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It’s not all in your head

May 12th, 2005

Dr Petra

Want to know where the pharmaceutical industry is headed with their plans for medicalising men’s sexual behaviour? Look no further than your daily newspaper.

Gradually over the past few months there’s been an increase in stories about premature ejaculation. Drug companies have sent newspapers press releases that suggest premature ejaculation (PE) is reaching epidemic proportions, wrecking marriages, and causing men untold misery. These press releases also state how PE isn’t just a psychological problem, but could have a neurological or other physiological cause, for which there are plans to have a pharmaceutical ‘cure’ very shortly.

These are called ‘teaser’ stories. They’re designed to whet the appetite of journalists, trumpet the impending fabulous scientific discovery, but most importantly to hype up awareness and anxiety about sexual dissatisfaction making an occasional problem into a full-blown crisis requiring a ‘magic bullet’ fix.

We saw it all before with Viagra. For many years erectile dysfunction (ED) was seen as having psychological roots, but with the advent of medication that could help the problem in chronically affected men, the message from the drug companies changed. ‘It’s not all in your head’ they argued, it’s a physical problem, a medical problem, and we can cure you.

Now I’m not for one minute saying men don’t have problems with either ED or PE. However, what has happened with ED is cause for concern. Rather than just men with a chronic ED problem seeking help or being treated, the attention given to ED and aggressive marketing by drug companies, means that the occasional erectile problem is now pathologised – meaning men feel bad or guilty, or in need of treatment, if they sometimes can’t get it up.

But when you’re stressed, tired, with a new partner, or perhaps have overdone the booze, not being able to get an erection is normal – not a medical crisis.

The same is now happening with PE. Just yesterday the New York Sun ran the latest in an increasingly long line of pro-pharmaceutical PE features entitled ‘Betting on the next Viagra’.

Bear in mind these stories are describing drugs that aren’t yet tested or approved, for a condition that may have some physical root, but unlike ED is far more likely to have a psychological cause.

Keep watching your daily newspaper, and keep asking questions about the news. When stories keep appearing that promise a PE wonder-drug, and increase awareness and anxiety over a condition that’s upsetting, but not a medical disaster, you have to wonder who is going to benefit from all this hype.

Somebody’s out to make money from increasing men’s anxieties. You have a chance to challenge it before it really gets going.

And for men and their partners who are genuinely worried about PE or other erectile problems, you can get impartial and confidential support from the Sexual Dysfunction Association.

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