National

Viagra marketing blitz left women out of the equation

WASHINGTON—When Pfizer's market strategists were shaping attitudes toward Viagra in the late `90s they had little to say to women. That seems to have been a mistake, and a factor in unimpressive sales in recent years.

The campaign had just one goal: to destigmatize impotence in men so they'd talk to their doctors about the problem and ask for Viagra.

The effort succeeded. Viagra's 1998 launch was the most successful drug introduction ever.

But aside from telling women that a drug to fix erectile dysfunction existed, which many found to be great news, the campaign gave no role or voice to the partner who sex therapists say usually controls intimacy.

At the same time, Viagra required women to buy into a strict new lovemaking time regimen: roughly an hour's wait before the drug took effect and then sex before it wore off in four to six hours.

In theory, prescribing doctors would counsel couples, bringing women into the picture. In practice, time-strapped internists and general practitioners—who, studies say, do 75 percent of ED drug prescribing—often see only the men.

Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, the author of the book "The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships," thinks that many women never fully endorsed the drug for use in their love lives.

"Often, it doesn't fit their idea of what sex should be," he said. "It's not spontaneous; it's not romantic; there's planning involved. Or the woman wonders, `Why does my husband need a pill to have sex with me? Why am I not enough?'"

(Not surprisingly, Viagra's most successful competitor is Lilly ICOS's Cialis, whose ads show blissed-out couples and tout the drug's 36-hour window for sex.)

Feminists raise more basic objections to the drugs. Dr. Leonore Tiefer, for example, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, argues that the drugs promote intercourse-focused sex at the expense of other forms of lovemaking that women often find more gratifying.

She and many other clinicians say the drugs' makers reduce the rich complexity of sex by defining it as a strictly physical event in order to sell a pharmaceutical solution when it fails. Their term for what the industry is marketing is "medicalized" sex.

For more on sexual dysfunction and "medicalized" sex, go to www.fsd-alert.org

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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