Viagra Man, A Decade Later


Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on sexuality
and aging, co-produced by the National Sexuality Resource Center and RH
Reality Check. Check back in the coming weeks for more on seniors and
sexuality. Read the first article: How Are Your Orgasms, Mom? and the second, Older, Wiser, and Sexually Smarter.

If you want to get a good sense
of where we stand as a society when it comes to aging, sexuality, and
manhood, think about those erectile dysfunction ads. They feature men
singing and dancing in the streets, others strumming "Viva Viagra"
on their guitars, and handsome straight couples in side-by-side tubs
with twinkles in their eyes. Over ten years of Pfizer advertising Viagra,
the individual ad campaigns may have changed but the themes have stayed
the same. Ideal sexuality is youthful ("18 again"), heterosexual,
penetrative, and erection-centered. Apparently, being a man, and a healthy
happy successful one, depends on these things. Thanks to Viagra, mankind
now stands at a crossroads: either invest in that teenage erection – or
in a broader, richer definition of manhood.

There was great potential here
to shift the way we, as a society, think about aging; the way we think
about elder men (and their partners!) and sex. Just imagine an ad campaign
(and a society!) that truly embraces aging, sexuality, and vulnerable
masculinity. It would feature a wide range of variation when it comes
to bodies and disabilities. Intimacy would be broadly defined, and men
would learn how to be great lovers. Men would be comfortable discussing
fears and anxieties associated with sexual performance. Viva Vulnerability!
Pfizer could still make billions. And we might all be happier and healthier,
or at least more realistic. 

In fact, Pfizer came close
to shifting our ideas about aging and sexuality way back in 1999, when
Bob Dole became the company’s spokesperson for erectile dysfunction.
Here was a war veteran, an elder statesman, on TV, talking about this
sexual dysfunction problem. This was a radical thing for a lot of reasons.
It was one of the first (if not the very first) direct-to-consumer ad
for a pharmaceutical product broadcast for all Americans to see. Even
more shockingly, this was an older man talking (indirectly) about sex.
Specifically, Dole was talking about not being able to get it up,
and this occurred in the months following endless media attention to
President Clinton’s seemingly opposite problem. The social ramifications
of this ad campaign, along with the "Let the Dance Begin" campaign
that followed it (featuring white-haired individuals dancing), were
truly amazing: men of all ages going to doctors offices in droves.  

My grandfather was one of these
men who asked his doctor for the pills. He was in his early eighties,
and dating, and he wanted his "manhood" back. A committed Democrat,
Gramps was nonetheless heartened to see another man around his age on
television who had a similar dilemma. He was now open to pursuing new
options for enhancing sexual intimacy. He might have benefitted from
learning about how to communicate with a partner about his concerns
and about sexuality in general.  

However, what happened next
was where the so-called "Viagra revolution" stalled. Men "asked
their doctors" (generally as the doc was leaving the examining room),
but many didn’t talk with their wives. And many doctors, out of discomfort,
didn’t ask questions. Some doctors commented later that they were
disgusted by octogenarians asking for blue pills. Bob Dole became the
butt of every joke on late night television.  

Meanwhile, Pfizer realized
that Viagra generally did not work for men post-prostate surgery – men
like Bob Dole and my grandfather. Now that the American public knew
about erectile dysfunction, Pfizer could now move to market the drug
to men in a wide age spectrum who were curious and anxious about sexual
performance. In short, the sexual status quo was tested, and then youthful
sexy manhood quickly took center stage again. Ageism, heterosexism,
and medicine triumphed. 

From that point forward, the
Viagra man became either professional baseball or NASCAR spokesmen talking
about all-around performance, or those handsome age-ambiguous (thirty,
forty, or fifty-something?) guys with a touch of gray in their hair,
impressing their coworkers with their new confidence, caressing a lovely
younger-looking woman, jumping in the street to the tune of "We are
the Champions," singing Elvis tunes with friends, and sprouting devil-horns
while "getting back to mischief."  

In the age of direct-to-consumer
pharmaceutical advertising (only legal in the United States since 1997),
drug ads proliferate, and to some degree, they reflect culture. But
they also help to construct and reinforce cultural values. Since its
debut, Viagra has been hailed as a sexual revolution for men. In reality,
I’m not sure we’ve progressed at all. A new approach to aging? Except
for middle-aged men graying at the temples, we’re back to denying
aging and elder sex, and selling medication with anti-aging branding.
A new Viagra man? I’m seeing a whole lot of confidence and bravado
in these ads. Where’s the vulnerability and insecurity we all feel,
especially after being barraged by these images? Revolutionary sex?
Straight couples and an emphasis on erectile performance – show me a
woman who thinks this is new. Now Viva vulvas…that would be something
different.  

Over the last decade millions
have stepped up to the plate and swallowed the youth, vigor, and vitality
message. Who can resist? But I have also met a good number of courageous
men over the years who chose not to refill their Viagra prescriptions.
They have used the Viagra era as an opportunity to explore what manhood
and aging means to them; they talked to friends and family about these
things; and they learned how to be better lovers. It turns out they
were onto something. A study just published in the Canadian Journal
of Human Sexuality points out that among the ingredients for great sex
after sixty is vulnerability, as well as authenticity and good communication.
So maybe the revolution is still to come.

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  • http://www.thebeautifulkind.com invalid-0

    I used to sneer at the mention of Viagra and found it silly that the virile men I had orgies with would recreationally pop the pill prior to a night of multiple partner passion, but I’ve personally worked with two older gentleman in the past year as a sexual surrogate and we test drove the little blue pill, and it was remarkable how effective it was for those two situations. They were both so thrilled! I think it has its place.

  • http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=1844379 invalid-0

    I still don’t understand why young age range 18-30 who didn’t have a erectile dysfunction. Maybe that believe with viagra they become an viagra man.It’s for showtime

  • ejames

    Meika Loe’s excellent book reported that partners of men using Viagra were much less enthusiastic about the results. Any further research on this? As a psychiatrist, sex educator, and couples therapist, I wonder what Pfizer et al suggest parents say to an 8-year-old who asks "What is an erection that lasts more than four hours?" Most doctors writing prescriptions for this and similar drugs are practicing subpar medicine. Do they take a sexual history? How many know how? How many conduct or even suggest a couple interview with the partner?
    –ejl

  • edguider

    I like the way you phrase this article Meika and yes most Erectile dysfunction ads to show middle aged to older men happy, singing or even riding a motorcycle to a hotel with their wife but that does not mean only older men in their 50’s take viagra to get their confidence back. Our site writes about Viagra everyday and we have a few articles about men in their late twenties experiencing Erectile Dysfunction.
    What most do no realize is that there are also psychological factors involved and this happens often in younger men who do not want to disappoint their partners. When they cannot perform the first time, they experience performance anxiety and this is a main factor that leads to ED in younger men. Many men result to viagra but there are other options such as a change in diet and adding a few basic exercise routines to your daily activities.
    A new Viagra man? I would say yes and no. Yes it get their confidence back but it only lasts 4 hours :)

  • jerome22

    nice info about viagra
    thank you

  • cucunguk4
  • crowepps

    It just continues to be the same size as when I bought it.