On March 27, 1998, the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug for use in the United States. Later this drug branched out in the medical field, sparking inventions such as Enzyte, earned nicknames such as “Vitamin V” as found on urbandictionary.com, and created questions about gender expectations that Americans did not dare ponder before. This drug is called Viagra and it was the first oral treatment for erectile dysfunction in men.
Erectile dysfunction is an “inability to achieve and sustain an erection suitable for sexual intercourse” (webmd.com) and although ED is not inevitable with aging it is most common in older men. According to the National Institutes of Health, the estimated number of American men who suffer from ED is 15-30 million. Why are the numbers so unclear? Only about 5% of men report having erectile dysfunction to their physicians (healthination.com) because they are uncomfortable talking about it, even though erectile dysfunction can be indicators to other serious health issues such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
More men could be diagnosed and treated for ED regularly if there was not an ideology in our society that men must “be good” at sex, and provide for women sexually. There is a common obsession with a man’s penis size and how long he can have intercourse without orgasming, and this creates the expectation that a man must always be sexually active, he must always be able to achieve an erection, he must always want it, and he must be good at it, even in young adulthood. Men and women alike truly believe that what they see in porn, in movies, on television is how their own sexual interactions must be, or that they are deficient. Imagine the common man in a benchmark family with children to provide for and a wife to please financially and sexually. Maybe in college he got caught up on the porn trend and really believed the graphic exaggerations he saw in the scenes. The media has pushed ideas of manhood down his throat: be buff and score a lot of chicks. This man is concerned about being “manly” or “macho” that deeply, yet he cannot hold an erection and cannot “please” his wife because of it. He probably feels anything but manly in that circumstance. It is no wonder doctors do not see more patients with ED to treat them. But in 1998, Viagra came out on the market, and even though men were still afraid to fix the problem, there was awareness and help for this dirty little secret.
After Viagra, there were other drugs, each heavily advertised on television. There was Enzyte, with their front man, “Smiling Bob,” the ideal benchmark husband. Enzyte used Bob to be able to relate with Americans. Bob is an average looking, middle-aged guy, he is reliable, hard-working, well-groomed and his wife adores him, especially because he uses Enzyte, the “natural male enhancer.” He always has a happy wife at home. What does that even mean, “Natural male enhancement?” The ad never tells you. But he’s smiling, and his wife is smiling, so obviously you want this product. However, Enzyte does not treat erectile dysfunction but is supposed to literally make a penis bigger. Needless to say Enzyte has negative reviews as far as effectiveness. We should be glad Enzyte does not actually work so men may one day stop feeling the need to have an unrealistically enormous penis.
The invention of Viagra was a significant phenomenon in popular culture because it created awareness for a disease that had never been open for discussion before. It sparked other drugs and other trends, such as recreational use of Viagra, natural male enhancers and overall altered our ideology of men. Men were once thought of as seemingly perfect, if there was ever a problem between his sheets we would never hear about it; it was perceived as a demeaning problem and embarrassing to talk about. Sexism against men and women alike is a global issue that needs to be further addressed and explored, and I believe that Viagra’s effect on popular culture can be further studied to create awareness against sexism and results. Viagra created a social movement in that men are expressing their desire for treatment and women are not ignorant about the reality of erectile dysfunction any more. Men no longer have to be the perfect benchmark husband down to the bone. Viagra may have been and still is a joke to some, I know that I chuckle at the absurdity of dramatic Viagra commercials and silly Smiling Bob from Enzyte, but it caused a shift of the norms of manhood and showed a side of man we had never seen in popular culture.