How Viagra can hurt your relationship

Viagra and other medications to treat male sexual dysfunction have been the answer for many couples. But for some, they can cause relationship side effects

By Paige Kilponen

How Viagra can hurt your relationship

The little blue pill turned 10 this year. And in the decade since Viagra (sildenafil citrate) hit the shelves, and other medications, including Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil), joined the ranks, they’ve caused a sexu-pharmaceutical revolution by offering men who have erectile dysfunction (ED) a chance to get busy between the sheets.

These medications relax the muscles in the penis, allowing for greater blood flow, which, upon arousal, produces an erection. Men who are impotent can take a pill and have their masculinity restored—practically before their eyes. But while these drugs may bring back sexual function, experts warn they can create other issues in a relationship.

Here are a few of the problems that can, um, pop up—and some solutions:

Problems

Distrust
Sex therapist Heide McConkey says she has treated a number of couples who have found these medications to be anything but helpful. “A lot of men take Viagra without consulting their partners,” explains McConkey, “and this creates trust issues. The couples that have the problems are the ones where the woman has been left out of the equation.”

Fear
Men who haven’t talked with their partner about using medication may find she’s resistant. There might be fear with regard to becoming intimate again and about the drug. In fact, a study by New Zealand’s University of Canterbury found that women surveyed (age 33-68) had a number of concerns about their partner taking ED drugs, ranging from the loss of spontaneity to the suspected infidelity they feared might result.

Too much sex too soon
Some women whose partner is taking these medications find the pressure is just too much. With each pill costing approximately $11, many men feel the need to “get their money’s worth” by having sex multiple times in a short period. This increased frequency can be physically and emotionally trying for their partner.

Solutions

Talk
According to sex therapists, the couples who have success using these pills are the ones who discuss the impact that renewed sexual vigour might have on the way they interact.

Go slowly
Make sure the reintroduction of sex is collaborative and slow. Extreme intimacy can be a major change for a couple if they haven’t been sexual for a while. It’s not like getting back on a bike—it takes time. And, often, libidos have become mismatched. For example, a woman may have developed a different perspective on intimacy: She may be happy with companionship and affection, and no longer feel a need for sex.

Be realistic
Contrary to popular perception, these medications are not aphrodisiacs, so fears that a partner will become promis­cuous simply because he has popped a pill are unfounded. The ability to have an erection isn’t necessarily going to make someone become sex-crazed and driven into having an affair. In other words, a pill is not responsible for a moral choice: If men stray, it’s usually because of relationship problems.

As long as it’s a shared adventure, taking medication to improve your sex life doesn’t need to have a downside. It’s a joint decision—one that’s not just about his penis, but about your relationship. And if both partners do agree to go for it (after the mandatory okay from the doctor), it can certainly have an upside. Which is definitely the point.

This article was originally titled "Downsides of Viagra," in the September 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience—and never miss an issue!—and make sure to check out what's new in the latest issue of Best Health.

Best Health Magazine, September 2009, photo: Veer

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