Thursday, September 30, 2004

Up Up Up Up Up

Terrific interview with Meika Loe about the broad cultural implications of Viagra. Remarkable and disquieting stuff...

The most interesting thing I’ve found is watching the public face of Viagra change over six years. We’ve moved from Bob Dole, with an emphasis on erectile dysfunction and a real attention to medical conditions, to Rafael Palmiro, who is a pro-baseball player. There's more emphasis on younger men. So the demographic has changed; it's wider in terms of age and ethnicity. These marketing campaigns liken sexual performance to performance on the field; everything is reduced to performance. .... These marketing campaigns can have the effect of reinforcing very narrow ideas about what’s "normal" for men ....
Dead-on. I've long thought that Viagra was perhaps the most pointless mass-market drug ever; Its marketing was a textbook case of creating a problem in order to sell a solution, and perhaps the most egregious example of the continuing medicalization of the human condition—of characterizing any unpleasant aspect of life as a "disorder" to be "treated" (preferably by pricey medications) rather than as an experience to be endured—and from which we may even learn things worth knowing.
It’s no longer normal for men to have sexual problems. Men in their early twenties ... who are plagued with performance anxiety, and want to ... see themselves as well-performing sexual beings—they're turning to pharmaceutical treatments to make that happen, rather than maybe talking with their partner or experimenting on their own without the help of medicine.

.... A performance culture is what we are bolstering here. It would be nice if there was room for human error and vulnerability and human reality in the broad spectrum of sexual pleasure and masculinity in all its form and more of a human based model here.

Yup. It's a deepening of the mind/body split in Western culture and medicine, where we demand that our meatframes function at baseline even when we're a mess inside. It's an unsustainable paradigm; you end up with a well-tuned, high-performance race car with a driver weeping so hard he doesn't notice he's headed for a brick wall.

And there's a palpable coarsening of our cultural discourse on sexuality in the wake of these boner pills, and it extends beyond the smutty jokes on late-night TV. It lies in the increasing commodification of sex qua sex, outwith any context of emotional companionship or even real pleasure—ability for ability's sake. It lies in the conceptual reduction of masculinity—not just male sexuality, but maleness itself—to a stiff prick.

And it lies, too, in a newly overground obsession with size. There was always a sub rosa economy based around "male enhancement"—the back-page ads for the creams and the pumps and the "exercise books" in their plain brown wrappers. But Viagra made possible the mainstream marketing of dodgy herbal supplements—and made possible, too, the frankly disturbing ad campaign featuring the mute "Mr. Big," with his terrifying rictus grin. Unleashing this priapic Joker onto the public airwaves is itself unforgivable, in my book.

There's one bit of encouraging information here, though:

[A] statistic from Pfizer [shows] that half of the men who have prescriptions for Viagra do not refill their prescriptions. This may be because of side effects. It may also be because it’s not working for many men, particularly men who have severe erectile problems or impotence. And it may just be that Viagra is not really solving the problems in the relationship or in a man’s life, and that there are other avenues for dealing with those issues.
Well, duh. To think that the keys to a better sex life may lie not in artificially-heightened blood circulation, but in trust, understanding and communication, in forgiveness, in being kind to yourself, in taking time, in talking...

Better keep that quiet. Talk like that is bad for business.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am prescribed it due to a back problem but found after taking it that it did such a good job it set me off on a new level and I only need to take it again rarely. The effect is still there due to the memory of the previous sessions where it has enabled a level of confidence that carry me through. There are side affects that stop me taking it unless I know I really need to use it. It can give me a headache and pounding heart unrelated to my feelings about my partner. We have no problems in the relationship that being together does not solve and only my numbness due to the injury is my only worry. If it was not prescribed I would not be very happy, neither would she!