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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Erectile dysfunction and sexual safety--is Viagra sexually violating to men?

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Author Topic: Erectile dysfunction and sexual safety--is Viagra sexually violating to men?
bluejumprope
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I see so many ads for Viagra online and a thought just occurred to me. (This may already be a part of the larger erectile dysfunction discussion but I haven't heard it.)

It seems like "erectile dysfunction" in men isn't seen as a parallel to women not feeling aroused with partners.

I think that to a certain extent in our culture (and certainly in the sex-positive community), a woman who doesn't feel aroused with her partner is understood as:

a) not feeling emotionally safe with her partner
b) not having a comfortable/happy sexual relationship with herself
c) possibly being a victim of sexual abuse and/or the sexual messages from our culture

But that doesn't seem to be the lens that people see men with ED with.

I think it's harmful and sex-negative the way our society perceives lack of an erection as problematic (it's problematic only in terms of an individual's personal sexual fulfillment). We see that describing a woman as dysfunctional just because she doesn't feel aroused with her partner is screwed up--why isn't that same understanding applied to men?

Giving men a pill so they can get erections seems analogous to women having to be drunk or high to enjoy sex. Viagra then looks to me like it violates men's natural sexual responses (including not feeling aroused).

Any thoughts?

(Also, I'm not familiar with ED so maybe there are physiological issues that I'm unaware of? These are just some thoughts on my mind.)

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Heather
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In some cases, inability to get or maintain an erection is a physiological issue. Diabetes is one common illness, for instance, particularly with older men, where that can be a big factor.

That said, I ADORE this topic, and I think these are really astute and interesting questions. I also think you make some really apt analogies.

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SnailShells
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Alight, I did some research on Viagra and how it works, and it does NOT 'violate' arousal in any way. Viagra cannot 'fix' a lack of arousal, but it can 'fix' a lack of response. Arousal happens in the brain, and all Viagra does is help to open blood vessels in the penis. So, in a case where a man cannot acheive erection because blood vessels in his penis are not functioning correctly, due to age or cardiovascular disease, Viagra actually allows for a natural sexual response to happen. Unlike drugs or alcohol, it does not alter a mental state and so has no effect on arousal, only response.

Here's the process in a nutshell:

-A man takes a Viagra® pill.

-The sildenafil citrate enters his bloodstream and flows throughout his body.

-The sildenafil citrate attaches to the PDE5 enzyme in his penis and disables most of it.

-When the man becomes sexually aroused, the brain sends the normal message to the NANC cells in his penis, which produce nitric oxide as usual.

-The nitric oxide creates cGMP, which starts relaxing the arteries in his penis.

-Since the PDE5 has been disabled, the cGMP in the penis does not break down. Instead, it builds up and lets the arteries in the penis fully dilate.

-His penis inflates with blood, and the man gets a full erection.

So, it's not that men are being victimized; I agree that a lot of these products target fears of sexual inadequacies and the desire to be 'harder, better, faster, stronger', but again, it's not at all on the same level as somehow altering one's mental state in order to enjoy sex.

This explains it (although there's a lot of biology and chemical language):

http://health.howstuffworks.com/viagra.htm

and this is also a good artcile:

ED: Why You Don't Have to Get So Down About Not Getting It Up

[Edit: Also, there as a treatment for ED on the 80's that was essentially an injection of smooth muscle relaxant; THAT treatment would cause immediate and uncontrolled erection, whereas Viagra works around the body's physiological response to arousal. So, no arousal in the brain = no boner.]

[ 11-12-2008, 06:18 PM: Message edited by: SnailShells ]

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“I thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty.” --John Waters

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Heather
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Snailshells, I really appreciate your thoroughness on this. [Smile]

I would say, though, that differentiating between arousal and response in this case isn't so simple. A man using Viagra may well be totally unaroused, but if he uses Viagra, will still tend to become erect due to its use: that's where I'm seeing a flaw in what you have explained, because as I understand it (and as plenty of men report who use it) they CAN be unaroused and use Viagra and still get an erection through use of that drug. That is perhaps, one of the big questions to ask in this: what does one think of chemically forcing a sexually response -- even when it's your own choice -- if and when arousal isn't present? Or even when it is?

I'd also insert in here the idea that normal changes due to age posed as problems is precarious. It is normal for erections to happen less frequently in older age, just like it is normal for women to find that vaginal intercourse isn't so pleasurable in older age. Are these actually problems in need of fixing, or are these -- like say, wrinkles -- simply normal changes to which people can (or should?) adapt so that their sexuality is truly an authentic expression of where they and their bodies are really at?

I do think what you've added here, however, does make a pretty critical distinction between alcohol use and Viagra use, particularly since alcohol inhibits human sexual response, but may cause a user to, quite the inverse of Viagra, be "forced" to feel desire (or a lack of inhibition to desire) they would not otherwise.

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daedalus_rebuked
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Ideally, I think, we'd be unaffected by (or have a much more conscious control over) social impositions which lengthen the grieving process that one endures when moving from one stage of life to another. Does the distortion of this period of grieving adversely affect a man's psyche?

Just a theory off the top of my head: what if the gradual dissipation of sexual desire (and the grieving process associated with it?) is some sort of built-in overpopulation failsafe? In other words, somehow our bodies know that we just have to stop making babies at some point.

Don't know if there's any science behind it, just mentally wandering at this point. [Smile]

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Jill2000Plus
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Is an erection necessary in a man to have an orgasm, because if so I can't help imagining that a lot of men don't stop liking that pleasure with age, so if, contrary to their desire for orgasm, they can't because of the lack of erection, then I'd think that the viagra would be a good thing, I know I'd be extremely p'ed off if I was not having orgasms and somebody told me that I wasn't authentically expressing my body by not just accepting that instead of giving me some helpful suggestions (relax and focus on all the sensations in my body, etc) or, if the problem was with a lack of ability to physically respond, give me a drug that would correct the problem (which to me would be a problem as I like orgasms as well as the more general pleasure of sexual stimulation). I do however agree that men are meant to want to be bigger, harder, last forever, etc (all about masculinity) and that this is an unfortunate state of affairs, which leads to men who are not capable of getting an erection feeling ashamed.

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Heather
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To answer your question, no, an erection is not needed for a man to have an orgasm. Same goes for stimulus of the penis: that isn't necessary for male orgasm, either, it's just how most men get used to reaching it.

As is the case with women, orgasm for men is a whole-body, neurological event, not a genital one.

As well, lack of erection does not necessarily mean lack of sexual desire. So, for men who stop getting erections, or get them less frequently, that does not automatically mean those men have decreased desire.

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bluejumprope
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Can men have orgasms during the refractory period?

[ 12-24-2008, 07:55 PM: Message edited by: bluejumprope ]

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without tenderness, we are in hell. -Adrienne Rich

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Heather
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The refractory period is more about erection than it is about orgasm. That's something you can see sometimes, for instance, for anyone who is male or has a male partner if they've reached orgasm and ejaculated from some kind of penile stimulus, but then orgasm again soon after -- and without another erection -- from anal stimulation. But even for men where the refractory period does halt psychological desire as well as whole-body sexual response, we're not often talking about hours of time or anything.

And really, stuff like this kind of gets at the heart of my concerns about Viagra. SO many men (especially hetero men) just don't even learn about their sexual response separate from erection and their penises for so much of their lives that personally, I kind of feel like older age can often be the last shot at learning more about WHOLE body sex for some men, and it's a pity if they are so attached to but one kind of sexual experience that they cling to it rather than seeing what else they can learn when their bodies change.

(I tend to feel similarly, honestly, when I watch older women in or after menopause going nuts to try and have intercourse work the same way it did rather than exploring -- and having partners explore -- everything else bodies have to offer.)

Obviously, a lot of this kind of conversation is going to be moot for so many of you who are younger. This is about a pretty different time of life, after all. But age, and how age impacts the body, is still something seen in such a limited way in our world, when in my book, it's a potential whole new set of possibilities, even if there are (as there always are when our bodies change, something many of you ARE very recently familiar with per puberty) some growing pains and challenges to adjust.

[ 12-24-2008, 09:11 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bluejumprope
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I hadn't thought about it before, but that actually makes perfect sense that men can have orgasms without erections. I mean, women have orgasms both when their clitorises are super engorged and when they're not. Why couldn't male arousal exist without erection? That's so obviously not the case with women (or all women, all of the time).

My ingrained perception of male sexuality is so definitely located in an erect penis though, I'm having trouble even thinking about this. From within my cultural upbringing, male orgasm without erection is sort of incomprehensible.

Which is exactly how, from within a heterocentric and penis-centric sexual model, women's sexuality is perceived: incomprehensible.

Now that female sexuality is considered real, and is understood as being about more than vaginal penetration, we've gone to the other extreme of seeing female genitals and pleasure as excessively complex and finicky (whereas penises are perceived as simple to operate and easy to please). In the same way that female pleasure was long ignored, this is an example of how an overly simplistic view of sexuality is harmful to men too. In other-words, we now see the lunacy of placing the locus of female sexuality exclusively in the vagina; male sexuality is also larger than an erect penis.

[ 12-25-2008, 12:05 AM: Message edited by: bluejumprope ]

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Heather
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Ain't much else to say to that but amen. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Jill2000Plus
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Thankyou for explaining this to me because I really didn't know the answer, and I hope my previous post did not come off as hostile, it's certainly good to know that men can still orgasm without erections, as having less erections with age seems so common.

[ 12-25-2008, 09:52 AM: Message edited by: Jill2000Plus ]

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daedalus_rebuked
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"we've gone to the other extreme of seeing female genitals and pleasure as excessively complex and finicky (whereas penises are perceived as simple to operate and easy to please"

Read a post recently that supports that. The poster basically said that it's men' responsibility to make women comfortable enough to enjoy sex. I'm easy to get along with, but I've never had any luck MAKING anyone feel anything.

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Heather
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Jill: that's getting pretty off-topic for this topic (which is about men), so can you ask that question in a new topic, please? Thanks!

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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daedalus_rebuked
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Just read Heather's post, I'll keep it on topic...my bad.
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