The Viagra Monologues

                     The babymaker. The little blue pill. Bluey. The erector. A fallen’s angel. The gem of the medicine cabinet, having the appropriate shape of a diamond. Call it what you want, but at the end of the day it is the same cultural phenomenon packed into one little blue pill–Viagra. A few theories exist as to why men suffer from erectile dysfunction, ED for short. For a long period of time, up until the 1960s in fact, frigid women were thought to be the cause of erectile dysfunction–their disinterest in sex was believed to have dampened men’s sexual arousal and, thus, women were the ones to blame for men’s physical problems (Loe). However, the predominant theory among the medical community today is that erectile dysfunction is caused, simply, by physical changes to the male’s body. This theory is sound, but it only reflects the majority of the diagnosed community, while there are plenty of men getting Viagra on the blackmarket or by other means without a prescription that have no problems achieving and maintaining an erection. Viagra is not just a pill, but is made out to be the fountain of youth for a man, the cure for everything, the magical potion to become a sex god, and so on. With a belief that they will perform better by taking Viagra, men lurk on the web scouting it out, pick it up as a party favor, and take some from their friends. Men as young as 22-years-old take Viagra, often to offset side effects from other drugs like alcohol, crystal meth, and ecstasy and to boost more than just their anatomy (The Hays Daily News). The male ego is at the epicenter of Viagra. There are a few reasons as to why Viagra thrives in today’s American society–the prioritization of sex, the growing threats to men’s traditional roles in society, and a fear of growing older are just to name a few. The focus of this paper is to investigate how Viagra reflects the male ego in American society.



The Orgasmic Origins

Though there were products that helped combat erectile dysfunction before the invention of Viagra, they did not take off like Viagra did. Some of these methods included vacuum pumps, rhino horns, penis augmentation, penis rings, and so on (Loe; Castleman). Many felt that these prior methods were too invasive and that Viagra was not, despite the fact that Viagra might be one of the most invasive of all since this is a cultural artifact that is actually being ingested into one’s body and becoming part of that person’s chemistry. 

Viagra was originally meant to control blood pressure, but during the trial period, scientists found something even more profitable–the supposed cure for impotence. After its approval in 1998 by the FDA in the wake of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (an appropriate time as any to come out with a sex drug–needless to say, President Clinton was a strong advocate of the drug), doctors could not write enough prescriptions for patients. Never before had doctors seen so many alleged cases of erectile dysfunction. Entrepreneurs recognized Viagra for the money-maker it was and wasted no time capitalizing on this. The pill was so desired that a Yugoslavian pizzeria had a $50 pizza and Viagra combo deal before it was legalized in Yugoslavia. Dr. Rafael Wurzel even went so far as to say that it was “the biggest thing since the Beatles” in 1998 (The Kerrville Times).

America in One Pill

It was the new blockbuster lifestyle drug, becoming as big of a name as Prozac in the world of miracle drugs (Latson). Viagra can act as an example of the trend of commercialization of medication after World War II that David Herzberg delves into in his book Happy Pills in America (Herzberg). The commercialization of Viagra is one way of illustrating how sex has moved from the private sphere to the public sphere. The concept of sex used to be more of an intimate, private act, and yet the concept is now broadcasted to millions over Viagra advertisements and the like. 

Whereas before, there was a relative shortage of men in the porn industry, suddenly with the added confidence boost Viagra afforded them, men flooded onto the scene (Person). Gone was the timid and out came the brazen. The sexualization of our society helped bring about Viagra’s popularity and also, funnily enough, helped continue the cycle, perhaps even adding to the sexualization of society as can be seen with its effect on the porn industry. 

Viagra is often correlated with masculinity. In Viagra commercials, football, basketball, NASCAR racing, deep sea fishing, sailing, and driving trucks are all featured. Pfizer, the company over Viagra, paid big bucks to be associated with the NFL, spending $31 million to be advertised in one season of the NFL alone (Rosenthal). Viagra is not only connected to the NFL through commercials though. According to Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, a lot of NFL players reportedly use Viagra to help with endurance during games (Sports Illustrated). Not only does Viagra act as a performance-enhancing-drug, but it is also advertised by bodybuilders, catering to men’s desire for masculinity (D’Marge). 

The obsession many men seem to have with their bodily utilities is nothing new. There is an ancient fresco in Pompei that illustrates this perfectly. The fresco from 79 A.D. pictures a nobleman, a member of the upper classes, with an erect penis reportedly possessing “the length and girth larger than a man’s leg” lying on top of an ancient scale with sacks of gold acting as a counterweight to it (Psychology Today). Dr. Abraham Morgentaler calls this desire for a bigger penis the Stallion Syndrome. An example of Viagra compensating for the wounded male ego is the confessions men like Bernard, a 58-year old retired construction worker, in The Kerrville Times newspaper have made about getting more self-confidence and feeling good about who they are after taking Viagra (The Kerrville Times). This gives some insight into how many men value themselves and who they are physically more so than spiritually or emotionally. Gail Sheehy, the famous author of Understanding Men’s Passages, suggests that men should instead view erectile dysfunction as an opportunity to “reconfigure their lives and create a new definition of what it means to be a man” (Santa Cruz Sentinel). The popularity of Viagra seems like this suggestion never quite took off and men are reluctant to change what they consider to be the defining feature of being a man. 

Viagra’s target audience appears to be heterosexual middle-aged white men of the upper classes. As Professor Jarret of the urology department at George Washington University put it, “When people have money to spend, they are willing to spend on their sexual health” (ABC News). After conducting an analysis myself of thirty Viagra commercials, 76.67% of the commercials star whites only. The men predominantly appear to be middle-aged in the commercials. Viagra commercials tend to focus on just a man or woman by themselves in their commercials.  In fact, only 33.33% of the commercials picture a man and woman together. This may reflect on how women are not given a voice when it comes to Viagra despite sex ethically being a consensual act. The commercials advise men to consult with their doctors, but there is no line uttered saying to consult with their partners. When women do appear in the commercials, they are often posed seductively, as if more than willing and acting as sirens to lure men into the world of Viagra and make them believe they will be on the top of the world again by doing so–the quick fix that society craves. The quick fix to a man’s injured ego and the quick fix to relationship problems–many people appear to be under the misconception that sex fixes relationships, while it seems this is not the case (The Daily Herald; Santa Cruz Sentinel). The large percentage of commercials geared towards white males is no incident–they are the very people that are likely to feel most threatened in today’s progressive society, thus seeking a feeling of power. My findings appear to be in accordance with Meika Loe’s findings showing that advertisements for Viagra put great cultural emphasis on whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality (Loe). 

Despite the fact that the heterosexual community is the main target audience of Viagra, quite a few homosexual men dabbled with the drug as well, often mixing the drug with others. Statistics, as shown in a newspaper, indicate that homosexual men using Viagra were twice as likely to have unprotected sex, thus increasing their chances of getting AIDs. There was a significant correlation between Viagra use and unprotected sex. The rate of STDs greatly increased after the release of Viagra also by no surprise given the statistics (The Hays Daily News).

Another audience that was not targeted in Viagra commercials, but certainly uses it, is young men in their teens and twenties. This is the recreational market audience. Though Viagra should provide no physical benefit for those without erectile dysfunction according to scientists, it does provide a psychological benefit. Placebo is an accurate example of the quote, “If you believe enough, it will happen.” There is evidence that just the thought of having taken Viagra or other sexually stimulating drugs makes people sexually excited (Herper; Harper). In one such study, Pfizer was examining the effects of Viagra on women but had to reportedly stop the study when they found that most of the women given placebos in the control group were sexually stimulated. Due to the fact that many popular recreational drugs, like cocaine, cause men to have trouble with erections, it is not a big surprise that young people use Viagra recreationally as an ingredient in their own concoction of drugs to offset the effects from other drugs they have taken. The problem with recreational use is that users often get drugs from the black market where no examination or medical history is done beforehand, leading to some risks.  In an ironic twist of fate, one man in the U.K. that bought Viagra off the black market had to get his penis amputated (Malicdem). Pfizer estimates that 80% of websites selling Viagra were actually selling counterfeit drugs manufactured in unlicensed factories, containing talcum powder and rat poisoning among other ingredients (Hager). The recreational market for Viagra is huge–police seized 27,000 unmarked Viagra pills off the black market shipped all the way from Hong Kong to Mississippi (FOX 5). No one person needs that much Viagra, which is a telling sign of the money that person thinks he or she can make off of the shipment if he or she is willing to buy $663,000 worth of Viagra. 

As women climb up the ladder of society, men need to find some way to reassert their dominance. Sex may act as a method of domination for these insecure men. As women increasingly enter the workforce, Viagra’s popularity seems to increase.  In 1998, according to a graph made by the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, there was a 59.8% participation rate among women in the labor force and a 74.9% participation rate among men in the labor force in 1998 and this employment gap has increasingly narrowed over the years (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR). A study conducted in 2019 by researchers at the University of Toronto titled “Growing sense of social status threat and concomitant deaths of despair among whites,” indicates that the rising white mortality rates within the United States are due to “a perceived decline in relative group status on the part of whites” (Siddiqi, Arjumand, etc). White males were at the top of the social hierarchy for a long time in America, but now gaps are closing between races and genders with higher educational attainment increasing across the board and wage gaps narrowing (Third Way). This feeling of decreased self-worth in public life leads to men with and without erectile dysfunction using Viagra in hopes of enhancing their performance and regaining the self-worth in the bedroom that they perceive to have lost in society. As Leonore Tiefer, an expert in sexuality with a PhD in experimental psychology, explains, people increasingly rely on “personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy” (Tiefer). This is not hard to believe given the tremendous societal changes America has seen in the past century. Voting is no longer an activity made exclusively for white males. Women now have equal pay, whereas before men were raking in the dollars and women were relegated to domestic life. The United States has become increasingly diverse. Given these changes and more, white men are no longer the kings of the public sphere, so in some ways white men rightly feel a loss because they lost this status. 

The Woman’s Perspective 

“Dear sir, my husband took Viagra instead of paracetamol this morning. Since our maid is also home, I can not come to the office today. Thank you” (Whisper).


This fear of infidelity was not an isolated event, in fact, Pfizer was even sued by a scorned woman whose husband started cheating as soon as he could with Viagra (Ukiah Daily Journal). Many seem to blame the drug for infidelity as opposed to the men themselves, similar to people blaming drugs for crime. The mention of a maid in the quote above also does a fairly good job of demonstrating the class Viagra caters to–the upper class. Just one dose of Viagra costs $25.75 and one dose does not even equal an entire pill (Try Sildenafil). According to Sally and Hilda, two elderly women interviewed, “the price is going to leave even the middle-classes behind” (Fischer, Seidman).  It is a funny sort of coincidence that the man pictured in the 79 A.D. fresco previously mentioned was a member of the upper class because the price of Viagra tends to target people with money to spare. Perhaps this catering to the upper classes not only acts as a luxury to further separate men in different classes, but also as a hope of the upper classes proliferating, making more of those like themselves to supposedly “lessen the burden on society” as some might say. Men can be fertile as old as 92 (Guinness World Records).

Two advice columns, written by twin sisters, known as “Ask Ann Landers” and “Dear Abby” that appeared in newspapers provide a wealth of knowledge into what women’s thoughts were on Viagra upon its arrival. Women would lament to Ann or Abby about their worries and Ann and Abby would provide quick qips of advice to the women. One particularly controversial reply given by Ann Landers to a woman concerned with the coming of Viagra and her husband’s doctor recommending it to him despite her not wanting to have sex with him was basically that if she loved her husband she would have sex with him because it makes him happy (The Kerrville Times). Needless to say, that reply was met with backlash by other women, commenting that it was very much a 1950s-style retort. This woman debating over whether she was being a bad wife or not because of not wanting sex with her husband was not alone in her disinterest towards Viagra. A survey featured in one particular Ann Landers’ column showed that a majority of women were content without sex (The Salina Journal).

Change is often fought against and Viagra is one way of fighting change–changes in society and changes in biology. Both men and women try to turn back the clocks on mother nature out of vanity and Viagra is one example of that. Sex is not a medical necessity and a major factor into Viagra’s survival and popularity lies within the man’s ego. 

ENDNOTES

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 Latson, Jennifer. “Viagra Prescriptions: The End of Sex Was Predicted, But Didn’t Happen.” Time. Time, March 27, 2015. https://time.com/3748244/viagra-history/.

Herzberg, David L. Happy Pills in America: from Miltown to Prozac. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Person. “Viagra Ruining Industry: Porn Stars.” The Age. The Age, July 5, 2002. https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/viagra-ruining-industry-porn-stars-20020705-gdud6f.html.

Rosenthal, Phil. “NFL Telecasts Losing Those Awkward Viagra, Cialis Commercials.” chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2019. https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/ct-nfl-viagra-commercials-rosenthal-spt-0714-20170713-column.html.

“Brandon Marshall: I’ve Heard of Players Using Viagra ‘to Get an Edge’.” SI.com, November 28, 2012. https://www.si.com/nfl/audibles/2012/11/28/brandon-marshall-ive-heard-of-players-using-viagra-to-get-an-edge.

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 “Honeymoon With Viagra Could Be Over, Say Doctors .” ABC News. ABC News Network. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/viagra-prescription-sales-sexual-expectations/story?id=13794726

“16 Jun 1998, Page 74 – The Daily Herald at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/24482847/?terms=Viagra&match=2

 “26 Jan 2005, Page 15 – Santa Cruz Sentinel at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/82549415/?terms=Viagra+lover&match=1.

 Loe, Meika. The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

 “26 Jun 2002, Page 17 – The Hays Daily News at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/1600451/?terms=viagra&pqsid=ehEqD–fAudGO03r_tnv9A:1474000:1560032975.

 Herper, Matthew. “Placebo Is The Real ‘Female Viagra’.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, January 2, 2012. https://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2011/12/14/placebo-is-the-real-female-viagra/#56d8dec87097.

 Harper, Naomi. “Everything You Need for an All-Night Party … His and Hers Viagra.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, March 11, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/mar/11/familyandrelationships3.

 Malicdem, Darwin. “Viagra Causes Man To Lose Penis.” Medical Daily, September 16, 2019. https://www.medicaldaily.com/viagra-causes-man-lose-penis-other-side-effects-exposed-442513.

 HAGER, THOMAS. TEN DRUGS: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine. S.l.: HARRY N ABRAMS, 2019.

“Officers Seize 27,000 Unmarked Viagra Pills at Port.” FOX 5 Atlanta. FOX 5 Atlanta, August 13, 2019. https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/officers-seize-27000-unmarked-viagra-pills-at-port.

 “U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Women in Labor Force, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/NEWSTATS/facts/women_lf.htm##LFPWomenAge.

 Siddiqi, Arjumand, Odmaa Sod-Erdene, Darrick Hamilton, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and William Darity. “Growing Sense of Social Status Threat and Concomitant Deaths of Despair Among Whites.” SSM – Population Health. Elsevier, November 20, 2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235282731830291X.

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Tiefer, Leonore. Sex Is Not a Natural Act. Boulder: Westview Press, 2004.

 “U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.” Women in Labor Force, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/NEWSTATS/facts/women_lf.htm##LFPWomenAge.

 “21 Stiff Confessions From Men Who’ve Used Viagra To Get It On.” Whisper. Accessed December 6, 2019. http://whisper.sh/stories/263f8c11-4ae4-4097-8f08-9050146449df/Considering-Viagra-Read-These-Horror-Stories-Before-You-Decide-To-Go-S.

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 Fischer, Nancy, and Steven Seidman. Introducing the New Sexuality Studies. London: Routlege Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

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“20 Sep 1998, Page 19 – The Salina Journal at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com. Accessed December 6, 2019. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/1379177/?terms=Viagra+lover&match=2.

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1 thought on “The Viagra Monologues

  1. Hi Madison,

    Your focus on the correlation between sex and drugs and the male ego was extremely interesting. As an extension of your discussion of Viagra, Roman Swipes, a new scientific mechanism to help men last longer in bed may be of particular interest to you. Roman swipes are literally wipes embedded with an anaesthetic to prevent premature ejaculation. I think beyond the discussion of the various uses for viagra, i.e. combatting the effects of other drugs, it is important to consider the social implications the prevalence of this drug and drugs in general, has for society. You mentioned sex and the male ego being at the center of US and largely western culture. I decided to look into viagra use or lack thereof in other countries. In select Middle Eastern Countries for example, an area where sex would be expected to be a taboo subject due to religious affiliations, the drug was originally banned particularly for unmarried men as there was fear it would provoke vice (Fisk, Potency Pill). That was in 1998 ; now however, perceptions of the drug are much more relaxed and has allowed the discussion of secual problems in these countries to flow more freely. One particular article, ‘Twenty Years On…’ examines the cutlural phenomenon that has allowed for the drug to thrive in the arab world. It in fact mimics your project in several ways. The article hypothesizes that the prevalent practice of polygamy as well as strong perceptions of masculinity most likely contributes to high demand for anti-impotence medicine in the same way that it does in the United States.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/potency-pill-has-middle-eastern-men-dreaming-of-1001-nights-1163650.html

    https://middle-east-online.com/en/twenty-years-viagra-sheds-light-male-attitudes-arab-world

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