"Viagra stories": challenging 'erectile dysfunction'

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Aug;59(3):489-99. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.06.001.


Medical approaches to sexual difficulties prioritise the physical aspects of sexuality over other aspects, locating 'disorders' primarily in the anatomy, chemistry or physiology of the body. In accordance with this perspective on sexual matters, physicians look to physical interventions (for example, hormones, drugs, and surgery) to treat any 'abnormalities'. Following the discovery of popular--and profitabl-e-sexuopharmaceuticals such as sildenafil citrate (Viagra) for the treatment of erectile difficulties affecting men, the medical model has gained increasing influence in the domain of sexual health and well-being. However, while medical definitions of--and interventions related to--sexual difficulties are underpinned by an understanding of a 'universal' body (that is, an essential biological body that transcends culture and history), and by the categorisation of the normal and the pathological, the accounts of users of Viagra, and their sexual partners, do not necessarily support such understandings. In some cases, the experiences and perspectives of those affected by erectile difficulties directly challenge the reductionist model of sexuality and sexual experience espoused by medicine. In this paper, we report on a New Zealand study investigating the socio-cultural implications of Viagra, involving 33 men and 27 women discussing the impact of erectile difficulties and Viagra use within relationships. The diverse experiences of participants are discussed in relation to two key issues: the notion of 'sexual dysfunction' itself; and the idea of drugs such as Viagra acting as a 'quick fix' for sexual difficulties affecting men. We argue that the existence of a range of Viagra 'stories' disrupts a simplistic mechanistic portrayal of the male body, male sexuality and 'erectile disorder'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / drug therapy*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Piperazines / therapeutic use*
  • Purines
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Sildenafil Citrate
  • Sulfones


  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors
  • Piperazines
  • Purines
  • Sulfones
  • Sildenafil Citrate