For the men who take Vi­a­gra, it solves a sim­ple ‘me­chan­i­cal’ prob­lem. But for their wives and part­ners, the drug’s ef­fects – on ev­ery­thing from their self-es­teem to their sense of se­cu­rity – have been far more com­plex pill…or poi­son?

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Cover Story - RE­PORT ANNA MOORE PHO­TO­GRAPHS HARRY PED­ER­SEN

On a hot Fri­day night last sum­mer, Sian and her hus­band Tony had sex for the first time in more than three months. ‘It was def­i­nitely mem­o­rable,’ says Sian, 35. ‘More in­tense, longer last­ing, more in­ven­tive than usual… and straight af­ter, he was up for it again!’

It turned out to be a good week­end all round. ‘Tony’s mood was bet­ter, he spent more time with the kids, we talked more, laughed more,’ says Sian. But that Sun­day evening, her hus­band sheep­ishly con­fessed that there had been a mys­tery in­gre­di­ent in their love­mak­ing: Vi­a­gra. ‘He’d gone to Boots phar­macy dur­ing the week, bought a packet of Vi­a­gra Con­nect and taken one on Fri­day evening,’ says Sian, whose hus­band is nine years older than she is and has a stress­ful job in fi­nance.

‘All Tony would say was that he’s “tired” these days and wanted to see what it was like. He was quite ca­sual about it but I didn’t feel ca­sual at all. I felt stupid for not re­al­is­ing at the time; it made the sex feel de­ceit­ful, a bit hu­mil­i­at­ing. If he’d been hav­ing a prob­lem, why didn’t he tell me in­stead of go­ing out and buy­ing some pills? Does he need one from now on to feel turned on by me? He thought I was over­re­act­ing, and said “half the world” is tak­ing Vi­a­gra. By Mon­day, all that good feel­ing had gone and we were sleep­ing back to back.’

Sian must be one of many Bri­tish women who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced ‘sex on Vi­a­gra’ for the first time re­cently – whether they know it or not. In March this year, Vi­a­gra Con­nect be­came avail­able over the counter for the first time (pre­vi­ously the drug was only avail­able on pre­scrip­tion) and by June, sales of the lit­tle blue pills had risen by 60 per cent [since the launch] with nearly one mil­lion sold in high-street chemists.

Though Sian’s hus­band is push­ing it when he claims that ‘half the world’ is tak­ing it, Vi­a­gra is cer­tainly trans­form­ing sex and re­la­tion­ships. When it ar­rived in the UK 20 years ago, ‘im­po­tence’ was not so much a ‘med­i­cal con­di­tion’, as an ‘in­con­ve­nience’ or a sad fact of life. Now it’s known as ‘erec­tile dys­func­tion’ and by no means lim­ited to older men with un­der­ly­ing health con­di­tions, such as prostate cancer or Parkin­son’s dis­ease. Vi­a­gra users might in­clude a teenager wor­ried he won’t last long enough with his girl­friend; a 20-year- old who’s hooked up with a girl on dat­ing app Tin­der and wor­ries she ex­pects a porn-star per­for­mance be­tween the sheets; a mid­dle-aged mar­ried man whose sex life is flag­ging be­cause his erec­tions aren’t as firm or long-last­ing as they were in his prime. For any­one feel­ing ‘let down’ by a past per­for­mance, Vi­a­gra prom­ises to tur­bocharge love­mak­ing with­out em­bar­rass­ment, ef­fort or awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions for around a fiver a pop (£19.99 for a packet of four tablets in Boots).

Vi­a­gra (like the many other erec­tile dys­func­tion drugs that have flooded the mar­ket such as Cialis and Le­vi­tra) works by in­creas­ing blood flow to the pe­nis, en­abling a harder, longer-last­ing erec­tion. Its ef­fect varies ac­cord­ing to the me­tab­o­lism of the man who is tak­ing it and other fac­tors. There are doc­u­mented cases where one pill has pro­duced an ag­o­nis­ing ten-hour erec­tion which just doesn’t go down but, in gen­eral, the ef­fect of Vi­a­gra wears off within two to three hours of tak­ing it.

But what about the women whose part­ners are buy­ing those lit­tle blue pills? How has Vi­a­gra al­tered sex and re­la­tion­ships for them? There have been a num­ber of well-pub­li­cised ‘Vi­a­gra di­vorces’ and sev­eral lawyers have claimed that the drug is caus­ing men to stray by fa­cil­i­tat­ing late-life sex­ual ad­ven­tures. Di­vorces where Vi­a­gra played a part in­clude those of co­me­dian Vic Reeves, DJ Ed Ste­wart, pi­o­neer­ing heart sur­geon Chris­ti­aan Barnard and Johnny Kidd – fa­ther of Jemma and Jodie. In the past a sus­pi­cious wife might check her hus­band’s pocket for ho­tel re­ceipts, but now she is just as likely to count his Vi­a­gra sup­ply.

Ear­lier this year, 71-year- old Diane von Fursten­berg, de­signer of the iconic wrap dress, said Vi­a­gra was the ‘worst thing to hap­pen to women’. Where once age low­ered li­bido or slowed sex down for both sides, Vi­a­gra has helped men hold back the years. ‘For men it


used to be all about get­ting it up. “Can I?” There was a cer­tain fair­ness.’ Just as the con­tra­cep­tive pill freed women to en­joy sex with­out the nor­mal bi­o­log­i­cal con­se­quences back in the 1960s, Vi­a­gra has freed men to en­joy sex with­out the nor­mal bi­o­log­i­cal age­ing process to hold them back.

Aside from the height­ened threat of in­fi­delity, Vi­a­gra is bring­ing fe­male part­ners pres­sure as well as plea­sure (three-hour sex, any­one?). It’s rais­ing tricky new ques­tions (does he still fancy me or is this the drug talk­ing?) and whole new lay­ers of ne­go­ti­a­tion (what’s the eti­quette here: should he al­ways ask be­fore he takes one?).

Psy­chother­a­pist Chris­tine Web­ber was an early wit­ness to the Vi­a­gra rev­o­lu­tion as her late hus­band, doc­tor and me­dia sex guru Dr David Delvin, was one of the first to pre­scribe it in the UK back in 1998, be­fore it be­came avail­able on the NHS. ‘There weren’t enough hours in the day; we had men queu­ing round the block of our home in Cam­bridge, where David’s pri­vate con­sult­ing room was based,’ she says. ‘Pa­tients in­cluded young men who couldn’t achieve erec­tions and wanted to im­preg­nate their wives, men in their 80s – one was a univer­sity don, an­other a vicar. When they ar­rived, they were em­bar­rassed, eyes cast down. The next time they came for a re­peat pre­scrip­tion, they looked 20 years younger and were stand­ing taller: they looked you in the eye. I’ve never for­got­ten the trans­for­ma­tion. Get­ting their favourite part work­ing ef­fi­ciently was like birth­day and Christ­mas rolled into one.’

Whether it was quite so joy­ous for their wives is im­pos­si­ble to know. But Gil­lian, now 78 and a widow, whose hus­band took Vi­a­gra when they were in their 60s, sounds a cau­tion­ary note. Vi­brant, open and no prude, she was nev­er­the­less quite con­tent to have put their sex life ‘to bed’ un­til that point. ‘It had been two years – and not very of­ten for years be­fore that – so you can imag­ine the phys­i­cal im­pact on me of start­ing up again,’ she says. Though the loud and clear mes­sage these days is that 60 is the new 40 (and with 60-year-old Madonna a role model in bodice and boots), for many menopausal women pen­e­tra­tive sex, even with lu­bri­ca­tion, is painful. As lev­els of testos­terone, pro­ges­terone and oe­stro­gen all drop off, skin be­comes drier and thin­ner. A sud­denly revved-up sex life – es­pe­cially longer-last­ing Vi­a­gra sex – can cause pain and abra­sion, even ‘hon­ey­moon cys­ti­tis’.

‘I’d got to the stage in life where I’d rather read a book,’ says Gil­lian. ‘Then sud­denly, sex is back on again, and it’s his new hobby, his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. You don’t want a row, so what do you do? He’d start cud­dling and I’d ask war­ily, “Have you taken one of your pills?” He’d get all cross and say, “Yes – I don’t need to ask per­mis­sion to take a pill!” Then you’d have this pres­sure not to waste it.’

Over­all, Gil­lian has mixed feel­ings about the drug. On the one hand, it made her hus­band hap­pier in his last decade and it did bring them more shared, in­ti­mate mo­ments. On the other, in­ter­course wasn’t some­thing she en­joyed any more. At times, it felt as though his favourite thing had be­come her pri­vate dread and that gulf be­tween them some­times made their mar­riage feel lonely.

Women’s on­line spa­ces such as Mum­snet show that Vi­a­gra is of­ten an emo­tional mine­field. In one thread, a woman is ‘shocked’ and ‘strug­gling’ af­ter dis­cov­er­ing her part­ner has been tak­ing it for two years with­out telling her. ‘He says that us­ing it means he can per­form for longer and he chooses to use it be­cause he wants to make sex fan­tas­tic for us both,’ she writes. ‘I feel that what I thought was real wasn’t af­ter all. What else isn’t he telling me?’

For re­la­tion­ship coach Cathy Meyer, a Vi­a­gra pre­scrip­tion sig­nalled the end of her mar­riage. She spent 11 years strug­gling in a sex­less mar­riage – her hus­band told her that he just didn’t see what the ‘big deal’ was about sex. Cathy tried ev­ery se­duc­tion tech­nique and when noth­ing


in­ter­ested him, she fi­nally per­suaded him to see a urol­o­gist to see if there was any phys­i­cal rea­son be­hind his lack of de­sire. ‘I was sit­ting in bed read­ing when I heard him com­ing up the stairs. He stopped by our bed, pulled a bot­tle of pills out of his pocket, opened the top drawer of my bed­side ta­ble and said to me, “This is a bot­tle of Vi­a­gra; from now on when you want sex, all you have to do is ask for it.” He dropped the bot­tle in the drawer and kicked it closed with his foot. I knew at that mo­ment that my mar­riage was over,’ writes Cathy in her di­vorce blog. Though her hus­band had been given the phys­i­cal ‘so­lu­tion’, he was not emo­tion­ally in­vested, not sen­si­tive to her needs.

Clearly, Vi­a­gra isn’t a mir­a­cle cure – it deals with me­chan­ics not emo­tions. ‘It works on a symp­tom and it works very well, but it doesn’t solve a trou­bled re­la­tion­ship or cre­ate a de­sire that isn’t there,’ says ther­a­pist Chris­tine Web­ber. Since it takes an hour to kick in, it also re­quires plan­ning. And psy­chother­a­pist Si­mon Ja­cobs feels strongly that tak­ing it should be a joint de­ci­sion. ‘It’s not a man’s right to take a pill, have an erec­tion and be able to use it,’ he says. ‘It’s im­por­tant that you take it as a cou­ple, not uni­lat­er­ally and cer­tainly not in se­cret.’

He also coun­sels against tak­ing Vi­a­gra with­out first ex­plor­ing other pos­si­ble rea­sons be­hind erec­tile dys­func­tion. ‘If a man is wor­ried by his per­for­mance, es­pe­cially a younger man with no un­der­ly­ing health prob­lems, there’s likely to be some strong psy­cho­log­i­cal rea­sons be­hind this,’ he says. ‘It could be stress, re­la­tion­ship prob­lems, un­ex­pressed re­sent­ment or just the be­lief that you need to be a porn star in bed.

‘Pop­ping a pill and get­ting an in­stant erec­tion means you don’t need to look into any of that so it can be quite dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially if you don’t con­fide in your part­ner,’ Ja­cobs con­tin­ues. ‘Then the man is liv­ing with his prob­lems alone; he has added a se­cret which piles on more anx­i­ety and leads to more per­for­mance prob­lems. It makes it worse.

‘Most women don’t ex­pect their part­ners to per­form seam­lessly, with no hic­cups, no em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘They want a real hu­man be­ing, who isn’t afraid to share real vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. If you have a sex­ual prob­lem and work it through, whether by talk­ing openly to each other, hav­ing sex­ual ther­apy or tak­ing a pill as well, the re­la­tion­ship strength­ens and self-es­teem strength­ens be­cause you’ve faced it to­gether and come out the other side. Se­crecy just isn’t go­ing to help.’

Women shouldn’t feel any less de­sir­able if Vi­a­gra is needed, adds Sarah Fletcher, psy­cho­sex­ual ther­a­pist at Cou­ple­works. ‘Vi­a­gra doesn’t cre­ate de­sire,’ she says. (If a man suf­fer­ing from erec­tile dys­func­tion pops a pill then watches the golf on TV, it’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to work. He still needs to be turned on to get a rise.) ‘Your hus­band may still find you at­trac­tive, but that may not pro­duce an erec­tion. Vi­a­gra can help with that. Peo­ple drink and have sex all the time – that loos­en­ing of in­hi­bi­tion is chem­i­cally en­hanced, too.’

When it comes to men be­ing led to stray by Vi­a­gra, Fletcher isn’t con­vinced. ‘I think it’s a bit more com­pli­cated than that,’ she says. ‘If a man is go­ing to be un­faith­ful, it would prob­a­bly have hap­pened any­way – or I’d cer­tainly say there are other prob­lems in the re­la­tion­ship. I think, over­all, Vi­a­gra has been a pos­i­tive thing for cou­ples.’

One sur­vey by Oprah mag­a­zine tar­geted women whose part­ners had taken Vi­a­gra to see whether it had been a good or bad thing for their re­la­tion­ship. The re­sults were in­ter­est­ing. While 15 per cent claimed the drug wrecked their re­la­tion­ship, 17 per cent said it had saved theirs. Though 13 per cent lamented the re­duced at­ten­tion given to oral and man­ual love­mak­ing, about half of all re­spon­dents said it made sex bet­ter.

Lucy, 37, is firmly in the lat­ter camp. ‘My hus­band and I have been to­gether a long time, we have chil­dren, we’re knack­ered and some­times we had some prob­lems with keep­ing things go­ing,’ she says. ‘It both­ered both of us, but for my hus­band, it was crush­ing. Vi­a­gra was fan­tas­tic – it showed him that there was this so­lu­tion, so it took the pres­sure off. We don’t al­ways need it and I cer­tainly don’t fancy it on a school night – but maybe once a month, we’ll plan ahead and skip din­ner [Vi­a­gra works bet­ter on an empty stom­ach]. It’s made us both hap­pier, and I’m very grate­ful for it.’


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