Young, healthy, recreational users of erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs may eventually lose confidence in their erectile abilities, according to a new study.
This loss of confidence could lead to further erectile problems down the road.
Over 150 million men worldwide experience erectile dysfunction, according to the study authors. At the time of the study, one of three oral medications were commonly prescribed to treat ED: sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn). Oral ED drugs are considered “first-line” treatment and work well for many men.
The drugs have also become popular with recreational users who don’t have ED. Studies have shown that such recreational use is associated with riskier sexual behavior, such as unprotected intercourse.
A pair of American researchers wanted to know how recreational use of ED drugs might affect men on a psychological level, particularly their confidence in their erectile function.
To learn more, they used an anonymous web-based survey to collect information from over 1,200 American sexually-active undergraduate men. The participants’ mean age was 21.9.
The men were asked about their ED drug use during the previous four weeks, including the type of drugs, the dosage, and the frequency. They were also asked whether the drugs had been prescribed for them.
To measure erectile function, researchers used the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), which assesses a man’s erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, intercourse satisfaction, and overall sexual satisfaction.
The researchers removed one question about confidence from the IIEF. This issue was addressed separately in the survey.
Of 1,207 men, 92% had never used ED drugs. 6% had used them recreationally and 2% had used them according to a doctor’s prescription.
Recreational users and non-users reported similar levels of sexual function. “In fact, recreational [ED drug] users showed healthy erectile functioning profiles and were well above the cutoff used to distinguish those experiencing ED of a clinical nature,” the authors said.
However, the recreational users’ confidence levels were similar to those of prescribed users. Both groups reported significantly less confidence than the non-users.
The authors saw two ways to interpret the data.
First, they pointed out that lower erectile confidence is a psychogenic risk factor for ED. Lower confidence could prompt performance anxiety and psychological dependence on the drugs. In other words, the men might feel they need the drugs to get a satisfactory erection because they don’t think they can get one on their own.
Another interpretation involves men’s expectations. Some men may have satisfactory erections on their own. However, when using the drugs, these erections might be slightly firmer and longer-lasting and become the new norm. Men may feel that their erections without drugs are inadequate and lose confidence because their standards have changed.
The authors emphasize that due to cross-sectional study design, causal inferences cannot be made from this data. Future longitudinal studies are needed.
However, the authors suggest that it’s worthwhile for healthcare providers to tell patients about the possibility of psychological dependence on ED drugs.
The study was published online this spring in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Harte, Christopher B., PhD and Cindy M. Meston, PhD
“Recreational Use of Erectile Dysfunction Medications and Its Adverse Effects on Erectile Function in Young Healthy Men: The Mediating Role of Confidence in Erectile Ability”
(Full-text. First published online May 8, 2012)
My Health News Daily via MSNBC.com
“Young men who take erection pills for fun often feel down”
(May 17, 2012)