Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sex, money and power: “The pill that thrills”

Caution: Not for sensitive readers. Although this piece may sound very controversial, that was enough to get me intrigued and my bourgeoning public policy eye ( health policy and health systems strengthening) as well as general curiosity resulted in this article. In this piece I also use the lens of fantasy to make an assessment of what the use of Viagra tell us about sex, power and money.

Recently western countries have witnessed a shift towards greater interest in sexual difficulties affecting both men and women. In particular, erectile difficulties have been increasingly understood as a concern for men. Thus there was a need to fix the broken male machine. This trend towards recognition and acceptance of ‘erectile dysfunction’ has occurred concomitantly with a focus by the medical and pharmacological disciplines on developing physical treatments for sexual ‘problems.

The field of treatment that has proliferated most rapidly in the past years is that of sexuopharmaceuticals. A variety of drugs have been demonstrated to impact on erections, but to date the drug that has had the most publicity and popularity is commonly known as Viagra. This drug became available by prescription in the United States ÔÇô and in New Zealand ÔÇô in 1998. The Viagra phenomenon now says a lot about our culture and possibly provides an understanding as to why sex in Botswana will never be the same again. In her book , Meika Loe, 2004 writes about the challenges of maintaining the twentieth century penis providing a departure from the psychological analysis by Ray Rosen and Sandra Leilblum whose prescription on impotence included amongst others “Rock Salt”, melted fat, oysters and rhino horn .

“The top American News Story of 1998 was President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. The second was Viagra. This story was summarized this way in an article titled “The Pill That Thrills” in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Viagra, an innocent looking little blue pill, proved that big things do come in small packages, lifting the spirits of millions of men who suffer from impotence. After its approval, the drug also raised a host of ethical questions ranging from whether to pay for it to a 70 year old new man, whose reignited taste for friskiness made him dump his 63 year old lover claiming it is time for him to be a stud again.”

It is clear from the above arguments presented by Meika Loe 2004 that this tiny commodity promised big things leading to the upliftment of spirit (s). Clearly the little blue pill not only changed the way people talked about sexuality, but also raised questions about manhood, quality of life, power and morality. Viagra has to date become the fastest selling drug in history. In 2002, the company that makes Viagra, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals became the fifth profitable company in the USA.

Pfizer has succeeded in keeping male sexual problems and potency in the spot light, thus shifting men’s sexual status quo. Today we live in a culture where advertisement for male enhancement are common place and currently there are three drugs Viagra, Levitra and Cialls as well as traditional concoctions competing for erectile dysfunction market. These eye catching advertisement use various marketing messages such as “Live life again”, “Step up to the plate”, ‘Are you ready”, “Stay in the Game”. It is important to note that underneath this simple marketing message lies a complex web of issues concerning health, medicine, masculinity and feminity. Overdose of Viagra is even worse and can lead to permanent erection which can ultimately lead to the stressing of male sexual organs.

The successful launch of Viagra by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (Manufactures of Viagra) has resulted in a marked increase in its use thus making it one of the most recognizable brands in the health care. Viagra discovery and its prescription has now become the preeminent treatment for sexual / erectile dysfunction, it can fairly be said to have revolutionized bedroom activity across the world. Erectile dysfunction is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. About a year or two ago the social media was awash with allegations of a sexual orgy scandal that rocked the entire country. It was commonly referred to as “The Three some affair” or “a reye Pitsane”. Some commentators even claimed that this has now become a common practice in the city and that it is a thriving underground business mainly used to Suck Money from old men suffering from erectile dysfunction. On the other hand, the old men use it as a sexual cleansing ritual, a status symbol predominantly driven by fantasy, lust and power. This pill’s power according to Stiritz S E and Appleton S F 2011 extends beyond the medical to the social and the legal, given Viagra’s capacity to make sex all about “ worshipping the penis” and to inspire new arguments for insurance coverage of contraceptives.

That is Erectile Insurance. Those in the know states that there was nothing unusual about such explorative sexual acts. It is a common practice with allegations that the female counter parts also practice it with the young lads leading to an explosive rate of what is termed as “The Ben Ten Syndrome”. There are also revolutionary new drugs designed to boost female libido. While these sexuopharmaceuticals for treatment of erectile difficulties have brought about excitement by awakening sexual activity amongst impotent men there remains, a dearth of knowledge on the perspectives and experiences of their sexual partners. That is, the detrimental effects for women of Viagra use within heterosexual relation. Erection enhancing drugs like Viagra which millions of men routinely use today has made its way in many of Africa’s households including the use traditional concoctions such as the “Congo Dust”.

Viagra’s promoters have secured it as a visible place in the public consciousness despite the tradition that treats sex as private. While the publicity surrounding Viagra may potentially facilitate more positive attitudes to sexuality in older age, it may also produce a societal expectation that healthy and normal life for older people requires the continuation of youthful (energetic) sex lives focused on penetrative intercourse. Thus leading to older men behaving like recycled teenagers engaging in sexual escapades with the young as a status symbol and often times taking advantage of the vulnerable girl child for their love for material objects and “MONEY”.

While there has been much rejection in the use of the blue pill in Botswana, In the USA for instance, Medicaid coverage originally included Viagra, on the theory that impotence is a disease and treatment is thus medically necessary. The erectile medical insurance scheme in the USA, by contrast permitted the exclusion of abortion, even for those procedures deemed medically necessary the Supreme Court in the USA announced that the right to choose to terminate pregnancy to exercise that right, not withstanding threats to a women’s health. Viagra provided a jump start for the movement for contraceptive equity in the USA with some opponents of insurance coverage for birth control appreciating the gendered impact of this approach only after coverage of Viagra became common place.

*Seleke is researcher of Health Policy& Health Systems strengthening

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