‘I was really struggling to get up’: Why young men are turning to Viagra

AAfter the breakup of a five-year relationship, James was nervous about dating again. He was 27 years old, healthy and had a good sex life. But when it came to sleeping with new people, he experienced “performance anxiety.” “I was really struggling to get it up,” he says. “I got to this point where he was having sex with a lot of people with a 75 percent error rate.” James assumed the problem was just nerves. He did not seek the advice of his GP. Instead, he began self-medicating with sildenafil, better known as Viagra. It worked instantly.

“When you take it, you can focus on enjoying sex and being in the moment,” she says, “instead of thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my p*** is failing. Nope! Nope! Do not stop! Keep it up!'”. However, when he started dating someone new, James felt an even greater need to rely on the drug. Wanting to make sure he wasn’t a disappointment, and sensing that they were about to have sex, James decided that, just to be safe, he would take two full strength 100mg pills. However, his new partner was not in the mood and he fell asleep next to him.

“I felt like my penis was about to explode,” says James. “I was incredibly weak.” He remembers the blood capillaries on the surface of his eyes drawing closer as he stared into the darkness. He was deeply uncomfortable. “I needed to pee,” he says, “so I was peeing probably six or ten feet away to land in the toilet.”

Now in his thirties, James still takes Viagra regularly. He never told his partner what he had done. And at that point, he is not alone. He estimates that up to half of his male friends have told him they take Viagra, and he suspects even more do so in secret. Some, like Josh, 27, admit they take it primarily as a recreational drug to enhance the sexual experience: “I tried it and it was like she was 14 again.” The pill is usually associated with older men. But an increasing number of men under the age of 50 are also taking sildenafil.

Possible side effects include reduced effectiveness over time, as well as more serious results. “Long-term use of Viagra can potentially increase the risk of psychological dependence and has also been associated with various problems affecting the auditory and visual systems and vision,” says Dr. Shirin Lakhani, a doctor who offers specialized treatments for erectile dysfunction in his private practice in London. clinic. “Serious short-term side effects include stroke and heart attack in very rare cases, as well as diarrhea and gastritis.”

figures released to the independent by the pharmaceutical company Viatris show that between May 2020 and May 2021 Viagra Connect sold more than seven million tablets in the UK. According to the company, more than 60 percent of UK users are between the ages of 25 and 54.



What is painfully obvious to me is that women in their thirties obsess and delight in the minutiae of the male anatomy.

The drug is much more accessible than it used to be thanks to a relaxation of the controls. Viagra Connect, launched in 2018, is an over-the-counter form that can be obtained without a prescription. It has become so popular that last month Boots announced the launch of its own generic version, which will be priced cheaper than the big-name brand. Generic sildenafil can also be purchased online with a prescription, which can be obtained relatively easily by answering a short consultation. “Of our ED customer base, 9 percent are in their twenties and 21 percent are in their thirties,” says Abbas Kanani, an online pharmacist.

That adds up to a large number of young users. And while erectile dysfunction remains a somewhat taboo subject among young men, it seems to be very common. According to a 2018 study, around half of British men in their 30s report difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. Like James, though, young men with erectile dysfunction aren’t necessarily talking to their doctor about it. “In my role as an NHS GP, I see hardly any men in their twenties or thirties with erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Luke Pratsides, who also works for a commercial men’s health website. “This is likely because young men don’t access traditional healthcare channels and may not want to have multiple points of contact to discuss sexual function, which many may find difficult to talk about.”

By bypassing their doctor, men are missing out on a proper diagnosis. James has never asked his doctor about the underlying cause of his erectile dysfunction, but he suspects that he is experiencing some level of performance anxiety. This is broadly defined as men who don’t necessarily have a problem every time they have sex or when they masturbate, but who, like James, take comfort in knowing that the pill will help them if they get stuck with an erection. negative spiral. “If I was going to sleep with someone for the first time, I get anxious, so I take it,” says James. “But over time I get more comfortable with them, and then I don’t really need it.”

Performance anxiety is a common but little-discussed cause of erectile dysfunction, according to Peter Saddington, a sex therapist who works in the department of Andrology at Sheffield Royal Hallamshire Hospital. “Anxiety releases a chemical in the brain that has an adverse effect on erections. It goes against feeling relaxed and sexual,” he explains. The problem is often compounded by the excitement of having sex with someone for the first time. “The body interprets the emotion as something close to anxiety, because you are meeting a new person.”

“At a certain point,” Saddington notes, even sildenafil will stop working. “Viagra doesn’t give you an erection; It facilitates the natural process, so if you feel increasingly anxious, eventually your anxiety can override the effect of sildenafil.”

James says he always feels anxious about his sexual performance, but especially with a new partner, and remembers the first time he heard some of his girlfriends talk about sex. “What is painfully obvious to me is that women in their thirties obsess and delight in the minutiae of the male anatomy,” says James. “It’s like circumference, length, movement. Everything is absolutely studied, and with pleasure, in front of his friends. Having witnessed that, at a table with people I’ve actually slept with, I’m aware of how much pressure there is to have great sex.

‘There was something slightly fake about it. It wasn’t connected, passionate sex that I suppose I have had with someone not on it’

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‘There was something slightly false about it. It wasn’t connected, passionate sex that I guess I’ve had with someone who wasn’t into it.

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It’s unclear how James’ sexual partners feel about it, because for the most part, he doesn’t tell them. But Wendy, 37, says she would be upset to find out her boyfriend was secretly taking Viagra. “Because I would feel like, oh, am I not enough?” she says. “But then I understand that [erectile dysfunction] it is more common as men get older.” To her knowledge, she has only had sex with a man taking sildenafil once: a one-night stand, which she later found out about from a mutual friend. The sex was average, a fact that Wendy attributes in part to the drug. “There was something a little untrue about it. It wasn’t connected, passionate sex that I guess I’ve had with someone who wasn’t into it.”

Viatris, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that makes Viagra, provided some data to the independent from a survey of 5,007 people, including 2,445 men, who commissioned in 2020. One of the questions they asked was “what are the top three barriers to being more intimate?” Nine percent of 18-24 year olds and 10 percent of 25-34 year olds identified “Sexual problems, eg struggling to get or keep an erection” as the main reason. Of all the men who had experienced erectile dysfunction, nearly a third (29 percent) said it was because they were “worried about not being able to get or keep an erection.”

However, the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction can be more complex. “Erectile dysfunction is often dismissed as psychological [or] stress-related and temporary and self-limited in younger men,” says Dr. Lakhani. “However, while psychological reasons may play a role, it is important to realize that there may also be medical conditions that cause erectile dysfunction in younger men. Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, affect erectile function, either directly or as a side effect of the medications used to treat them.” Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and obesity can also play a role, says Dr. Lakhani, as can cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Performance anxiety is often present in erectile dysfunction, he notes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the cause. Dr. Lakhani suspects that the incidence of erectile dysfunction may be “much higher than reported due to the stigma and shame surrounding sexual health issues.” It is important to get a proper diagnosis of the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction.

*Names have been changed

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