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Recreational Viagra and ED Drug Use: Is It Dangerous?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 5/14/2021

If you struggle with erectile dysfunction, medications like Viagra® (or its generic, sildenafil, generic Viagra) may help you to improve your erections and sexual performance. 

As is true for any type of prescription medication, ED treatments like Viagra come with risks for side effects and interactions with other drugs. As such, they’re not something that you’ll want to use irresponsibly. 

Despite this, some people take Viagra and other ED medications recreationally, either as a way to improve their sexual performance or for other purported benefits. 

While Viagra is safe for most men, using it without a prescription isn’t recommended. Doing so may expose you to side effects and potentially dangerous interactions, especially when Viagra is used with alcohol. 

Below, we’ve discussed how Viagra and similar erectile dysfunction medications work, as well as the most common reasons they’re used.

We’ve also discussed why it’s best not to use Viagra or other ED medications for recreational purposes. 

Finally, we’ve explained what you can do if you have ED and want to use Viagra or a similar medication legally.

How Do Erectile Dysfunction Drugs Work?

Erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra work by relaxing your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the corpora cavernosa -- a pair of sponge-like areas of erectile tissue on the inside of your penis.

When you’re sexually aroused, blood flows into your penis to create an erection. By making it easier for blood to flow into this tissue, ED medications like Viagra can improve your erections and reduce your risk of losing your erection during sex. 

From a more technical perspective, medications like Viagra work by inhibiting the effects of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5, or PDE5, which helps to regulate blood flow to your penis and other areas of your body.

We’ve talked more about the mechanism of action of this type of medication in our full guide to PDE5 inhibitors.  

It takes approximately 60 minutes for sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, to start working as an ED treatment. Once it’s in your body, it remains effective for around four hours.

Although Viagra is the best-known medication for erectile dysfunction, several other medications are also used to treat ED: 

  • Cialis®. This medication, which contains the active ingredient tadalafil, is a long-lasting treatment for ED that works for up to 36 hours per dose.

  • Levitra®. This medication, which contains the active ingredient vardenafil, typically lasts for slightly longer than Viagra.

  • Stendra®. This new ED medication, which contains the active ingredient avanafil, has a more selective mechanism of action and is less likely to cause certain side effects. 

Many of these medications are available in several dosages, allowing your healthcare provider to tailor your dosage based on the severity of your ED and other factors.

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Viagra Usage and Popularity

The FDA first approved sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, as a prescription drug for ED in 1998. 

Within six months of its approval, more than five million prescriptions were written for the medication.

In the years since, tens of millions of men in the United States and many more worldwide have used Viagra and other medications to treat ED. 

Today, Viagra can be purchased as a brand name medication produced by Pfizer and as a less expensive generic medication in the form of sildenafil.

Why Do People Use ED Drugs Without a Prescription?

Most men who use Viagra and other ED medications do so legally after having received a valid prescription from their healthcare provider.

However, since Viagra is well known as being effective for ED, it’s often used recreationally by guys looking to increase their sexual performance and get harder, more reliable erections.

Research published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, which involved more than 1,900 men in total, found that four percent of otherwise healthy undergraduate men reported using ED drugs like Viagra recreationally.

Among the reasons for use reported by the men, more than 70 percent noted that they were just curious about the effects of ED medications.

Others reported using ED medications to counteract the effects of other drugs that affected their ability to get and maintain an erection. 

Other common reasons for recreational ED medication use included increasing erection rigidity, enhancing self-esteem and impressing their sexual partner.

As for where the medications were acquired, around two thirds of the men that took part in the study reported acquiring them from a friend.

Although most men who take Viagra recreationally do so before sexual activity, there’s a small subset of men who use it to boost their athletic performance. 

Occasionally referred to as “Vitamin V” by some athletes, Viagra appears to have mild positive effects on certain types of exercise.

For example, a 2004 study found that sildenafil increased the maximum exercise capacity of a group of mountaineers and trekkers, both at sea level and at altitude. 

Why would a drug designed to facilitate better erections do this? Because of its effects on other parts of the body. 

Although Viagra was originally approved to treat ED, its ingredient sildenafil is also used as a treatment for pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs).

As vasodilators, most ED medications can increase blood flow to the lungs and, in some cases, potentially improve athletic performance.

Anecdotal reports suggest that some athletes combine ED medications with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to further boost performance. 

However, there’s no research on the effects of these substances used together or their popularity amongst athletes. 

Anabolic steroid use comes with some pretty serious health risks of its own, including a reduced sperm count, testicular atrophy, gynecomastia (male breast growth), high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack and/or stroke.

For some athletes, Viagra may be a necessity to improve sexual function that’s been affected by years of steroid abuse.

The Dangers of Viagra Recreational Use

There are several issues with using Viagra recreationally. The first is that doing so could result in you experiencing side effects, especially if you use Viagra with other drugs. 

Many people who use Viagra recreationally take it with other drugs, often as a way to improve their sexual performance or to counteract the negative effects that other drugs have on erectile function.

In the undergraduate student study covered above, common drugs used with Viagra included marijuana, alcohol, ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine and alkyl nitrites (poppers).

Some of these drugs can cause dangerous interactions when they’re used with Viagra or other medications for ED.

For example, nitrates or nitrites (the active ingredients in poppers) can interact with Viagra and cause severe low blood pressure that, in some cases, can be fatal.

The FDA specifically warns against using these drugs with Viagra and other ED treatments, as they have a high risk of causing dizziness, fainting or serious cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke.

Other illicit drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, may also have negative health effects when used with Viagra or other ED medications. 

As for alcohol, while it’s generally safe to drink a small amount of alcohol with Viagra, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may increase your risk of side effects. 

Beyond the safety risks of using Viagra recreationally, the second issue is that it often doesn’t live up to expectations. 

Men who take ED drugs recreationally often believe that it will give them stronger, longer lasting erections or that it might reduce their refractory period -- the period after ejaculation in which it’s difficult to get another erection. 

The reality is, however, that taking Viagra without a medical need might actually have a negative effect on your sexual performance over the long term. 

Research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine shows that men who use ED medications recreationally reported a lower level of confidence in their erections and reduced overall sexual satisfaction compared to their peers.

Interestingly, the more frequently the men reported taking ED medications, the more likely they were to report lower erectile confidence and other signs of sexual dysfunction.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that using ED medications recreationally can damage your sexual performance, it might suggest that Viagra and similar medications can become a crutch that some guys rely on over the long term, even if they don’t necessarily need it.

While medications like Viagra can be a confidence booster in the short term, over a longer time frame, that extra confidence can become something that’s hard to live without.

Not only can recreational use of ED drugs impact your sexual performance, but it could lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviors.

A review published in the American Journal of Medicine analyzed 14 recent studies of Viagra use among gay men.

The researchers found that more than 10 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) use Viagra (sildenafil citrate) and that use of the medication was associated with a higher risk of engaging in unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners.

These statistics highlight a correlation between Viagra use in men who have sex with men and an increased risk for STDs and HIV.

In general, according to the review, men who use ED drugs like Viagra recreationally are likely to fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • Men who have multiple sexual partners

  • Men who use illegal drugs

  • Men who frequently have one-night stands

  • Men who have unprotected sex

  • Men who have sex with other men

Many of the men who used ED drugs like Viagra recreationally reported purchasing them online or from offshore pharmacies. 

Not only are these medications not approved by the FDA, but they’re significantly more likely to be counterfeits than medications available through legal channels. 

Some may be manufactured in unsafe environments or made using potentially harmful ingredients. 

This only adds to the risks associated with recreational use of Viagra and other medications for ED.

Side Effects of Taking Viagra

Viagra can cause a range of side effects. You may be more likely to develop side effects if you use Viagra recreationally or with alcohol and other drugs or substances. 

Common side effects of Viagra include:

  • Headache

  • Facial flushing

  • Dyspepsia (indigestion)

  • Nasal congestion

  • Myalgia (muscle pain)

  • Abnormal vision

  • Back pain

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Rash

Our guide to Viagra side effects goes into more detail about these side effects, the frequency at which they occur and the steps that you can take to limit their severity.

Although uncommon, Viagra can also cause more serious side effects, such as priapism (a type of painful, persistent erection) and optic nerve damage.

If you experience severe side effects after using Viagra or other ED medication, it’s important to seek medical advice and assistance.

Cialis vs. Viagra Recreational Use

Although Viagra is the most well-known and popular medication for ED, it’s certainly not the only medication of this type that’s used recreationally.

Another common ED medication, tadalafil (the active ingredient in Cialis®) is also taken by men for sexual performance enhancement and other recreational purposes.

The side effects of Cialis are similar to those of Viagra. However, Cialis is a much longer-lasting medication. 

While Viagra lasts for around four hours on average, a standard dose of Cialis may continue working for as long as 36 hours. 

Because of its long-lasting effects, it’s important to avoid medications and substances that can interact with PDE5 inhibitors like Cialis if you use this medication.

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Taking Viagra For Fun: Not Worth The Risks

Erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra are used by millions of men to treat ED and improve sexual performance. 

Using medication like Viagra recreationally isn’t a good idea. In fact, doing so may increase your risk of dealing with side effects and interactions, especially if you use other medications, alcohol or recreational drugs at the same time.

If you have erectile dysfunction and want to use Viagra, you can access it legally by talking to a healthcare provider and receiving a prescription.

We offer Viagra, sildenafil and several other ED medications online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. 

You can find out more about the causes of ED, common symptoms and treatment options in our detailed guide to erectile dysfunction.

12 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Dhaliwal, A. & Gupta, M. (2020, June 23). PDE5 Inhibitor. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/
  2. VIAGRA® (sildenafil citrate) tablets, for oral use. (2014, March). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/20895s039s042lbl.pdf
  3. Drug Approval Package: Viagra (sildenafil citrate). (1998, March 27). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/NDA/98/viagra/viagra_toc.cfm
  4. McCullough, A.R. (2002). Four-Year Review of Sildenafil Citrate. Reviews in Urology. 4 (Suppl 3), S26–S38. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1476025/
  5. Harte, C.B. & Meston, C.M. (2011, June). Recreational Use of Erectile Dysfunction Medications in Undergraduate Men in the United States: Characteristics and Associated Risk Factors. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 40 (3), 597–606. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2909482/
  6. Ghofrani, H.A., et al. (2004, August 3). Sildenafil increased exercise capacity during hypoxia at low altitudes and at Mount Everest base camp: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 141 (3), 169-77. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15289213/
  7. Sildenafil - Pulmonary Hypertension Association. (2013, November). Retrieved from https://phassociation.org/patients/treatments/sildenafil/
  8. Bell, S. (2008, June 12). Can Viagra enhance athletic performance? Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/espn/news/story?id=3437666
  9. NIDA. (2021, April 12). What are the side effects of anabolic steroid misuse? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/what-are-side-effects-anabolic-steroid-misuse
  10. VIAGRA® (sildenafil citrate) tablets, for oral use. (2014, March). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/20895s039s042lbl.pdf
  11. Swearingen, S.G. & Klausner, J.D. (2005, June 1). Sildenafil use, sexual risk behavior, and risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. The American Journal of Medicine. 118 (6), 571-577. Retrieved from https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(05)00086-0/fulltext
  12. CIALIS (tadalafil) tablets, for oral use. (2011, October). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2011/021368s20s21lbl.pdf

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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