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The Viagra Effect: Has It Really Given Sex a Lift?

March 22, 2018 in History

By Esther Perel

Small blue Viagra pills, Pfizer's pharmaceutical answer to erectile dysfunction, being separated by machine. (Credit: Suzanne Opton/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

History Reads is a weekly series featuring work from Team History, a group of experts and influencers, exploring history’s most fascinating questions.

Four years of work, all for naught.

That’s what a team of Pfizer chemists working in southwest England in the early 1990s was coming to conclude about sildenafil citrate, a pharmaceutical compound they had been developing as a possible treatment for chest pain and high blood pressure. Test results for its effectiveness were not looking good. The project teetered on the brink of failure. Then, just as it appeared Pfizer was going to pull the plug, something happened that would earn the company billions of dollars, impact countless lives and upend cultural norms the world over: A few study participants reported that the drug, unexpectedly, was giving them more erections.

The project got an immediate lift.

Combining this finding with new information available from recent studies on the biochemical process of male arousal, the lab soon confirmed that while sildenafil did little for hypertension or angina, it did help the blood vessels in the penis dilate more easily, producing an erection if a man becomes sexually aroused. Some early study participants enjoyed the effect so much, they didn’t want to return unused samples of the drug when the trials ended.

Small blue Viagra pills, Pfizer’s pharmaceutical answer to erectile dysfunction, being separated by machine. (Credit: Suzanne Opton/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Just a few years later, in March 1998, the Food and Drug Administration approved sildenafil—under the brand name Viagra—to treat erectile dysfunction. Arriving two months after the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal thrust oral sex and semen stains into the national conversation, the drug underscored a fundamental tension in American culture: Everyone was desperate to talk about the taboo topic of sex.

Viagra’s arrival, now 20 years ago, became a watershed moment for men. Previously, the only options for dealing with erectile dysfunction involved treatments that were either shamefully seedy or uncomfortably invasive. The drug also ignited something of a sexual revolution—albeit one with a complicated legacy. Because even as it liberated men from the stigma surrounding erectile dysfunction, it reinforced a very specific, limiting version of sexuality that persists to this day.

VIDEO: MODERN MARVELS: Viagra. A look at how the popular erectile-dysfunction drug works and why pharmaceutical companies are rushing to create alternative versions.

I remember that moment in history well. Initially, media coverage of the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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