Viagra revolutionized the treatment of erectile dysfunction. In fact, the term “ED” first gained popularity when former senator Bob Dole went on television to promote Viagra.
It may come as a surprise, but Viagra is not the only treatment for this problem. Decades before Viagra was developed, doctors could prescribe mechanical devices that used a vacuum to induce erections. The plastic tube fit over the penis; when air was pumped out, it encouraged blood to rush in and fill the central hollow space of the penis, creating an erection. A special rubber band kept the blood in place to facilitate intercourse.
The “penis pump” was not the only pre-Viagra treatment option. There were implants that required surgery. Doctors could also prescribe a medication to be injected into the penis through a very fine needle.
One form of erection injection has been approved by the FDA under the name Caverject. This has a success rate of close to 90 percent. Despite such an impressive track record (better than Viagra), Caverject was slow to catch on. Many men were squeamish about injecting themselves. In addition, rare complications such as bruising, prolonged erections and the development of fibrous tissue causing penile curvature (Peyronie’s) were possible.
The same ingredient, alprostadil, is also available in a different form. A micro-suppository to be inserted into the urethra side steps the problems with injection. This medication, called MUSE, brings on an erection within five to ten minutes. Drawbacks to MUSE include pain in the penis or testicles, dizziness, headache and a burning sensation.
But despite their rapid onset and high rate of effectiveness, none of these treatments caught on like Viagra. Taking a pill is easier.
Now Viagra is about to have competition. The FDA has given a green light to a second oral compound for erectile dysfunction. Vardenafil is expected to be launched early next year under the brand name Levitra. Like Viagra, it works through a complex biochemical cascade.
A new study shows that roughly 70 percent of the men taking Levitra are able to achieve normal functioning. The most common side effects are headache and flushing. Other reactions reported include runny nose, heartburn, accidental injury and flu symptoms.
As a result of the huge success of Viagra, drug companies are working on a variety of other ways to treat erectile dysfunction. Products like Uprima and Vasomax are still undergoing testing.
Men aren’t the only ones interested in better sex. Female sexual dysfunction often goes underreported, but as more treatment options become available, women are likely to clamor for drugs that will improve libido and sexual satisfaction. Pharmaceutical firms are eager to oblige.
For readers who would like to know more about future treatments and how to use current options, we have prepared Guides to Female Sexuality, Treating Sexual Dysfunction and Drugs that Affect Sexuality.
Anyone who would like copies may send $4 and a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. YPZ-962, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

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