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.