Taking Viagra When You Don’t Have Erectile Dysfunction

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What is Viagra?

Viagra¹ is a drug manufactured by Pfizer for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. It is the trade name of sildenafil.

Sildenafil was the first orally-administered drug approved by the FDA for treating ED in the United States. Due to its general safety and efficacy, it is still used as a first-line treatment for ED. Pfizer’s patent expired in 2020, so sildenafil is now available under various brand names.

How does Viagra help with erectile dysfunction?

The physiological process by which Viagra helps with erectile dysfunction is quite complex; however, a simplified explanation is that Viagra increases blood flow to the penis in response to sexual stimulation, making it easier to get and maintain an erection. It works by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5), which is present in the smooth muscle cells lining arteries that carry blood into the penis.

Inhibiting PDE-5 increases the responsiveness of arteries in the penis to signals from the nervous system that causes them to dilate, such as erotic touch or anticipation of sex. 

Some people believe Viagra causes erections, but that’s not the case. Viagra enhances erections and should be taken around one hour before you intend to have sex (before arousal). 

Who should use Viagra?

Viagra is intended for men suffering from ED who wish to improve their sex lives. ED is a persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to have satisfying sex. 

ED can be psychological (involving the mind) or physiological (involving the body). Psychological causes include stress, depression, and anxiety, while physical causes include cardiovascular diseases (like atherosclerosis) and endocrine disorders (like type 2 diabetes). ED is also a known side effect of certain drugs. 

If you’re experiencing ED, Viagra may help improve your sex life, but it’s worth noting that ED is often a symptom of another health problem. Your healthcare provider can determine what’s causing your ED and help you decide if Viagra is right for you.

Who should not use Viagra?

Viagra is widely used and generally considered safe and effective in treating ED. However, there are certain groups of people who should not use Viagra, including:

  • People taking nitrates for chest pain

  • People taking guanylate cyclase stimulators, like Adempas (Riociguat) for pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • People who are allergic to sildenafil or any of the other ingredients in Viagra

Viagra is also not intended for women or anyone under 18. There are other options if you have ED and can’t take Viagra.

Recreational use of Viagra

Some men who don’t have ED may opt to use Viagra. These men often hope Viagra may give them harder or longer-lasting erections. When a person uses a drug they don’t need, it’s called recreational use.² 

Can Viagra boost performance in someone who doesn’t have erectile dysfunction?

Few research teams have studied the effectiveness of ED medications for men with normal sexual functioning. One review of relevant literature³ found that perceived enhancement was reported by both study groups — the group who received the medication and the group who received a placebo (a pill that looks like the study drug but doesn’t contain any of the medication), indicating that performance improvements were linked to the mind, not the medication. 

More research is needed to determine how effective Viagra is for men with normal sexual functioning, but we know that taking Viagra recreationally carries some risks.

Beyond the known side effects, men who use ED drugs recreationally are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including unsafe sex and illicit drug use — they’re also significantly more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.   

What are the side effects of Viagra for recreational use?

Viagra is safe for most men but isn’t free of side effects. Whether it’s being used for therapeutic or recreational purposes, Viagra may cause:

  • Headaches

  • Flushing

  • Nausea

  • Upset stomach

  • Vision changes

  • Stuffy or runny nose

  • Back pain

  • Muscle pain

  • Dizziness

  • Rash  

There’s also a risk of priapism⁴ — a sustained, painful erection that can be dangerous and may cause permanent damage.

In a study of over 3,000 men,⁵ one team of researchers found that participants who used Viagra recreationally were more than twice as likely to develop ED, so it’s possible that recreational Viagra use may cause the problem it’s intended to solve.

Other dangers of taking Viagra for recreational use

Like any medication purchased without a prescription, recreational Viagra isn’t held to the same standards as the pharmaceutical-grade version of the drug. 

If you decide to purchase Viagra without a prescription, there’s a chance the drug you’re buying may be fake, expired, or contaminated with other substances. 

In 2011, Pfizer Global Security⁶ did a web search for the phrase “buy Viagra” and investigated the top 22 hits. They found that around 80% of the pills being advertised were counterfeit.

Although most of the pills did contain sildenafil, the mystery tablets only contained about 30 to 50% of the amount advertised. To counter this trend, Pfizer set up a website where people can buy genuine Viagra online.

Viagra as a party drug

While it’s not the drug’s intended use, there are reports of Viagra being used off-label as a party drug. 

There’s no doubt that many men go to parties and clubs with the ultimate goal of taking someone home. For many men, with a night out comes a lot of alcohol in a short time. Alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction, or “whiskey dick,” can cause performance issues in men who don’t typically struggle with ED.

There are published scientific studies⁷ showing that Viagra can help treat alcohol-induced ED, but they usually focus on participants with chronic alcoholism, not men who occasionally get drunk at parties.

There’s a lack of solid scientific evidence for or against Viagra as a treatment for acute (every now and then) ED caused by overindulging in alcohol. Even if Viagra can help combat sexual dysfunction after a night out, it’s probably safer to stop the problem before it starts by limiting alcohol intake. 

Many people who use recreational drugs use more than one type. For example, someone buying recreational Viagra may also use cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, cannabis, and alcohol. 

Some drugs, including cocaine and amphetamines, can make it harder to get erections. In drug- or alcohol-induced ED cases, partygoers may take Viagra to counter the effects.

While research on alcohol use alongside Viagra is limited, there’s evidence⁸ it might work. Research⁹ on the use of illicit drugs with sildenafil is even more limited, but it’s worth noting that using these drugs together may lead to significant interactions. Cannabis, for example, can increase the concentration of sildenafil in the blood. 

In a 2007 interview¹⁰ with the Guardian newspaper in the UK, Dr. Graham Jackson, an original member of the research team that developed Viagra, stated: 

‘There's a recreational circus going on with these drugs. You can get Viagra from any cab driver now. Nothing much would happen if someone without erectile dysfunction took Viagra, although they might think they feel better psychologically. But it would make a difference if you took it along with other drugs. Cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, alcohol, nicotine, crystal meth - they all can cause erection problems. Viagra dilates the blood vessels and allows blood to flow into the penis when these drugs are stopping it.’ 

He highlighted the danger of cocaine use in particular: 

'Cocaine is a very dangerous drug because it causes coronary arteries to shut down and can give you a massive heart attack. It's dreadful. And in a funny way, Viagra can actually help a cocaine user because it does the opposite thing to the blood vessels.'

However, there’s a lack of concrete evidence supporting this use of Viagra, and “to combat the negative sexual effects of illicit drugs” will almost certainly never be an indicated use for Viagra or any other pharmaceutical drug.

When should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after taking Viagra:

  • An erection that will not go away. This is known as priapism, and if not treated immediately, it can cause permanent damage to your penis. If you have an erection lasting longer than 4 hours, seek medical attention immediately. 

  • Sudden vision loss in one or both eyes. Sudden vision loss in one or both eyes can signify a serious eye problem, and you should call your doctor immediately.

  • Sudden hearing loss. If you experience sudden hearing loss, you should also stop taking Viagra and see your doctor right away. 

These symptoms can indicate a serious problem that requires urgent medical attention. If you can’t see your doctor, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

The lowdown

Viagra is sometimes used as a recreational drug by men without ED hoping to enhance their sexual performance. While there is some evidence that Viagra can enhance the sex life of a man without ED, it isn’t recommended for this purpose.

People who buy drugs, including Viagra, without a prescription run the risk of purchasing counterfeit drugs, which may contain dangerous contaminants and are not as safe or effective as the medications they’re pretending to be. 

Some men use Viagra as a party drug to counteract the effects of other recreational drugs (or alcoholic beverages) that lead to sexual dysfunction. There’s a lack of research on the risks and benefits of Viagra in this sort of situation, so it’s better to combat the problem by avoiding illicit drugs and limiting alcohol.

  1. Viagra | Drugs.com

  2. Recreational vagra use and sexual risk among drug abusing men (2006)

  3. Placebo responses among men with erectile dysfunction enrolled in phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor trials a systematic review and meta-analysis (2020)

  4. The hard facts on drug-induced priapism (Long-lasting erections) ((2014)

  5. Viagra - the new party drug! | Medzino United States

  6. Facing off against counterfeit online pharmacies: Pfizer launches new purchasing website to help alleviate the guesswork around buying legitimate viagra® (sildenafil citrate) online | Pfizer

  7. A multicenter, randomized, open-labeled, parallel group trial of sildenafil in alcohol-associated erectile dysfunction: The impact on psychosocial outcomes (2009)

  8. Sildenafil citrate in the treatment of sexual dysfunction and its effect on quality of life in alcohol dependent men: Preliminary findings (2009)

  9. The weekend drug; Recreational use of sildenafil citrate and concomitant factors: A cross-sectional study (2021)

  10. Everything you need for an all-night party ... his and hers viagra | The Guardian

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