It’s hard to feel good about Viagra

Sexual violence and war have been entwined for a very long time.  More recently, as stories from all over the globe emerge, the United Nations has taken a position – rape during conflict is a “war crime”.  Which begs the question, what is rape in peace time?

War Crimes ambassador David Scheffer has visited areas in conflict all over the globe and said 12 years ago:

In the past, as many in this room are all too aware, rape and acts of sexual violence against women went unrecognized and unchallenged. In many conflicts, some soldiers, perpetrators, and world leaders viewed rape as a fringe benefit of war, an unspoken perk. While some observers have dismissed incidents of rape, with the reason that men, or as so often seen, boys, simply get out of hand or out of control after a rough day on the battlefield, recent history has shown that organized, systematic patterns of rape are a component of deliberate ethnic cleansing. The world community, on occasion, ignored the truth that these acts are not simply acts of recklessness, but acts of torture.

Let’s not think we are immune in Aotearoa – Waitangi Tribunal reports note that rape of Maori women was a tactic used by Crown troops to demoralise iwi in the Land Wars.

Yet there was something newly horrifying, for me, in the news last week that Libyan troops are being issued with Viagra to help them rape.

The idea that male soldiers might need training to be brutal enough to rape has been explored by feminist Robin Morgan, who first drew my attention to the US Army “training song”:

But who is selling Viagra to the Libyan army?  And how can they not know this is for rape?

I guess my surprise is kinda ridiculous, in the context that “erectile dysfunction” is a relatively recently discovered problem, established primarily for profit.

This trend towards recognition and acceptance of ‘erectile dysfunction’ has occurred concomitantly with a focus by the medical and pharmacological disciplines on developing physical treatments for sexual ‘problems’. The field of treatment that has proliferated most rapidly over the past 10 years is that of sexuopharmaceuticals.

Viagra of course is not alone in treating “erectile dysfunction.” In fact it’s market share has been dropping since 2000 as other pharmaceutical companies have jumped in alongside Pfizer.   But it’s the biggest, the sexiest, the one we see advertised every break in televised sports matches, complete with women glowing with gratitude that their man can get it up when they need it.

Even if some women like intercourse at least some if not lots of the time, most of us also like a range of other sexual delights, for which an erect penis is not strictly necessary.  In fact it’s not even necessary for penetrative pleasure.

Or even for male pleasure or, say this loudly, male orgasm.

NZ psychologist Nicola Gavey, along with Tiina Vares, Annie Potts, and Victoria Grace interviewed partnered women and men who had started using Viagra due to “erectile dysfunction”.

They found some interesting things.  Some men loved it.  They reclaimed active sex lives, and therefore self-esteem.  Others had “side effects” (that ridiculous term, the effect the drug company doesn’t want us focused on) which they didn’t like, so stopped using it.  And many men spoke of enjoying the exploration of sexual activities with lovers without worrying about whether their penis was hard.

Half of the women interviewed spoke of their sex lives improving with age, as they knew their bodies better and were better able to ask for what they wanted, including not being as focused on intercourse.

Many women were not involved in the medical consultations which led to Viagra being prescribed.  For those who were, many said Viagra was prescribed as a “quick fix” for relationship problems  more substantial than a limpish penis.

Some women talked about unwelcome changes in their sex lives from the introduction of  Viagra – multiple erections over 12-24 hours, being pressured not to “waste” a tablet, pain and discomfort from prolonged or repeated intercourse.

And most importantly, if you’re wanting to have a fun time with your man, women talked about less time spent on other pleasurable sexual activities.

The myth of why we need Viagra has been around for a while.  I’m going to write later in the week about similar pushes to deal with women’s “sexual dysfunction” – in the meantime I’m going to hold onto my horror of this new (to me) partnership between pharmaceutical capitalism and the armed forces.

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One thought on “It’s hard to feel good about Viagra

  1. Another fascinating and insightful post. But heartbreaking too; I have always known how prevalent rape is during conflict, but the viagra issue is news to me. And it is with surprise and horror that I read “some women talked about unwelcome changes in their sex lives from the introduction of Viagra – multiple erections over 12-24 hours, being pressured not to “waste” a tablet, pain and discomfort from prolonged or repeated intercourse”. Pressure to have sex is a form of rape in my view so this is a huge worry. Sex is something has to always be outside the bounds of compromise & equality in a relationship; it has to always be the woman’s choice. It is a physical invasion of a woman’s body. If she doesn’t want to have sex then ‘encouraging her’ to change her mind is tantamount to rape. That’s my 2 cents worth anyway.

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