Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/5/2020
Erectile dysfunction is a problem that affects as many as 52% of men at some point during their lives, and prevalence increases with age. Though ED has psychological roots for many men, it can also be the result of a physiological problem within the body.
Sildenafil citrate or Viagra is commonly known as “the little blue pill” and many men consider it a miracle drug for its ability to resolve physical causes of ED.
According to the manufacturer’s website, Viagra works for as many as 85% of the men who take it. What many men fail to realize, however, is that erectile dysfunction medications are just one piece of the puzzle in fixing your sex life and increasing your sex drive.
The little blue pill might resolve some of the physical aspects of erectile dysfunction, but the rest is up to you.
In this article, we’ll briefly review what Viagra is and how it works to resolve erectile dysfunction. We’ll also discuss who should and should not take ED medications, as well as some of the life changes you might need to make to improve your sex life.
Viagra is a prescription medication that was originally developed in 1989 for the treatment of cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure and chest pain associated with coronary heart disease.
Early trials of the drug showed little promise for its use in this manner but revealed an interesting side effect – increased erections. After redeveloping and rebranding the drug, Pfizer patented Viagra in 1996 and the FDA approved its use for the treatment of erectile dysfunction in 1998.
Sildenafil citrate, the active ingredient in Viagra, or generic Viagra, belongs to a class of drugs known as phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE5) inhibitors. Available in 25mg, 50mg, and 100mg tablets, Viagra works by blocking the degradative action of PDE5 to allow the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels in the corpus cavernosum of the penis to relax.
When those smooth muscle cells relax, it allows increased blood to flow to the tissues in the penis, making it possible for a man to achieve and maintain an erection stiff enough for sexual activity.
While Viagra has been approved by the FDA and is generally regarded as safe, it is not the right choice for everyone. Before taking Viagra, you need to ask yourself two questions:
Is the cause of my erectile dysfunction treatable with medication?
Do I have any underlying health problems or take any medications that might interact poorly with Viagra?
Let’s take a closer look at the first of these questions.
As a PDE5 inhibitor, Viagra makes it physically possible for the penis to fill with blood, so you can achieve and maintain an erection. It stands to reason, then, that Viagra will only work if the cause for your ED is physiological – something that restricts or blocks blood flow to the penis. Some of the most common physical causes for erectile dysfunction include the following:
High blood pressure
Many of these conditions cause damage to the blood vessels, limiting the amount of blood that flows throughout the body – especially to the penis. Taking certain prescription medications for other health problems or undergoing harsh treatments for prostate cancer can also cause damage that may lead to erectile dysfunction.
It is in cases like these that erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra have the potential to be helpful. When ED is linked to psychological factors such as stress, depression, anxiety, and relationship problems, however, Viagra is not usually recommended.
Once you’ve determined that the cause of your erectile dysfunction is treatable with medication, you next need to make sure that it is safe for you to take.
Viagra is not recommended for people who take nitrate medications, guanylate cyclase stimulators, alpha-blockers, HIV protease inhibitors, antifungal medications, antibiotics, or other blood pressure medications.
If you are an alcoholic or recreational drug user, you should be very careful about taking Viagra. If you have had a recent heart attack or stroke, have low blood pressure, or severe heart or liver problems, Viagra is not recommended.
Talk to your doctor before taking ED drugs if you have stomach ulcers, hemophilia, heart problems, sickle cell anemia, multiple myeloma, leukemia, or Peyronie’s disease.
After you have taken Viagra, you can’t just sit around and wait for an erection to happen. You need to be an active participant in order to achieve an erection, but the medication will help you maintain it once you do. So, what else needs to happen for a fulfilling sexual experience? Keep reading to find out.
Related Post: Is Viagra Over The Counter?
While Viagra may help with some of the physiological aspects of erectile dysfunction, it is not a cure-all solution. When you pop that little blue pill, it can increase your chances for achieving and maintaining an erection, but you still need to become aroused enough for the process to begin.
Arousal is a multi-stage process that follows a set pattern, though the details of the process are different for every man. Here is a quick overview of the four stages of sexual response in men:
Stage 1: Excitement – The first stage of arousal is excitement, either physical or mental, that stimulates an erection. When you become aroused, extra blood flows into the soft tissues inside the penis, causing it to swell.
Stage 2: Plateau – At this stage, the blood vessels in the tip of the penis fill with blood and the testicles grow by 50%. Your heart rate and blood pressure rise, and your breathing quickens as well – you may also feel a warm sensation around the perineum as well as a tightening in the thighs and buttocks.
Stage 3: Orgasm – At the height of arousal, contractions in the pelvic muscles force semen into the urethra. As these contractions continue, the semen is forced out of the penis and that is when ejaculation occurs.
Stage 4: Resolution – After orgasm and ejaculation, you go through a resolution phase in which your body cools down, your heart rate slows, and your respiration rate normalizes. For a short period of time, you’ll be physically incapable of achieving another orgasm – the length of time is different for every man.
The four stages of sexual arousal in men seem pretty cut and dry, but the fact is that there are many factors that play into that first stage of excitement. If you do not become aroused, no medication will stimulate an erection. Viagra makes an erection possible, but your mind and body do the real work.
So, how do you improve your sex life beyond taking Viagra? Learn how you typically become aroused and then make it happen! Keep reading to learn more.
As a man, your sex drive will change over the course of your life and as many as 15% of men (and 32% of women) experience low libido on a regular basis. Numerous factors such as physical health, age, relationship status, stress, testosterone levels, lack of exercise and more can affect your desire for sex as well as your ability to perform in an intimate setting.
It is a common misconception that erectile dysfunction medications can boost sex drive. The reality is that it is up to you do to do the work to increase your sex drive and improve your arousal if you want the little blue pill to do its work.
Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to boost sex drive. Here are some easy things you can try at home:
Consume natural aphrodisiacs like avocado, bananas, and figs.
Eat Vitamin-C rich foods like broccoli, bell peppers, and oranges to improve circulation.
Flavor your foods with antioxidant-rich herbs and spices.
Avoid eating too many processed foods, high-sodium foods, fried foods, and refined sugars.
Try taking supplements to boost blood flow such as L-arginine, ginkgo biloba, and niacin (talk to your doctor first).
Engage in regular exercise to improve circulation and heart health.
Make time to relax and destress on a daily basis – aim for at least 30 minutes a day.
Get plenty of sleep to boost testosterone levels and improve health.
The suggestions on this list may help you to counteract the physical effects of low libido, but there is another important aspect of arousal that should not be ignored – your relationship with your partner. While arousal is sometimes more of a mental or emotional process for women than for men, if you don’t have an intimate and trusting relationship with your partner, your sex drive may suffer.
Building and fostering intimacy with a partner is not something that happens overnight. Like anything good in life, it takes time and a fair bit of effort. Here are some tips to follow if you want to build intimacy in your relationship to improve your sex life:
Plan a weekly date night. The best way to foster intimacy is to simply spend time together, so set aside one night each week to do just that.
Eat breakfast together. Not only is a healthy breakfast important for your health (and your libido) but sharing a meal with your partner is a great way to start the day and to stay connected.
Share a common interest. Find something that both of you like to do and then make time to do it together. It could be reading a book aloud to each other, going for a hike on the weekend, or simply seeing a movie.
Talk to each other. Spend a few minutes each evening telling each other about your day. Let that develop into a longer and deeper conversation, sharing the positive things that are on your mind as well as your worries and fears.
Foster physical intimacy. Physical intimacy isn’t always about sex – simply making eye contact, holding hands, or cuddling with your partner can help foster emotional intimacy.
A healthy relationship will change over time, just as you and your partner will change as individuals. If you want to prevent your sex life from going down the drain, take time to foster intimacy with each other by putting some of the tips listed above to use.
You will find that the stronger the mental/emotional connection you have with your partner, the more easily you will become aroused in intimate situations and that is the key to a satisfying sexual experience for both of you.
Insider tips, early access and more.