Impotence a Problem for Young Men, Too

Many turn to Viagra, even those not struggling with erectile dysfunction, study finds

SATURDAY, April 29, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- While erectile dysfunction is usually considered a condition that affects older men, it can also be a problem for young males.

And some college-aged men are using Viagra in tandem with alcohol or illegal recreational drugs, increasing the likelihood of spreading sexually transmitted diseases, a new study concludes.

Just how widespread the use of Viagra and other similar drugs is among young men is unknown. But judging from the results of the new research -- which included 234 sexually active men aged 18 to 25 years old attending three Chicago universities -- the drugs appear to be used by a significant number of young men in the United States.

The researchers reported that 13 percent of the young men said they'd experienced erectile dysfunction, but rarely discussed this with a doctor. Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, was defined as ever having difficulty getting or keeping an erection.

The study, the first of its kind, was conducted by researchers from Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, both in Chicago. They were to present their findings Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Francisco.

"We asked men about erectile dysfunction when using a condom, and 25 percent said they lost an erection while putting on a condom," said lead researcher Dr. Najah Senno Musacchio, a fellow in general academic pediatrics at Children's Memorial Hospital. "These men were four times less likely to use condoms consistently, and five times more likely to have six or more sex partners in the last year."

Musacchio noted this is a public health problem because not using a condom makes transmitting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), more likely.

Among the men who completed the survey, 6 percent said they'd used erectile dysfunction medications; 57 percent said they used the drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, and 29 percent used them to enhance sexual performance.

Viagra won't make a man who isn't impotent a "sexual superman," Musacchio explained. But it may make him able to have sex more often over a shorter period of time, she added.

"Most of these men, (64 percent) mixed these medications with alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy," Musacchio said. "Those drugs increase your sex drive, reduce your inhibitions, but may make you less likely to sexually perform. When people mix those drugs with Viagra, they may be able to have sex when they couldn't normally do so. This is of concern for transmission of STDs and unwanted pregnancies."

The men surveyed said they almost never got Viagra from a doctor; 54 percent reported getting the drug from friends or through the Internet.

"Health-care providers are out of the loop," Musacchio said. "They should be asking their patients if they are using erectile dysfunction medications. And if they are, they should be counseled on the hazards of using these medications with other substances."

One expert agrees that the combined use of Viagra and alcohol and drugs by young men can be a risk for the transmission of STDs.

"It's hard drawing conclusions from one study," said Dr. Ira Sharlip, a clinical professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a spokesman for the American Urological Association. "If it's true that these medications are being combined with drugs and alcohol and produce risky sexual behavior, then there is an increased risk of undesired pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases."

Sharlip doesn't think that those taking these anti-impotence drugs are at any risk from them unless they're taking large doses. "I don't see young people coming in with problems related to these drugs," he said.

As far as enhancing sexual performance, Sharlip doubts any effect. "I think that it doesn't do anything to enhance sexuality for young people with normal sexual function," he said. "My expectation is that those who use it once don't use it again."

More information

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases can tell you more about erectile dysfunction.

SOURCES: Najah Senno Musacchio, M.D., fellow, general academic pediatrics, Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; Ira Sharlip, M.D., clinical professor, urology, University of California, San Francisco, and spokesman, American Urological Association; April 29, 2006, presentation, Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, San Francisco
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