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ED drugs and sex

Viagra and its competitors, Levitra and Cialis, have had a big impact on male sexuality in the years since the little blue pill was introduced in 1998. There were other treatments for erectile dysfunction before Viagra, but they required injecting medication into your penis or pushing something into the urethra. It’s easy to understand why the new drugs were more popular.  In fact, the drugs became so popular they brought a new term to public awareness:  ED, or erectile dysfunction.

At first the pills were marketed to older guys; one of the first spokesmen was aging politician Bob Dole. But soon Viagra started sponsoring NASCAR drivers and the guys hawking the pills were no longer grandpas; they looked more like Paul Newman in his prime. Nowadays, athletes are often the ones promoting these medications. The message is clear: studs use our stuff. Shouldn’t you?

If the pharmaceutical industry neglected to target gay men explicitly, that didn’t mean we weren’t paying attention. In the often-competitive world of gay male sexuality guys have often been interested in something that would give them an edge. Viagra became a part of the gay male sexual landscape as soon as the drug was approved – often not for treating erectile problems, but for allowing men with average sexual functioning to become better-than-average. In a culture that values keeping it up as long as possible, reliable erections at $10 or $15 a pop can seem like a bargain.

For party boys who use crystal meth and other drugs, Viagra and its cousins are often used to overcome the sexual side effects of drug use. Crystal increases sexual desire while causing users to have erratic erections.

Taking erection-enhancing medications along with recreational drugs alleviates that problem. Unfortunately, the lowered inhibitions caused by party drugs and the improved performance provided by Viagra has proven to be the ticket to unsafe sex for many men.

While Viagra, Cialis and Levitra have relatively few medical side effects for most men, some men with cardiac conditions have actually died. Mixing Viagra with party drugs can be a problem, and using Viagra or similar medications with poppers (amyl or butyl nitrate) is potentially fatal.

All sorts of physical problems (hypertension, cardiac problems, diabetes) can affect erections, and ED medication can be valuable for men have medical problems that affect them sexually. In addition, almost all of us occasionally experience not having an erection when we really, really want one. If it happens on a regular basis, though, problems with getting hard can undermine a guy’s sexual self-confidence. Because so much about sexuality is psychological, not physiological, anything that boosts our egos may also help increase sexual pleasure and lessen anxiety. Medication can provide that sort of…lift.

Unfortunately, potency does not always translate into intimacy. Intimacy requires us to become vulnerable with one another. Sexual athletes take Viagra for the opposite reason – to become impressive sexual Supermen. They may have more sex than ever, but without a corresponding increase in fulfillment. And because sexual compulsivity is already a concern for some gay men, medication-enhanced sex is not without its risks. Guys who use sex as a way of distracting themselves from what makes them anxious in their lives may find medication makes sex even more of a problem.

It’s also important to understand that these medications aren’t aphrodisiacs. Men experiencing performance problems because they lack interest in sex, who are conflicted about their sexual identity, or who are having relationship problems aren’t going to find the answer in a pill. The problem is emotional, not medical.

If you choose to use these medications, learn how to use them effectively.  Each medication varies in how quickly users notice enhanced erections – sometimes its 30-60 minutes, other times it may be 3-4 hours.  And some medications can have an effect that lasts for a day and a half or longer.  With others, the party is pretty much over after three hours or so.

Be aware that when we treat our bodies like objects (or as a life support system for an erection), we risk feeling even more alienated than when we started. That’s especially true when other recreational drugs like methamphetamines or cocaine are involved. As a friend of mine likes to say, you can never get enough of what you don’t really want.

If you are experiencing sexual problems, see your physician or a psychotherapist. Remember that if you are experiencing anxiety around sex, problems forming intimate relationships or low self-esteem, understand that the answer is within you, not in the pharmaceutical industry. A three-hour long erection isn’t as important as figuring out what you really need in order to have a fulfilling sex life.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.