Growing number of young men 'find it difficult to cope without Viagra'
Viagra - the blue tablets that have for long been viewed as essential medication for men in their 50s, 60s and beyond, are now being widely used by a growing number of young males due to performance anxiety triggered by psychological issues including internet porn making 'normal' sex seem boring.
The drug contains sildenafil citrate and works by improving blood flow in the penis.
Harley Street psychosexual counsellor Raymond Francis, who sees about 15 men a month who feel dependent on Viagra, has his youngest client at 27.
"I think this is just a small sample of the problem. These men don't have any physical problems that would cause erectile difficulties. Instead they feel they need it because they are putting too many expectations on themselves - based on what they believe women want in the bedroom," the Daily Mail quoted Francis as saying.
According to him, in many cases his male patients have been influenced by watching internet pornography from a young age.
"Sometimes these men will have deeply embedded and unrealistic expectations of the women they want to have sex with - or what they should be able to do," he said.
Francis believes that another common thing is men reporting they feel intimidated by the sexual confidence and demands of modern young women.
"Women are now so empowered," Francis said.
"They feel they have as much right as men to dictate the pace sexually. We are not just talking about girls who would once have been seen as promiscuous.
"These days a professional career woman who has been brought up in a culture of success wants to exercise that freedom and strength in her sex life, too.
"In just one or two generations, there has been a turnaround. Before, it was always the expectation that the man was the predator. Now ladette culture has turned that on its head. Faced with this pressure, young men bring performance fears to the bedroom long before any sex takes place," he said.
Another reason male patients in their 30s turn to Viagra is the pressure on them to produce babies within a strict timeframe.
"These are men in conventional partnerships where the woman has chosen to defer birth until her career is established and then finds it difficult to get pregnant," he said.
"These men feel pressured to perform at a prescribed time and the sex becomes mechanistic, rather than borne out of passion and desire. The pressure on the man becomes horrific and he feels he needs to have Viagra up his sleeve," Francis said.
At the moment, only men with health conditions like prostate cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis or kidney failure that are known to reduce their sex drive are supposed to get Viagra for free, though many psychosexual counsellors say it is being given to younger men with no physical reasons for impotence.
As the drug's manufacturer Pfizer points out, the drug should be taken only with a prescription from a healthcare professional and used according to the guidance on the label.
It says studies have found it is not physically addictive but even if the addiction is all in the mind, there is no doubt the drug is distorting lives.
Over the past six years, Janice Hiller, a clinical psychologist who heads the Sexual Health Psychological Services team at Goodmayes Hospital in Essex, says she has seen an increase in the number of male patients dependent on Viagra. Her youngest patient has been 22.
Janice blames the trend on an increasingly sexualised society and the unrealistic expectations raised by the internet.
"Young men feel women expect sex very early on in a relationship, perhaps on the first or second date, and that creates performance anxiety if they are not really confident," she said.
"After they have been exposed to a lot of internet porn, the major stimulus for men can become the pornographic image rather than the girl they are with. That can be damaging. These images go round in their heads and they then cannot become aroused with a real girl.
"Usually men seek help when they meet a woman they really like and are desperate for it to work. In those cases, we have to talk about how the length of a sex session is not the most important thing for women, and how they really want all sorts of other things in a relationship, too," she said.
According to Janice, for married couples, the discovery that a husband is secretly taking Viagra can also be devastating.
"Women who do find out often feel they have become unattractive to their partners," she said.
"Viagra is enormously helpful if used in a managed, thoughtful way among those who need it. But in younger men it does not solve a problem. More often than not it adds a new level of anxiety," she added.