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Men’s online sex advice – help or hype?

March 11th, 2005

Dr Petra

This week sees the launch of an online men’s sexual health referral network – run by Pfizer (makers of Viagra) and an American university medical school. Men who access the site will be able to find their nearest male sexual healthcare professional by typing in their postcode.

Which is great, in theory. In practice, it’s not so good.

For a start, it’s an online service, so that will rule out many men with no private access to the Internet.

Secondly, although guys will be able to discover a local sexual healthcare advisor, this isn’t a free service – so the many men whose health insurance doesn’t cover them, will simply be missed out.

Finally, whilst a quick access service is useful, it’s not the same as having a thorough check-up by your family physician with a referral to an appropriate treatment service.

Many guys worry about erectile problems. With the current media preoccupation with the condition – encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry – it’s not hard to see why.

Pharmaceutical companies have distorted research figures on erectile problems, so men’s general sexual dissatisfaction, or occasional sexual problem, is lumped in with chronic sexual difficulties – making erectile problems seem far greater.

True, erectile problems, particularly erectile dysfunction, can be predictors of diabetes, heart disease or similar. But this is why men should always consult with their family physician/ general practitioner – who can identify the cause of the erectile problems – and treat any related problems such as diabetes or cardiac problems.

Encouraging men to self refer to sexual health specialists’ muddles up accessing treatment, meaning other serious health problems may not be treated quickly. Men without major sexual problems may be encouraged into medical ‘treatments’ for occasional dissatisfaction. And those who can’t afford healthcare treatment may try and self medicate with herbal products that seem less expensive, but can be deadly.

For men in the UK worried about sexual problems, you can contact the Sexual Dysfunction Association, in confidence on 0870 7743571 and for any men worried about sexual functioning, talking to your GP is your best bet.

Update September 2012
Since writing this blog a comprehensive overview of medicalising erectile dysfunction has been published in a special edition of PLOS Medicine on Disease Mongering. While a report on men’s use of an advice service for psychosexual problems reveals the scope of men’s concerns and difficulties.

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