LIFESTYLE
03/04/2019 6:16 PM IST | Updated 03/04/2019 6:16 PM IST

'They Take It Before Going To A Club': Why Viagra Is Being Used By A New Generation

No longer just a drug for older men, Viagra is being used recreationally by boys in their prime.

It was the third time Alex* had tried to put the condom on and failed. Despite being aroused and aware that this was probably his only chance to have sex with the woman he’d met earlier that evening, he couldn’t stay erect. No matter how much his brain wanted to have sex, his body wasn’t complying. 

Eventually he accepted the situation, apologised to his date for “performance anxiety” – made worse by a cocktail of alcohol and cocaine – and vowed not to let it happen again. The next day he went to the chemist and bought a packet of 8 sildenafil tablets, more commonly known as Viagra.

Alex, in his mid-twenties, does not fit the stereotype of a Viagra user: society still sees the blue pill as synonymous with older married men, possibly with ill health and suffering with age or illness-related erectile dysfunction. But Alex’s case, and his decision to use viagra to deal with the problem, is far from unique. 

[Read More: MDMA And Cocaine Among Drugs Most Often Combined With Sex}

It is 12 months since Viagra became available in the UK without a prescription. Pharmacists decide whether to sell men the drug, brand named ‘Viagra Connect’ and made by manufacturer Pfizer, based on their health and what other medication they might be taking. The initial intention when increasing the accessibility of the drug in 2018, was to combat the number of counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills being sold illegally online. But the decision has also had the perhaps unforeseen consequence of introducing the drug to a new segment of the market.

Murray Blacket, a sexual therapist in north London, says he is seeing more young men taking Viagra as an “insurance policy” or a “booster shot” to life in the bedroom. Often this will be before they go on a night out. 

“We talk about the LGBT chemsex scene but in the straight scene there is the equivalent of lost weekends where you hook up with someone, take a load of cocaine and Viagra, go down the rabbit hole, come out on Monday,” Blacket says. 

As early as August 2017, eight months before it was sold on the high street, doctors in the UK were reporting a growing trend of younger men anonymously buying the drug over the internet in a bid to improve sexual performance or, like Alex, to counter the use of other recreational drugs that make it harder to maintain an erection.

People in the UK are more likely than those elsewhere in Europe, America, Australia or Canada, to combine sex with drugs, according to the 2019 Global Drug Survey, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The most common substances used were alcohol, cannabis, MDMA and cocaine – all of which can inhibit sexual performance if taken in high doses. 

It’s not about having more adventurous sex it’s just about being able to perform in normal sex"

Viagra works by ensuring sufficient blood flow within the penis to keep it erect. It doesn’t have an instantaneous effect and only works when the man is sexually aroused. So you aren’t walking around a nightclub with an erection for hours on end, but will be able to rely on it if you get lucky at the end of the night.

Blacket says that many of the young men taking it are professionals – teachers, lawyers, personal trainers. Viagra isn’t as expensive as it once was, but still retails at £19.99 for a four-tablet pack or £34.99 for eight. Not cheap for what is, effectively, a ‘just in case’. 

“Younger men are increasingly not so confident in their sexual abilities,” says Blacket. “These people take a Viagra just as a boost to confidence. It’s not about having more adventurous sex – it’s just about being able to perform in ‘normal sex’.”

This decline in confidence is often linked with a rise in the number of people regularly watching pornography online. Recent studies found between 14% and 35% of young men say they experience erectile disfunction compared to 2-3% before 2008. Mary Sharpe of the Reward Foundation, an educational charity focusing on love, sex and the internet told the Guardian: “Since 2008, when free-streaming, high-definition porn became so readily available, it has steadily risen.”

The changing dating landscape also has a role to play,” argues Blacket, with the growth of dating apps and a focus on casual sexual interactions meaning people have to impress sexually. “If it doesn’t go well for you then people can move on and meet someone else,” he says. “The one night stand culture is transactional in that regard. You have one chance.”

Not only is there more pressure to always be ready for sex, but the majority of sexual interactions are framed by the presence of alcohol and other drugs that inhibit performance. “These men are so often having sex after drinks, if not drugs as well. Taking the Viagra seems to link with the thought of ‘I can have a few more pints and I’ll still be able to do it’.”

And that thought is becoming more mainstream, as Viagra becomes more established in mainstream culture, Blacket says. “There are now adverts on the Underground and on the side of buses for a Viagra [delivered] on a Vespa. These companies have seen a change in the market and are capitalising on it.”

It seems having a Deliveroo-style company bring Viagra to your door has played a part in making the drug more appealing to young people. Rather than something you need to steal from your dad’s bathroom cabinet, you can order it in the way you would a pizza. The influence of this culture shift has resulted in Blacket seeing a handful of men with no concerns about performance, who thought taking Viagra would make them “even harder” and sex more pleasurable. 

I’ve asked some of them how they felt the next day and they say pretty rough...”

Blacket has concerns that some of those who choose to use Viagra recreationally take higher doses than he would normally recommend. Many take 100mg tablets, while the NHS recommends a dose of 50mg once a day. “People don’t really know what the doses mean - they apply a vitamin mentality of just taking more.” he explains.”

Taking too much sildenafil can cause unpleasant side effects like headaches, dizziness, indigestion, blocked nose and altered vision. “I’ve asked some of them how they felt the next day and they say pretty rough,” he says. “A few of them have come to me and asked ’Should I be worried? How long can I do this for?”

It makes him worry that people are using the pills to plaster over larger, deeper-rooted issues that are inhibiting their sex life. “They’re putting a band aid over the problem with Viagra. This has to be a temporary fix.”