‘I really struggled to get up’: why young men are turning to Viagra

After the breakup of a five-year relationship, James was nervous about new dates. 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 really struggled to lift it,” he says. “I got to the point where I had sex with a lot of people with a 75 percent chance of being wrong.” James suggested that the problem was simply nerves. He did not seek advice from his therapist. 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 present moment,” he says, “instead of thinking, ‘Oh my God, my dick isn’t working. Not! Not! Do not stop! Keep going!'”

However, when he started dating someone new, James felt an even greater need to rely on the drug. Wanting to make sure he wouldn’t disappoint, and sensing that they were about to have sex, James decided that – just to be sure – he would “double up” two 100mg maximum strength pills. However, his new partner was not in the mood and fell asleep next to him.

“I felt like my penis was about to explode,” says James. “I was incredibly weak.” He recalls how the blood capillaries on the surface of his eyes focused as he stared into the darkness. He was very uncomfortable. “I needed to pee,” he says, “and so I was probably urinating from a distance of about two or three meters to get into the toilet.”

Now in his thirties, James still takes Viagra regularly. He never told his partner what he did. And he is not alone in this matter. He estimates that up to half of his male friends have told him they are taking Viagra, and he suspects even more are doing it in secret.

Some, like 27-year-old Josh, admit that they took it mainly as a recreational drug to improve their sexual experience: “I tried it and I was 14 again.” Pills are commonly associated with older men. But a growing number of men under 50 are also taking sildenafil.

Possible side effects include a decrease in effectiveness over time, as well as more serious effects. “Long-term use of Viagra has the potential to increase the risk of psychological addiction and is also associated with various problems affecting hearing, visual system and vision,” says Dr. Shirin Lahani, a doctor who offers specialized treatment for erectile dysfunction in his private London office. clinic.

“Short-term serious side effects include strokes and heart attacks in very rare cases, as well as diarrhea and gastritis.”

Figures released for Independent pharmaceutical company Viatris show that between May 2020 and May 2021, Viagra Connect sold more than seven million tablets in the UK. More than 60% of UK users are between the ages of 25 and 54, according to the company.

The drug has become much more affordable than before, thanks to the weakening of control. Viagra Connect, released in 2018, is an over-the-counter form that can be obtained without a prescription.

It’s become so popular that Boots announced last month that it would be releasing its own all-in-one version that would cost less than the well-known brand. Generic sildenafil can also be bought online with a prescription that is relatively easy to get with a short consultation.

“Of our client base for erectile dysfunction treatment, 9% are people between the ages of 20 and 21% who are in their 30s,” says Abbas Kanani, an Internet pharmacist.

This adds a lot of younger users. And although erectile dysfunction is still a somewhat taboo topic among young men, it seems to be very common. According to one 2018 study, about half of British men in their 30s report difficulty getting or maintaining an erection.

However, like James, young men with erectile dysfunction do not necessarily tell their doctor about it.

“In my role as NHS General Practitioner, I hardly ever see men in their 20s and 30s with erectile dysfunction,” says Dr. Luke Pratsides, who also works for a commercial men’s health website.

“This is likely because young men do not have access to traditional health channels and may not want to have multiple touchpoints to discuss sexual function, which can be difficult for many to talk about.”

Bypassing the doctor, men miss the opportunity to make the correct diagnosis. James has never asked his doctor about the root cause of his erectile dysfunction, but he suspects he is experiencing some level of anxiety. Broadly speaking, these are men who don’t necessarily get in trouble every time they have sex or when they masturbate, but who, like James, take comfort in knowing that a pill will help them if they get stuck killing a boner. negative spiral.

“If I was going to sleep with someone for the first time, I get nervous, so I accept it,” says James. “But as time goes by, I feel more comfortable around them – and then I really don’t need it.”

According to Peter Saddington, a sex therapist at the Andrology Department at the Royal Sheffield Hospital in Hallamshire, performance anxiety is a common but little-discussed cause of erectile dysfunction.

“Anxiety releases a chemical in the brain that has adverse effects on erections. It goes against the feeling of being relaxed and sexy,” he explains. The problem is often exacerbated by the excitement of having sex for the first time with someone. “The body interprets excitement as close to anxiety because you are meeting a new person.”

“At some point,” Saddington notes, “even sildenafil will stop working. “Viagra does not cause an erection; it eases the natural process, so if you become increasingly restless, your anxiety may eventually outweigh the effects of sildenafil.”

James says he’s always worried about his sexual options, especially with a new partner, and recalls the first time he heard some of his girlfriends talk about sex.

“It’s painfully obvious to me that women in their thirties are obsessed and revel in the minutiae of male anatomy,” says James. “It’s like girth, length, movement. Everyone absolutely pored – and with such pleasure – in front of their friends. So, as I witness this – at a table with people I actually slept with – I realize how much pressure there is to ensure good sex.”

It’s unclear how James’ sexual partners feel about this, because for the most part, he doesn’t tell them.

But Wendy, 37, says she wouldn’t be happy if she found out her boyfriend was secretly taking Viagra. “Because I would think, oh, am I not enough?” she said. “But then I realize that [erectile dysfunction] more common as guys get older.”

To the best of her knowledge, she had sex with a man who took sildenafil only once: a one-night stand that she later learned about from a mutual friend. The sex was casual, a fact that Wendy partly attributes to drugs. “There was something slightly fake about it. It wasn’t tied up, passionate sex, which I assume I had with someone who wasn’t involved in it.”

Viatris, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that makes Viagra, has provided some data. Independent from a survey of 5,007 people, including 2,445 men they booked in 2020.

One of the questions they asked was, “What are the top three barriers that keep you from being more intimate?” Nine percent of those aged 18 to 24 and 10 percent of those aged 25 to 34 cited “sexual problems, such as difficulty getting or maintaining an erection” as the main reason.

Of all the men who have had erectile dysfunction, nearly a third (29 percent) said it was because they were “worried about not being able to get or maintain an erection.”

However, the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction can be more complex. “Erectile dysfunction is often dismissed as a psychological [or] stress-related, transient, and self-limiting in young men,” says Dr. Lahani. “However, while psychological causes may play a role, it is important to understand that there may be medical conditions causing ED in young men as well.

Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety affect erectile function either directly or as a side effect of medications used to treat them.” Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and obesity can also play a role, Dr. Lahani says, as can cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

She notes that performance anxiety is often present with erectile dysfunction, 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 associated with sexual health issues.” It is very important to correctly diagnose the underlying causes of erectile dysfunction.

*Names have been changed