a long session. And excuse me, but cock rings make the member
about as sexy as a blood sausage after a while. Maybe straight people need to
invent (` la Monty Python) sex semaphores to find a way to signal their
happiness with the way things are going -- with their tails or something. My
dogs can do it. What if women counted on male nipple-erection to make sure
Fred was still in the game? (Then soon there'd be Tit-agra on the market, hm?)

Well, if they can invent a pill for impotence, then they should be able to
invent one that gives you an orgasm too, and then everything will be fine, and
much less messy than it is now.

Geoffrey K. Pullum, linguist, 53

I have problems with sex, like how to find time to have enough of it, but
failure to become erect when at last the time is found is not one of the

It's sad to imagine how many men think being "hard" is what it's all
about. As if erotic excitement could only be caused by a rigid object about the
size and shape of a medium-size flashlight. And I wondered how there could
be a unitary approach to a problem that presumably is due, in different people,
to (a) physiological problems with blood flow, (b) natural aging, (c) anxiety,
(d) outright panic, (e) not liking sex, (f) terror at the thought of causing
pregnancy, (g) not performing well when expected to perform (test-taking
problems), (h) not fancying it right now thank you very much, (i) noting that
your partner's personal hygiene has really taken a downturn, (j) just not
fancying your partner at all anymore but not wanting to face that fact, and
presumably many other things.

I understand the drug is designed to fix a
specific problem due to reason (a), and to some extent reason (b), if they are
linked, but that's about it. It will not help you with the others, apparently.
(Like all men, I deny ever having had even a single one of these problems ever.
Ready for action and hard as a policeman's nightstick, all the time, of course.)

Washington, DC, attorney, 41

I thought it was interesting to hear that there was a purely medical
solution for what has often been taken to be primarily a psychological
problem. People have taken drugs to enhance their sexual performance or
sexual experiences for centuries. I expect a lot of people to experiment with
this drug for that reason, and I'm tempted to do so myself. It seems likely to be
less damaging than cocaine, albeit less enlightening than LSD.

City councilman, 52

I don't know anyone on it or who has taken it and I never have. I guess
on the more meta level it makes me wonder what the future holds in store for
me and all men. My experience is that when I get turned on I get a hard-on. I
sometimes get a hard-on when I don't feel turned on or when I don't want to
be turned on, but the reverse rarely happens. When it does, it seems to be
because I am in a situation where I am "supposed to be" turned on but I'm
preoccupied. So, what is the nature of the problem of all of these men who
can't get hard when they "want to"? Is it really just an organic problem
(physical) or are they all just so preoccupied that they aren't really turned on
in situations where they are "supposed to" be?

Of course, if these men are
finding themselves through this drug, I worry about their partners who are in
for an endless dose of the old in and out when probably they would much more
appreciate a good tongue or fingering. So, is the bottom line hard dick equals
"we're having sex now" while soft dick equals "we're not having sex"? Maybe
I just don't know enough to understand why this is such a panacea.

Photographer, 56

I plan to try it next time I go for a checkup. My view is that anything that
can help is good, but I'm doing reasonably well so there's no need to rush. I
wonder if some men who find certain drugs "soft-ons" (alcohol, coke) might
try Viagra to counteract the drug and get the best of both.

Michael Rosenthal, bookseller, 52

When I was having erection problems, I would have given anything for a
pill I could pop that would just get the agony over with. But my problems were
basically emotional, signals of deep problems between my wife and myself,
and they were the ultimate incentive (the only one that worked) to our both
grappling with them.

If I could have just plowed her, whether we were communicating or not,
would that have made things better in the long run? Who knows? Maybe it
would have opened a channel of communication. But I think not. I know that
the standard line is that most male sexual dysfunctions are physiological, not
psychological; but I really don't believe it, any more than I believe that size
doesn't matter.

So I guess I'm glad it wasn't around when I needed it, because there's no
question I would have demanded it from my doctor. I wonder if doctors are
making any effort to make judgment calls about this. I don't see how they

On the other hand, it would be nice, for special occasions, to be able to
get hard and come more frequently in a 24-hour period than my current
position in the life-cycle permits. I don't know if that's how the stuff works;
that is, if you are fully capable of an erection, but need a day to recharge after
spending, would it give you (by you of course I mean me) a couple of extra
pops? If so, I'd love to get my hands on some, just four or five a year. But of
course that's exactly how you can't get it. No doctor would give it just for a
joy pop; you have to have Something Wrong With You to qualify.

I think that every adult should be allocated a small quantity, no more
than 10, to use at their discretion. Many will use them up right away; some
(like me) would save them for special occasions; some of course will sell their
allocation for crack money or subsistence. Even that would be positive, since it
would entail some small redistribution of wealth. As it is, given the cost of
each dose and the unwillingness of insurance companies to cover it, it
basically gives the rich one of two things that we always thought money
couldn't buy.

Which leads to another thought. Perhaps one of the reasons I have been
monogamous for the past 25 years is my conviction that I'd probably be too
freaked, guilty and nervous to get it up anyway if I tried to play around. It's
not, I hope, the only reason; but who knows where we'd be were that
inhibition not in place.

Dr. Charles Moser, physician specializing in sexual concerns

I think it's great, and the comparisons between this and what happened
when the birth control pill came out are remarkably similar. There are all these
doomsday forecasters. When the Pill came out, they said women were going
to run wild, desert motherhood and monogamy. Of course that didn't happen,
but it did change the way we think about sex, not necessarily the way we do it.

So many therapists are up in arms, saying that it's the end of sex therapy,
the end of their practice -- but did they act like this when the antidepressant
drugs became available? Of course not. Antidepressants have brought relief
to a great many people, and often it's been just the thing they needed to get
confident about dealing with issues in therapy that they'd avoided before.

I've been debating this online. One woman said to me that this is the last
thing men need. If there's any medicine that's appropriate, it would be an "I
Hear You" pill, because that's what men need. She never considered how sexist
that was.

I gave a prescription of six pills to a patient of mine, and the very next
day he called for a refill. What happened, I asked. He explained that he had
taken one pill and felt so good he gave his (male) partner a pill to try, and he
loved it, so they invited four of their friends over and enjoyed themselves

Dr. Jack Morin, author ("The Erotic Mind"), therapist

They say the trials were 70 percent successful and every trial seems to have
higher success rates than real life, so I expect we'll see that statistic go way
down. Anecdotally, I've heard of men who took the pill and had nothing but a big
headache, which is the main side effect.

Much is made of men demanding too much from their erections or the
appearance of an erection, but often the pressure comes from women partners
who feel like the sex they have is not right if the man doesn't have a hard-on
the whole time.

Susie Bright

Susie Bright is the author of the new book "Full Exposure" and many other books, and the editor of the "Best American Erotica" series. For more columns by Bright, visit her website.

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