‘I just can’t perform’, ‘It didn’t work’, ‘I can’t get an erection’, ‘It disappears as soon as I put a condom on’, ‘It just goes away’, I dread meeting someone who might want to go to bed with me’, ‘It’s all I can think about’, ‘I just can’t get it out of my head, that I won’t get an erection’…
These are thoughts that dominate the minds of millions of men who suffer from erection problems; or erectile dysfunction.
Not so long ago, it was generally thought that a man’s sex life would terminate naturally after a certain age. If a patient under fifty years of age presented to his doctor with erection difficulties it was automatically thought to be due to psychological causes. The condition was categorised as ‘impotence’ and the patient referred to a psychiatrist. The efficacy of psychiatric treatment for impotence was shockingly low.
In the late 1980’s a patient undergoing surgery for a heart condition was seen by his surgeon to have an erection, despite the patient being under anaesthetic. The medical team had injected the area surrounding the patient’s heart with a hormone, prostaglandin E1. In the years that followed, ‘penile injection therapy’ became the treatment of choice with an 89% rate of success in achieving a full erection for men of all ages and medical conditions. While bringing hope and new sexual life to thousands of men and their relationships around the world, however, the treatment had a big drawback. The method of administering the hormone, by self-injection into the shaft of the penis, was unpopular and lacked spontaneity. There were even reports of priapism; a phenomena where the erection does not subside. In such instances, the patients had to go to the emergency wing of the local hospital to be injected again, this time with the antidote; adrenaline.
Meanwhile the race between the giant drug companies was on for a tablet that could replace penile injection therapy. Amidst a global media frenzy announcing its arrival, Viagra was launched into the world. ‘Impotence’ was re-branded as ‘erectile dysfunction’ and doctors began prescribing the ‘wonder drug’ to almost anyone who had the courage to reveal the symptom of their greatest embarrassment to their GP. In the US and many other countries, the ‘little blue pill’ is available across the counter and TV channels full of advertisements encouraging men to rely on pills for their erections. Millions of men even risk serious health consequences by ordering Viagra online from far away and untraceable sources. The pendulum has swung, from the view that erection problems are the exclusive domain of psychiatry, to the extreme opposite view that general practitioners who are willing to prescribe ‘erection pills’ can treat all cases.