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SAN JOSE, Calif. - A man's new best friend may be a little blue pill.
One billion Viagra pills have been taken worldwide since the FDA approved the sex-enhancing drug five years ago. It has become one of the best-known brand names since Coca-Cola. And the medication has helped millions of men who suffer from erectile dysfunction enjoy satisfying sex lives.
But this so-called miracle drug can pack psychological side effects, particularly among young men and their partners, says Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, an associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School. He is author of the just-published ``The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships'' (Jossey-Bass, 205 pp., $24.95).
It's not that the physician opposes Viagra; in fact, he thinks the drug can dramatically help a man's sexual performance, contribute greatly to his sense of well-being and even enhance his relationship. It can also help some young men who suffer from severe performance anxiety.
But popping the blue pill for the wrong reason can, in the end, hurt both men and women, Morgentaler warns.
We live in a time and a culture in which we look for the quick fix,'' the urologist says.There must be a solution that doesn't require much heavy lifting. We have this oversimplified notion that there must be a pill that will solve'' everything.
Men of all ages, not just those who struggle with dysfunctions caused by medication or physical ailments, are taking Viagra.
When a relationship seems stalled, ``They are hoping a pill that helps blood flow to the penis will help solve their problem, when often all that is needed is a frank conversation between the man and his partner,'' he says.
Viagra can also cause problems for an older couple who have not been sexually active for years. If the woman did not particularly enjoy sex earlier in the relationship, then ``Viagra may be a destabilizing force,'' Morgentaler says.
Through his book, the physician hopes to dispel myths that people have about sex. Men, for instance, tend to be performance-driven, from the boardroom to the bedroom. They believe that pleasing their partners is all about ability. But they miss the emotional nuances many women desire, he says.
Women, on the other hand, frequently do not realize how insecure men can be and how, in fact, they truly want to make their partners happy, Morgentaler says.
The doctor cautions against young, healthy men taking Viagra because they think it will impress partners, or to overcome a mild case of jitters.
In fact, Morgentaler says, a man's self-esteem can take repeated hits if he believes it's the pill, not him, that pleases his partner. Furthermore, men hooked on popping the sex pill fail to see that they are loved for who they are - faults and all - not for being ``perfect'' in bed.
``It becomes a vicious cycle in which who they are isn't ever good enough,'' Morgentaler says.
Women, on the other hand, can be emotionally hurt if they find out their men have been secretly taking Viagra.
A woman is apt to think,
`Why do you need a pill in order to have sex with me? I thought it was me who turned you on. Am I not appealing enough?' '' he says.
Men who turn to a pill to spice up their sex life may, actually, be missing what their women really want: more touching, tender words, communication.
`The firmness of the male organ is unlikely to change mediocre sex towow' '' for most women, Morgentaler says.
PITFALLS OF LITTLE BLUE PILL
Psychological problems that Viagra can create:
-A quick-fix mentality: The answers to relationship problems can be found in a pill bottle.
- Missed opportunities: Men who think better sex is the answer to every relationship difficulty miss the chance to make things better by talking about problems.
-A false sense of security: Does a man always have to be the perfect lover to be loved?
-Insecurity for men: Would a woman love me without my artificial erection?
-Insecurity for women: Is it me or the pill that turns him on?
Source: ``The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships,'' by Dr. Abraham Morgentaler.
(c) 2003, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.