‘I had a really hard time getting up’: Why younger men are turning to Viagra

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

“When you take it, you can actually focus on the pleasure of sex and be in the moment,” he says, “instead of thinking, ‘Oh my God, my d*** is failing “No! No! Don’t stop! Go on!” When he started dating someone new, however, James felt an even greater need to depend on drugs, wanting to make sure he wasn’t a disappointment, and feeling that they were about to have sex, James decided that – just to be sure – he would “double up” two 100mg pills at maximum strength.His new partner, however, was not in the mood and went 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 looming as he stared into the darkness. He was deeply uncomfortable. “I needed to pee,” he says, “and so I peed about two or three meters 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 on this point, he is not alone. He estimates that up to half of his male friends have told him they’re taking Viagra, and he suspects even more are doing so in secret. Some, like 27-year-old Josh, admit to taking it primarily as a recreational drug to enhance the sexual experience – “I tried it and it felt like I was 14 again.” The pill is usually associated with older men. But a growing number of men under 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 linked to various problems affecting the auditory and visual systems and vision,” says Dr Shirin Lakhani, a physician who offers specialist treatments for erectile dysfunction in his private practice in London. clinical. “Serious short-term side effects include strokes and heart attacks in very rare cases, as well as diarrhea and gastritis.”

Figures communicated to The Independent by pharmaceutical company Viatris show that between May 2020 and May 2021, Viagra Connect sold over seven million tablets in the UK. According to the company, over 60% of UK users are between the ages of 25 and 54.



What is painfully obvious to me is that women in their thirties are obsessed with and revel in the details of male anatomy.

The drug is much more accessible than before thanks to a relaxation of controls. Viagra Connect, released 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 brand. Generic sildenafil can also be purchased online with a prescription, which can be obtained relatively easily by answering a brief consultation. “On our personalized erectile dysfunction database, 9% are in their 20s and 21% are in their 30s,” says Abbas Kanani, an online pharmacist.

This represents a large number of young users. And although erectile dysfunction is still 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 getting or maintaining an erection. Like James, however, young men with erectile dysfunction don’t necessarily tell their doctor. “In my role as an NHS GP, I hardly see any men in their 20s and 30s with erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Luke Pratsides, who also works for a commercial men’s health website. “It’s likely because young men don’t have access to traditional health care channels and may not want to have multiple touchpoints to discuss sexual function, which can be difficult for many.”

By bypassing their doctor, men miss a correct diagnosis. James has never asked his doctor about the underlying cause of his erectile dysfunction – but he suspects 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 s ‘they find themselves locked in a boner-killing spiral of negativity. “If I was going to sleep with someone for the first time, I get anxious, so I take it,” James says. “But over time I feel more comfortable with them – and then I don’t really need them anymore.”

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

“At some point,” Saddington notes, even sildenafil will stop working. “Viagra doesn’t give you an erection; this facilitates the natural process, so if you become increasingly anxious, your anxiety may possibly negate 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 talking about sex. “What’s painfully obvious to me is that women in their thirties are obsessed with and revel in the details of male anatomy,” James says. “It’s like girth, length, movement. Everything is absolutely plunged – and with so much greediness – in front of their friends. So, having witnessed this – at a table with people I’ve slept with – I’m aware of the pressure there is to provide good 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 off about it. It was unrelated, the passionate sex I guess I had with someone who wasn’t there’

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It’s unclear what James’s sexual partners think about it, as for the most part he doesn’t tell them. But Wendy, 37, says she would be unhappy 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] is more common as men age. To her knowledge, she has had only one sexual relationship with a man taking sildenafil: a one-night stand, during which she later discovered a mutual friend. The sex was average, a fact Wendy attributes in part to drugs. “There was something slightly off about it. It wasn’t a passionate, connected sexual relationship that I assume I had with someone who wasn’t in it.

Viatris, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer which manufactures Viagra, provided data to The Independent from a survey of 5,007 people – including 2,445 men – that they commissioned 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 18 to 24 year olds and 10 percent of 25 to 34 year olds identified “sexual problems, such as difficulty getting or keeping an erection” as the main reason. Of all men who have suffered from erectile dysfunction, almost a third (29%) 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-limiting in younger men,” says Dr. Lakhani. “However, although psychological reasons may play a role, it is important to realize that there may also be medical conditions causing erectile dysfunction in younger men. Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety have an impact on erectile function, either directly or as a side effect of the medications used to treat them.According to Dr. Lakhani, lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol and obesity, can also play a role, as can cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

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

*Names have been changed

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