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Is Viagra the worst thing to happen to older women?


NO – says Linda Kelsey, who believes it can bring back intimacy  

Ex-Cosmopolitan editor Lesley Kelsey, 66

Ex-Cosmopolitan editor Lesley Kelsey, 66

For every woman for whom Viagra has resulted in sexual marathons she could well do without, I can point to another who feels that her marriage has been saved by it.

A friend in her 50s told me recently that when her husband first found himself struggling to make love, it was as though his personality changed, too. He became withdrawn and irritable, started to complain about the job he had always loved and, she suspected, was teetering on the verge of a breakdown.

Ironically, she was going through the menopause at the time and wasn’t too bothered about her waning sex life — until she recognised the damaging effect it was having on their overall relationship.

Viagra made a big difference — and not just to their sex life. Her husband’s mood perked up, too.

Was it the worst thing that had happened to her in 20 years of marriage? No, it was the best. She got her husband back. The sex was just a bonus, which, eventually, she welcomed back into her life.

For male impotence — or erectile dysfunction to give it its proper name — has long stopped being something we snigger at. It’s a condition that affects as many as one in five men. For up to 4.3 million in the UK alone, the little blue pill known as Viagra has been hailed as a magic bullet.

After becoming available over-the-counter earlier this year — in supermarkets with pharmacies as well as without a prescription at chemists — it seems as if the stigma of artificially boosting a flagging sex life with medication has finally been laid to rest.

No more embarrassing chats with the GP required, asking for Viagra if you are a middle-aged or older man has become as normalised as a request for paracetamol or indigestion remedies.

Viagra has been hailed as a magic bullet for men who suffer from erectile dysfunction 

Viagra has been hailed as a magic bullet for men who suffer from erectile dysfunction 

At the last count, the Royal College of General Practitioners there were three million prescriptions for Viagra in 2016, up from one million ten years earlier, which they attributed to ‘to a sharp rise in growing awareness of erectile dysfunction and its treatment, and an ageing population who expect a good sex life’.

Yet, according to Diane von Furstenberg, the impossibly glamorous 71-year-old American designer and inventor of the iconic wrap dress, this has been a nightmare for wives and partners. She articulated it thus: ‘There was a certain amount of fairness. A woman couldn’t have a child after 40 … but the man could have a child until 65, but sexually, after a while …’ Meaning, he finally lost his sexual prowess, making things even again.

Reading between the lines, it seems that the woman who, back in the 1970s, ‘wanted women to feel slinky, sexy and feline’, feels that now she’s hit her own 70s, she — and every other woman besides — would rather be left alone in the sexual department, and would be mercifully allowed to sleep in peace were it not for the dreaded Viagra.

The implication is that while women have nothing like Viagra to help them out, and have perhaps run out of sexual steam, their partners are unfairly demanding they revive their love life because Viagra has restored their mojo.

Poor older women, all having to lie back and think of England, when they’d rather be tucking into a good novel before lights out.

First of all, I’d like to point out, older women do have something to help them out in the libido department. It’s called HRT and, in many instances, it boosts their hormones and their sense of well being.

Secondly, the idea that only men are interested in keeping things going in bed as they age, while women would rather curl up with their Kindle, is a myth. And it’s surprising that the liberated von Furstenberg, a mega-successful businesswoman, worth more than £200million, who has been married to a prince and now a film mogul and once had an affair with Ryan O’Neill, subscribes to it.

Debate over the drug was sparked after Diane von Furstenberg branded it the worst thing to happen to women in the last 15 years

Debate over the drug was sparked after Diane von Furstenberg branded it the worst thing to happen to women in the last 15 years

A recent study suggested that more than half of over-65s, both male and female, would like more sex than they’re getting, which hardly tallies with the notion that Viagra is a disaster for women.

Saying that, Von Furstenberg does have a point — mismatched libidos have been the downfall of many relationships and not all post-menopausal women relish the idea of sex. But giving up on sex altogether as you age can also kill a marriage.

Admittedly, there is another, unfortunate side-effect of Viagra for women — the number of cases in which some men’s new found sexual confidence has resulted in them wanting to demonstrate their sexual prowess outside, as well as within, their primary relationship.

Given the huge rise in divorce and the number of men and women embarking on new relationships in their 50s and beyond, it’s not unreasonable to assume that with one in five affected by erectile dysfunction a large number of relationships would fall at the first hurdle, so to speak, without the help of Viagra.

Anything that can help keep couples together cannot be deemed a disaster, can it?

Something that people seem to forget is that desire is a pre-requisite for Viagra working. Viagra doesn’t create desire, it facilitates it.

Countless older couples still want to express their love for one another through sexual intimacy. I don’t understand why anyone would demonise Viagra for making that possible.

YES – says Liz Hodgkinson, who argues it can’t put the magic back into a marriage that’s lost its sexual spark 

Writer Liv Hodgkinson, 74, said Viagra is a disaster for older women

Writer Liv Hodgkinson, 74, said Viagra is a disaster for older women

When my late mother-in-law was about 70, she asked me — her worldly daughter-in-law — a very intimate question: ‘How old are they when they don’t want to do that sort of thing any more?’

At one time, one might have replied that at 70, very few men remained interested in that sort of thing — and in any case, their ability had probably completely disappeared long ago.

Those days are now over. Thanks to the invention of Viagra, older men now believe that all they have to do to maintain their sex lives into extreme old age is to take a couple of little blue pills.

Viagra is widely available, dirt cheap and no longer available only on prescription. It is one of the most successful drugs ever marketed and thousands, maybe millions, of men have blessed it for restoring their waning libido.

But hang on a minute. What about their partners or spouses?

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg has come out and said what many older women, myself included, have suspected for some time: that although Viagra may have been a wonderful invention for older men, it has been little short of a disaster for women of the same age.

It means that however old we are, we are never allowed to let our sex lives die a natural and — it has to be said — often much longed-for death.

Instead, we are expected to maintain our desire for sex and also for someone who, in reality, we may not have fancied sexually for decades. Hormonal changes thanks to the menopause may make sex uncomfortable, too.

Many of my friends who have been in long marriages say that they are happy enough to continue in their relationship but relieved that sex no longer plays a part. Instead, they have become companions and friends, living together in a relaxed, low-key way.

They tell me they would be horrified if their husbands suddenly came home with a gleam in their eye and waving a packet of Viagra. Why, they say, would they want to go to all the trouble of having sex with him again? Why, when they have been perfectly happy without it for many years. At 70-plus, many of us now remember energetic, frenetic sex with winsome nostalgia. Something that was lovely but belonged to a certain time — and a certain body — long gone, and we are happy to hand the baton over to the younger generation.

And yet, thanks to the hype surrounding Viagra, the new conventional wisdom has it that a woman thinking along those lines is something of a party pooper. Indeed, I’d say there is an element of competition about it, with some women competing to appear the most lascivious.

Viagra works by restoring blood supply to the penis and thus enabling an erection, even for men who may not have been able to maintain one for years. And that, basically, is all it can do.

Yet over the years, Viagra has been infused with a kind of mystique and credited with the ability to bring back the magic into a relationship that may have long since lost all its excitement.

Yet the truth is that it cannot turn you back on to someone who no longer interests you in that way. It cannot bring back love, closeness, affection and tenderness into a marriage that has long lost its spark. It may make a man randy but has no equal power to deliver female arousal or desire.

My own view is that if a couple are turning to Viagra to give their relationship a lift, other than for medical reasons, then it probably is in trouble anyway.

The pill’s effects are temporary, not guaranteed and can cause much anxiety and unwelcome pressure in a relationship.

In any case, Viagra does not always have the desired erectile effect, as I know from experience. My late partner John had some trouble in that department when he was placed on beta-blockers after developing a heart condition.

Beta-blockers act by sending blood to the heart and away from the extremities. As John was only in his early 60s at the time, and in a new relationship — with me – he thought he might give Viagra, newly on the market, a go.

His lack of a sex life was making him very upset. There had already been much excited talk about this new wonder drug and he asked his doctor about it.

The doctor said my partner had to be careful as he had high blood pressure and a heart condition, but felt that a mild dose might do the trick without causing problems.

So he tried it — but it just didn’t work. We waited and waited for it to take effect, but no. Nothing happened. And he was reluctant to try the drug again because of his heart problem.

I have to say that his apparent dysfunction made absolutely no difference to the quality of our relationship. We had a lot of fun and laughter together, went on wonderful holidays and, all in all, had a marvellously fulfilling time until he died 14 years ago.

I know that it is possible to have a satisfying — even erotic — relationship with someone without conventional sex, and towards the end of his life, my partner said: ‘You’ve made an old man very happy.’

Perhaps novelist Kingsley Amis had the right idea when he said, at the age of 70, that he had spent 50 years chained to an idiot (his libido) and now at last he was free. Now Viagra can keep men chained to that idiot for the whole of their lives, is that really such a good thing?



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