Debra J. Saunders

The new "We are the champions" ads belie the pretense that Viagra is for men whose poor health results in sexual problems. Say goodbye to Bob Dole's awkward confession that prostate cancer surgery left him with erectile dysfunction and, ergo, Viagra.

Make way for the Viagra era, brought to you in an unapologetically phallic Viagra race car piloted by NASCAR driver Mark Martin. (And, shucks, the Viagra mobile was the first car to break down in the Daytona 500.) These days, while Queen's stirring anthem provides the soundtrack, a postman, businessmen on their way to work and a guy who had been washing his car dance for joy over the trademark little blue pill.

Yes, there is the token man in a wheelchair and an old guy in the "champions" ad. Still, it's clear, as everyone on the block is flush with the promise of the drug, that Viagra manufacturer Pfizer is targeting the product at healthy, middle-aged men. They take a pill, and in their own minds at least, they're champs. There must be legions of such men, as there are legions of erectile-dysfunction ads.

As the President's Council on Bioethics concluded in a 2003 report, "Viagra, a remedy devised for male impotence, is increasingly used by the non-impotent to enhance sexual performance."

It's no accident that the "champions" ads appear as Pfizer's market share has shrunk. Viagra had a monopoly on erectile dysfunction until rivals Levitra and Cialis aired ads during the testosterone-rich Super Bowl. Viagra now can boast only a 66 percent share of the erectile-dysfunction medication market.

Enter a new company with Avlimil, a competing product that promises to enhance sexual desire in women. Who knows if the non-prescription pill works? The Pfizer folks had tried to develop a Viagra for women but last month gave up, The New York Times reported.

What's important is that women now can claim at least the illusion of sex-pill parity. And illusion it is, says bio-ethicist Art Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania. "If you think you are going to have sex more frequently, (Viagra) won't help you," explained Caplan, who once advised Pfizer on Viagra. Caplan said Viagra works for men with a "medicalized" problem, but other than its placebo effect, it is not an "aphrodisiac."

Caplan was careful to explain that he has no problem with a sex pill, were one to appear on the market. "You can take short cuts. You can take a sex pill, if you want to enhance your performance -- I'm OK with that," he said.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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