Viagra Man, A Decade Later

Meika Loe

Thanks to Viagra, mankind now stands at a crossroads: either invest in that teenage erection - or in a broader, richer definition of manhood.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on sexuality
and aging, co-produced by the National Sexuality Resource Center and RH
Reality Check. Check back in the coming weeks for more on seniors and
sexuality. Read the first article: How Are Your Orgasms, Mom? and the second, Older, Wiser, and Sexually Smarter.

If you want to get a good sense
of where we stand as a society when it comes to aging, sexuality, and
manhood, think about those erectile dysfunction ads. They feature men
singing and dancing in the streets, others strumming "Viva Viagra"
on their guitars, and handsome straight couples in side-by-side tubs
with twinkles in their eyes. Over ten years of Pfizer advertising Viagra,
the individual ad campaigns may have changed but the themes have stayed
the same. Ideal sexuality is youthful ("18 again"), heterosexual,
penetrative, and erection-centered. Apparently, being a man, and a healthy
happy successful one, depends on these things. Thanks to Viagra, mankind
now stands at a crossroads: either invest in that teenage erection – or
in a broader, richer definition of manhood.

There was great potential here
to shift the way we, as a society, think about aging; the way we think
about elder men (and their partners!) and sex. Just imagine an ad campaign
(and a society!) that truly embraces aging, sexuality, and vulnerable
masculinity. It would feature a wide range of variation when it comes
to bodies and disabilities. Intimacy would be broadly defined, and men
would learn how to be great lovers. Men would be comfortable discussing
fears and anxieties associated with sexual performance. Viva Vulnerability!
Pfizer could still make billions. And we might all be happier and healthier,
or at least more realistic. 

In fact, Pfizer came close
to shifting our ideas about aging and sexuality way back in 1999, when
Bob Dole became the company’s spokesperson for erectile dysfunction.
Here was a war veteran, an elder statesman, on TV, talking about this
sexual dysfunction problem. This was a radical thing for a lot of reasons.
It was one of the first (if not the very first) direct-to-consumer ad
for a pharmaceutical product broadcast for all Americans to see. Even
more shockingly, this was an older man talking (indirectly) about sex.
Specifically, Dole was talking about not being able to get it up,
and this occurred in the months following endless media attention to
President Clinton’s seemingly opposite problem. The social ramifications
of this ad campaign, along with the "Let the Dance Begin" campaign
that followed it (featuring white-haired individuals dancing), were
truly amazing: men of all ages going to doctors offices in droves.  

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My grandfather was one of these
men who asked his doctor for the pills. He was in his early eighties,
and dating, and he wanted his "manhood" back. A committed Democrat,
Gramps was nonetheless heartened to see another man around his age on
television who had a similar dilemma. He was now open to pursuing new
options for enhancing sexual intimacy. He might have benefitted from
learning about how to communicate with a partner about his concerns
and about sexuality in general.  

However, what happened next
was where the so-called "Viagra revolution" stalled. Men "asked
their doctors" (generally as the doc was leaving the examining room),
but many didn’t talk with their wives. And many doctors, out of discomfort,
didn’t ask questions. Some doctors commented later that they were
disgusted by octogenarians asking for blue pills. Bob Dole became the
butt of every joke on late night television.  

Meanwhile, Pfizer realized
that Viagra generally did not work for men post-prostate surgery – men
like Bob Dole and my grandfather. Now that the American public knew
about erectile dysfunction, Pfizer could now move to market the drug
to men in a wide age spectrum who were curious and anxious about sexual
performance. In short, the sexual status quo was tested, and then youthful
sexy manhood quickly took center stage again. Ageism, heterosexism,
and medicine triumphed. 

From that point forward, the
Viagra man became either professional baseball or NASCAR spokesmen talking
about all-around performance, or those handsome age-ambiguous (thirty,
forty, or fifty-something?) guys with a touch of gray in their hair,
impressing their coworkers with their new confidence, caressing a lovely
younger-looking woman, jumping in the street to the tune of "We are
the Champions," singing Elvis tunes with friends, and sprouting devil-horns
while "getting back to mischief."  

In the age of direct-to-consumer
pharmaceutical advertising (only legal in the United States since 1997),
drug ads proliferate, and to some degree, they reflect culture. But
they also help to construct and reinforce cultural values. Since its
debut, Viagra has been hailed as a sexual revolution for men. In reality,
I’m not sure we’ve progressed at all. A new approach to aging? Except
for middle-aged men graying at the temples, we’re back to denying
aging and elder sex, and selling medication with anti-aging branding.
A new Viagra man? I’m seeing a whole lot of confidence and bravado
in these ads. Where’s the vulnerability and insecurity we all feel,
especially after being barraged by these images? Revolutionary sex?
Straight couples and an emphasis on erectile performance – show me a
woman who thinks this is new. Now Viva vulvas…that would be something
different.  

Over the last decade millions
have stepped up to the plate and swallowed the youth, vigor, and vitality
message. Who can resist? But I have also met a good number of courageous
men over the years who chose not to refill their Viagra prescriptions.
They have used the Viagra era as an opportunity to explore what manhood
and aging means to them; they talked to friends and family about these
things; and they learned how to be better lovers. It turns out they
were onto something. A study just published in the Canadian Journal
of Human Sexuality points out that among the ingredients for great sex
after sixty is vulnerability, as well as authenticity and good communication.
So maybe the revolution is still to come.

Commentary Politics

No, Republicans, Porn Is Still Not a Public Health Crisis

Martha Kempner

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography.

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, the Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography. Without much debate, a subcommittee of Republican delegates agreed to add to a draft of the party’s 2016 platform an amendment declaring pornography is endangering our children and destroying lives. As Rewire argued when Utah passed a resolution with similar language, pornography is neither dangerous nor a public health crisis.

According to CNN, the amendment to the platform reads:

The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which [is] closely linked to human trafficking.

Mary Frances Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, told Yahoo News in an interview that she had worked with conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA) on the amendment’s language. On its website, CWA explains that its mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens—first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society—thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

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The amendment does not elaborate on the ways in which this internet monster is supposedly harmful to children. Forrester, however, told Yahoo News that she worries that pornography is addictive: “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children. It seems … [young people] do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”

“Biological” porn addiction was one of the 18 “points of fact” that were included in a Utah Senate resolution that was ultimately signed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in April. As Rewire explained when the resolution first passed out of committee in February, none of these “facts” are supported by scientific research.

The myth of porn addiction typically suggests that young people who view pornography and enjoy it will be hard-wired to need more and more pornography, in much the same way that a drug addict needs their next fix. The myth goes on to allege that porn addicts will not just need more porn but will need more explicit or violent porn in order to get off. This will prevent them from having healthy sexual relationships in real life, and might even lead them to become sexually violent as well.

This is a scary story, for sure, but it is not supported by research. Yes, porn does activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by, for example, cocaine or heroin. But as Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Rewire back in February, so does looking at pictures of “chocolate, cheese, or puppies playing.” Prause went on to explain: “Sex film viewing does not lead to loss of control, erectile dysfunction, enhanced cue (sex image) reactivity, or withdrawal.” Without these symptoms, she said, we can assume “sex films are not addicting.”

Though the GOP’s draft platform amendment is far less explicit about why porn is harmful than Utah’s resolution, the Republicans on the subcommittee clearly want to evoke fears of child pornography, sexual predators, and trafficking. It is as though they want us to believe that pornography on the internet is the exclusive domain of those wishing to molest or exploit our children.

Child pornography is certainly an issue, as are sexual predators and human trafficking. But conflating all those problems and treating all porn as if it worsens them across the board does nothing to solve them, and diverts attention from actual potential solutions.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist, told Rewire in a recent email that the majority of porn on the internet depicts adults. Equating all internet porn with child pornography and molestation is dangerous, Ley wrote, not just because it vilifies a perfectly healthy sexual behavior but because it takes focus away from the real dangers to children: “The modern dialogue about child porn is just a version of the stranger danger stories of men in trenchcoats in alleys—it tells kids to fear the unknown, the stranger, when in fact, 90 percent of sexual abuse of children occurs at hands of people known to the victim—relatives, wrestling coaches, teachers, pastors, and priests.” He added: “By blaming porn, they put the problem external, when in fact, it is something internal which we need to address.”

The Republican platform amendment, by using words like “public health crisis,” “public menace” “predators” and “destroying the life,” seems designed to make us afraid, but it does nothing to actually make us safer.

If Republicans were truly interested in making us safer and healthier, they could focus on real public health crises like the rise of STIs; the imminent threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; the looming risk of the Zika virus; and, of course, the ever-present hazards of gun violence. But the GOP does not seem interested in solving real problems—it spearheaded the prohibition against research into gun violence that continues today, it has cut funding for the public health infrastructure to prevent and treat STIs, and it is working to cut Title X contraception funding despite the emergence of Zika, which can be sexually transmitted and causes birth defects that can only be prevented by preventing pregnancy.

This amendment is not about public health; it is about imposing conservative values on our sexual behavior, relationships, and gender expression. This is evident in other elements of the draft platform, which uphold that marriage is between a man and a women; ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage; declare dangerous the Obama administration’s rule that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity; and support conversion therapy, a highly criticized practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and has been deemed ineffective and harmful by the American Psychological Association.

Americans like porn. Happy, well-adjusted adults like porn. Republicans like porn. In 2015, there were 21.2 billion visits to the popular website PornHub. The site’s analytics suggest that visitors around the world spent a total of 4,392,486,580 hours watching the site’s adult entertainment. Remember, this is only one way that web users access internet porn—so it doesn’t capture all of the visits or hours spent on what may have trumped baseball as America’s favorite pastime.

As Rewire covered in February, porn is not a perfect art form for many reasons; it is not, however, an epidemic. And Concerned Women for America, Mary Frances Forrester, and the Republican subcommittee may not like how often Americans turn on their laptops and stick their hands down their pants, but that doesn’t make it a public health crisis.

Party platforms are often eclipsed by the rest of what happens at the convention, which will take place next week. Given the spectacle that a convention headlined by presumptive nominee (and seasoned reality television star) Donald Trump is bound to be, this amendment may not be discussed after next week. But that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant or will not have an effect on Republican lawmakers. Attempts to codify strict sexual mores are a dangerous part of our history—Anthony Comstock’s crusade against pornography ultimately extended to laws that made contraception illegal—that we cannot afford to repeat.

Commentary Violence

Inciting Hatred and Violence: Unfortunately, This Is Who We Are As a Nation

Jodi Jacobson

As a country, we are more like those we condemn for espousing hatred than most Americans would like to admit.

“This is not who we are.” “This is not America.” These sentiments have become a common refrain in recent years in the response to everything from mass shootings to police abuse of power and police brutality toward protesters, to blatantly racist acts by members of a fraternity. In response to a CIA report describing the extent of torture and brutality used on prisoners in the “war on terror,” President Barack Obama asserted “this is not who we are,” because torture is “contrary to our values.” And in the wake of the mass shootings last year in San Bernardino, California, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that: “Violence like this has no place in this country. This is not what we stand for, this is not what we do.”

But these statements are at best aspirational for a country in which the leaders of at least one major political party regularly exploit intolerance, fear, and “morality” to win campaigns, and in which the leaders of the other too often hide behind platitudes and half-measures intended to placate specific constituencies, but not fundamentally challenge those realities. They are at best aspirational for a country in which the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists are condemned, but the same views when espoused by conservative Christian fundamentalists are given legal and social approval by both parties, because … religion. They are at best aspirational for a country in which women’s rights to their own bodies are a subject of ongoing debate, medical professionals are villainized and murdered, and rape and sexual assault are often blamed on the victim. These statements are also aspirational in a country in which we imprison people of color of every age, sex, and gender at rates far higher than whites; actively rip families apart by deporting millions of undocumented persons; and pass laws denying people access to basic human needs, like bathrooms, due to their gender identity.

We are not what we say. We are what we do.

Consider the events of the last 24 hours. A U.S.-born citizen (born in New York, living in Florida) opens fire in a large gay nightclub, killing at least 50 people and injuring at least 53 more. The shooter’s father suggested that the rampage was not due to religion but “may” have been incited by his son’s anger at seeing two men kissing. His former wife described him as being violent and unstable. He allegedly made a call to 9-1-1 to declare himself a supporter of ISIS. He used a military-grade assault rifle to carry out what is being called one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

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In the immediate aftermath, even before details were known, the following happened: First, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has most recently worked strenuously to oppose the rights of transgender students in his state’s schools, tweeted and shared on Facebook the biblical quote from Galatians, 6:7, stating that “a man reaps what he sows.” Translation: The people killed had it coming because they were gay. (His staff later said the tweet was prescheduled. It stayed up for four hours.)

Before any details were shared by the FBI or Florida law enforcement, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), known for scapegoating Muslim Americans and calling for racial and religious profiling, was on CNN claiming that the U.S.-born shooter was “from Afghanistan.”

In short order, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the fray by appearing on CNN. According to the transcript:

“If in fact this terrorist attack is one inspired by radical Islamic ideology, it is quite frankly not surprising that they would target this community in this horrifying way, and I think it’s something we’ll have to talk about some more here, across the country,” he said.

Rubio [also] said it’s not yet clear what the shooter’s motivations were, but that if radical Islamic beliefs were behind the shooting, “common sense tells you he specifically targeted the gay community because of the views that exist in the radical Islamic community with regard to the gay community.”

Rubio would appear to share those views “with regard to the gay community.” He is against same-sex marriage and made that opposition a key issue during his recent run for the GOP presidential nomination. He opposes legislation to make employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation illegal, supports “conversion therapy,” and is against the rights of gay persons to adopt children.

What, exactly, is the difference between the hatred spewed by radical Islamists and that by conservative Christian fundamentalists in the United States? How can any less responsibility be laid at the feet of the U.S. politicians and their supporters for violence and terror when they espouse the same forms of hatred and marginalization as those they blame for that terror? Why are we so quick to connect the lone gunman in Orlando with Islam and so unwilling to connect the “lone wolves” like Robert Dear, Angel Dillard, and Scott Roeder with the Christian right, or to hold young white star athletes accountable for the violence they commit against women? Why are we so loath to talk about rational limits on an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon of war, when mass murders have become routine?

It may not be pretty and it may be hard to acknowledge, but as a country we are more like those we rush to condemn than we are willing to admit. We are a country founded on and fed by a strong historical current of patriarchy, white supremacy, systemic racism, misogyny, discrimination, and scapegoating, all of which in turn feeds hatred, violence, and terror. That is part of who we are as a nation. Pretending that is not the case is like pretending that your severely dysfunctional family is just fine, and that the violence you experience daily within it is just an aberration and not a fact of life.

But it is not an aberration. Christian fundamentalist hatred is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist hatred. White American misogyny is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist misogyny. Discrimination and the abrogation of rights of undocumented persons, people of color, LGBTQ people, or any other group by U.S. politicians is not different morally or otherwise than that practiced by “other” fundamentalists against marginalized groups in their own country.

We are what we do.

We like to act the victim, but we are the perpetrators. Until we come to grips with our own realities as a country and take responsibility for the ways in which politicians, the media, and corporate backers of both help bring about, excuse, and otherwise foster discrimination and hatred, we can’t even begin to escape the violence, and we certainly can’t blame anyone else. We must aspire to do better, but that won’t happen unless we take responsibility for our own part in the hatred at the start.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify the details around the Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweet.