How Viagra can mess up your marriage
Sure, men are thrilled to have a two-hour erection, but ... are their wives?
Did the makers of Viagra and its cousins, Levitra and Cialis, foresee the side effects — physical and otherwise — that the drugs could cause?
By Judith Newman, Prevention
updated 4/22/2011 9:34:36 AM ET 2011-04-22T13:34:36
Be careful what you wish for, I think as my husband reaches again for his new toy. Tragically, it's not a Ferrari or the latest Mac laptop — it's his Penis 2.0—the new, pharmaceutically enhanced model.
I married an older man, and lucky for us both, the only part on him that's given out is his knees. But since I was writing about erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs, I wanted him to help me out. Would he try one? The little blue pill enables older men to sexually respond like 18-year-olds. "Wouldn't that be interesting," I asked him, "journalistically speaking?"
John was skeptical. "What if I take this and things never work without the pill again?" he asked. I pointed out that the label of a leading brand, Viagra, does not list physical dependence as a side effect (although it does mention headaches and an upset stomach). True to promise, when John used Viagra, everything was perfectly fine. But to my chagrin, it was perfectly fine a lot.
And therein lies a problem I wonder whether the makers of Viagra and its pharmaceutical cousins Levitra and Cialis foresaw. While men of a certain age are undoubtedly thrilled to have their sexual potency restored, maybe their wives' enthusiasm is a bit more subdued?
Perhaps more damaging than ignorance of the physical ramifications of ED drugs is ignorance of their potential interpersonal blowback. When not discussed frankly, Viagra can cause a lot of misunderstanding and hurt between couples. "There is something about a hard erection that is extremely important to a man's identity," says Steven Lamm, MD, an internist in New York City and author of The Hardness Factor. "And of course most couples would prefer that the man be able to have one. But there are some who may have adjusted to life without sex. Perhaps the woman doesn't really want it anymore, for one reason or another. And for those couples, the introduction of an ED drug can throw them seriously out of sync."
That leads to what is perhaps the biggest complicating factor: the reality that a woman's postmenopause genital health can put her physically at odds with her partner's newfound, drug-assisted prowess. As women age, their hormonal balances change. Reduced estrogen levels often mean less sexual desire but also decreased vaginal elasticity and lubrication, and thus more potential for sex to be painful.
The problem can be especially daunting for older women who are widowed or divorced or just beginning to date after years of being alone or with one man. Certainly this was the case for Marjorie P., a 60-something woman who complained about the drugs on a 50+ Web site: "Men have been saved from their middle-age sexual issues by Viagra and Cialis. They can be thirty again, while I have to deal with the sexual issues of being my age. It's put the world on 'tilt.'" Andrea D., a twice-divorced physician from Santa Monica, CA, and an over-50 dater, put it more bluntly. "Viagra has been liberating for men, but unless a woman is taking hormone therapy, she may have vaginal dryness and really not be that interested in the kind of driving, pounding intercourse he's now capable of."
Another big issue for many women: ED drugs drastically shorten the interval between climaxing and achieving another erection. Men look at this differently than women do. For them, it's not a bug, it's a feature. And for the woman?
"We want maybe twenty or thirty great minutes of sex," says Susan K., a mother of two in Connecticut. "We don't want an interminable two hours." Not to mention the fact that prolonged intercourse, particularly without sufficient lubrication, can do damage. It can lead to vaginal abrasions and even tearing and can expose a woman to risk of getting yeast infections and — particularly for a woman who is dating or divorced — to sexually transmitted diseases.