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Sex as Science - 
Pills and the criteria of success

 �A man can stand a lot as long as he can stand himself�

- Axel Munthe

The introduction of the oral contraceptive pill in the 1960�s, ignited frenzied discussion of a traditionally taboo subject: sexuality. Its rhetoric has re-emerged with fearless vigour in the 1990�s, with the release of Pfizer�s Viagra - the first oral pill with the aim of restoring male potency. Indeed, Viagra may be accused somewhat of creating a sexual revolution; for not only is this little blue pill changing the way people view their sexual health but it is challenging society�s established definitions of sexuality, successful sex, satisfying sex and impotence, as well as what defines a medical condition.

The creation of a drug to overcome impotency has medicalised erectile dysfunction (ED) and as such, dramatically changed the way couples think about and seek treatment for sexual problems. In our society, spontaneous, unselfconscious, beautiful sex is often implied as a daily right. Viagra has overturned this rather glamorous perception of male/female relations for something much more realistic. That is, penetrative intercourse, at its most fundamental level, is but a basic physiological mechanism reliant on consistent fluxes in blood flow - and just like any other bodily function, is subject to compromise. The concept of �an erection in a pill� has introduced society to a new philosophy, the developing science of sex. As such, critics have accused Viagra as an example of how one more hitherto mysterious and profound area of �human-beingness� � sex � has been reduced to a mere subject of pharmacological manipulation. Can sex retain its status as a transcendent and spiritual peak experience when it is artificially manufactured? Does the introduction of scientific means to the physical act of love separate us from the true glory and sanctity of sex?

Perhaps, what is pleasing about Viagra then, is that it mimics physiology so well that the normal stimulants for gaining an erection are still required. That is, sex is not reduced to a mere science. It is not so much �pop a pill and up it goes�, so much as �pop a pill, add a healthy dose of natural desire and science will help support your sexual endeavours�. Indeed, what has been made most obvious to Viagra users is that while this pill potentiates the mechanics of sex, true sexual intimacy is reliant on more than just the thrust and pull of an erect penis. While the Viagra-assisted erection is a reliable one, it must still be achieved in the old-fashioned way; through libido, foreplay and desire. Yes, Viagra uses science to restore potency but it does so within the context of how the Universe intended for us to enter into physicality. It should be viewed, therefore, as something, which restores nature, not disrupts it.

Viagra has also introduced the concept of what constitutes �successful sex� versus �satisfying sex�. Sex with an erection that is longer, harder and more powerful than ever before may ensure that intercourse is successful, but not necessarily satisfying. A pill cannot treat past, present or future relationship issues that are important determinants of the ongoing quality of a couple�s sex life. Sexual satisfaction is co-dependent on sexual �turn ons�, timing, frequency, lifestyle issues, sexual practices and techniques. This is most obvious to Viagra users who are proud owners of a �Viagra erection� but remain unsatisfied in their sexual relationship.

Viagra reveals that when the barrier of erectile dysfunction has been removed from a sexual relationship, the couple can no longer blame a bad erection for an unsatisfactory sex life. Other factors must be looked for. Thus, previously impotent men find that the return to sexual potency, via the use of Viagra, is often a journey toward renewed sexuality for the couple in general. Once Viagra users no longer have to focus on achieving and maintaining erections, they are reminded that: �Once we expand our ideas of sex beyond the literal description of specific acts and behaviours, we open up a rich realm that connects sex with some of the deepest, most fundamental and most elusive issues of being alive�. Viagra is allowing its users to truly appreciate again the philosophy of all things sexual.

Much of the appeal of Viagra is that it promises to change lifestyles as much as provide medical relief. Hidden within the subtexts of Viagra�s appeal are the chimeras of undiminishable power and perpetual youth for the male lover. The interest in Viagra has revealed sexuality as a critical part of people�s lives and lifestyles. Impotence challenges masculinity just as a mastectomy can challenge a woman�s femininity. A return to potency is an empowering experience for the male identity. In this context, Viagra is a just liberator of the male libido and psyche. The fact that it can overcome ongoing impotency allows many men to also view it as the conqueror of their sexual anxieties. The male erection is characteristic of a male�s ability to perform physically and thus, is an important component of his sexuality. Viagra marks a return to sexuality, and everybody�s right to express their sexuality, whether modern science has to help out with the mechanics or not.

Perhaps critics fear, that Viagra allows for the expression of pure unadulterated, wild and virile sexual energy. Traditionally, love (along with common sense) is the greater balancer of these sexual impulses. But will Viagra create a race of virile men, both young and old, with off-the-scale libidos and big dicks to match? Or perhaps society fears coping with the man who has re-discovered his sexuality? We have lived through decades of the emasculating doings of feminists. Are we ready to cope again with true masculinity as expressed by the fully-equipped male?

In conclusion, Viagra may be viewed as a philosophical paradox. Its roots in science predict a cold and sterile approach to its practical application in society. However, by re-establishing the integrity of the male erection, Viagra has reinforced the notion of sex and sexuality. Ironically, what its users have learnt is that: �Human sexuality is far too rich and complex for the entire subject to be balanced on the delicate fulcrum of an erection.�

Viagra challenges the ideal philosophy of how sex and intimacy should be. It has taught society that sex is important to the way we live our lives, may be subject to infirmity and can be treated with pharmacological means. By incorporating science into sex, Viagra challenges the sanctity of sex while restoring the sanctity of sexuality.


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