Sex Talk: Erection Enhancers

Limp? Perhaps science can help.

Few things are more demoralizing to the average male ego than an inability to get it up and keep it hard. It was once thought that most impotence was a mental problem, but modern medicine tells us it’s usually due to lack of blood flow. See, the love muscle’s not a muscle at all — it’s more of a spongy balloon that, given the right stimulus, fills up with arterial blood. But sometimes, particularly in older fellows, those blood vessels don’t open up the way they’re supposed to, and the sausage stays soft.

Sure, everybody experiences an occasional failure to launch, but some guys’ penile problems are peskily persistent. Many men try cockrings that constrict the base of the shaft, keeping that old tent pole upright. And over the centuries, erection-seekers have used — with varying degrees of success — a medicine-chest-ful of often-dubious nostrums designed to be eaten or rubbed on. There are, for example, oysters.

But now there’s something to swallow that’s close to surefire. By inhibiting production of a specific enzyme, this drug causes the arteries’ walls to relax, and voilà – an erection. Since 1998, Viagra and its younger siblings, Cialis and Levitra — which all work by slowing down that enzyme — have been putting starch into stiffies and smiles on men’s faces.

Especially for older guys, the drugs have been a blessing. “It’s not that I love my partner any less now,” says a middle-aged man in a male/male marriage. “But I just can’t get hard the way I used to…not without a little help. No matter how often my honey said, ‘It’s OK, it happens,’ I decided to seek advice from my doctor — and my erection, my boyfriend, and I are all glad I did.”

Unsurprisingly, use of the drugs has gone way beyond medically defined cases of erectile dysfunction. “I don’t usually have any problems getting a hard-on, but I decided to try my first Viagra when I was heading out to a sex party, ” says one pill-popping fellow, “and I stayed really, really stiff all night.”

Indeed, the effects of Cialis can last a day and a half, making for some lust-drenched weekends. But is the recreational use of erection-enhancing drugs safe and smart? Most side effects — things like headaches, backaches, and upset stomach – are, fortunately, mild and brief. There are also more serious potential downsides, from temporary changes in color perception to heart attacks. One deadly possibility is an interaction with organic nitrates, including poppers — inhaled amyl nitrite and its relatives. Mixing penis pills and poppers can cause life-threatening low blood pressure, a case of getting hard leading to becoming a stiff.

Some experts worry that habitual use of the drugs, especially among younger guys who take them recreationally, may eventually lead to dependency, making men unable to get hard without them. And there’s also a trend among amphetamine users to take enhancers to counteract the shaft-softening side effects of speed, thereby facilitating over-the-top, unwisely exhausting, orgies. As one skeptic notes, “A soft shaft is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.” On the other hand, there’s a risk of med-sparked erections of the “if you’ve been stiff for a week or longer, be sure to get your doctor’s help” variety.

For such reasons, Viagra-class drugs are available by prescription only. That hasn’t halted a flourishing gray market in the stuff, as a quick check of your e-mail will demonstrate. But beware of spammed offers of sexual bliss. It’s estimated that at least half of the erection enhancers sold online are fake, leaving purchasers screwed — and not in a good way.

Still, such qualms are ignored by legions of libidinous lads. “Hell,” says one, “I try to be a good scout and use a condom every time. But unrolling the damn thing deflates me, so Viagra is a godsend.”
And, as our pill-popping partygoer says, “I know that Americans are notorious for taking pills for everything. I try to avoid doing that. But, hey, I’m a sex-hound who likes to play for hours, so this is one medicine I’m quite happy to take.”

Clearly, taking powerful meds without a doctor’s supervision is risky. But in the real world, as long as discreetly swallowed pills will stiffen shafts, there will be a swelling demand for erection-enhancers. Got a reluctant rod? If you’re so inclined, check with your doc and get a prescription, and you, too, can partake of the penis-plumping blessings of a modern medical miracle.

Simon Sheppard is the editor of Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica, and the author of Sex Parties 101, Kinkorama, and In Deep: Erotic Stories, and can be reached at [email protected]. Visit Simon at

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