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Viagra sales have risen by 40% in 8 years; doctors warn that more and more young men are seeking refuge in the anti-impotency drug.

New Delhi: For years, his notions of sexual intimacy were dictated by internet pornography, said a 31-year-old communication professional at a telecom subscriber. Out in the real world, it affected his relationships, particularly when it came to sexual arousal. It is what, he said, drew him to Viagra and its generic versions.

“I have been watching internet pornography since my college days. Probably, my expectations of myself were much more than my ability. I noticed difficulty in getting aroused with real women. These drugs allowed me to have real relationships,” he said.

The hitch: At 31, the man is at least two decades younger than the average age of men who are prescribed Viagra and its variants — drugs that are used to treat erectile dysfunction or male impotence.

But this man’s story is part of a growing trend in the country, where Viagra and its copycat versions are increasingly being viewed as a lifestyle drug, and where more and more young men are drawn to it, believing it will “up their game with the women”.

Doctors also said the younger men seek refuge in the drug, which requires a prescription, as they are affected by stress from the workplace and performance anxiety in the bedroom.

Some of those abusing the drug are just out of their teens. In the horrific gang rape case at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonepat, Haryana, in 2015, the victim made some shocking allegations in her testimony. She had alleged that the three men convicted of raping her had not only forced her to buy sex toys and condoms but also Viagra. The men were just 20 years old at the time.

A 40% increase

According to the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), a lobby representing about 9 lakh chemists, the sale of the drug has substantially increased in the last eight years. According to AIOCD, from 18,000 units of the drug sold in June 2010, the number has risen to 26,000 units in June this year — an increase of almost 40 per cent in eight years.

Companies are also cashing in on the opportunity as the prescription drug is sold loosely without any checks. In June 2010, sales of the drug, which includes sildenafil citrate as a basic component, stood at Rs 180 crore. It has jumped to Rs 357 crore this year – a rise of 98 per cent.

While the Viagra patent is with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (it has lost patent control in some parts of the world), copycat versions of the drug have thrived in India for years.

On the contrary, doctors confess that they hardly prescribe the drug. “We prescribe the drug in cases where there is no other option available. One out of 20 patients is prescribed the drug,” said K. K. Aggarwal, former president of the Indian Medical Association. “And to those we prescribe, they also don’t want us to write it on prescription as they don’t want their partner or family to know about it, in certain cases.”

Stress, anxiety and the pill

Ritesh Gupta, a specialist in male hormonal disorders at Fortis Hospital, said that the young men in their late 20s and early 30s who visit him, come with imagined symptoms that they believe are associated with erectile dysfunction. “Some of them have genuine hormonal disorders but most of them suffer from low self-esteem or unrealistic expectations,” he said.

While Gupta refuses to prescribe the pill for the young men and instead advices them to control their stress and anxiety, he said many of them will anyway get their hands on the pills. According to Gupta, seven out of 10 men below 40 years, who reach out to him, do not have erectile dysfunction but want clarification on the pill. And at least half of them, he said, are either encouraged by friends or are accompanied by their female partners.

Relationship therapists are also seeing a rise in the number of men in their 30s with queries on Viagra and other such drugs, traditionally prescribed to men at least a decade older.

Anuja Shah, senior psychologist and relationship expert at online platform ePsyclinic, said many of those who reach out are men in the 25-40 age bracket who are looking to increase their libido before marriage or are succumbing to performance anxieties.

Shah said she has to dissuade at least three to four men every week from looking for the pill. “Over 70 per cent of my clients are from the IT industry, followed by chartered accountants,” said Shah, who gets the maximum queries from Haryana, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

The psychologist also mentioned another reason: rising expectations from women. “These young men are turning to Viagra as they feel increasingly emasculated by today’s women,” she said. “These men believe they had the upper hand in the bedroom but now women are also proactive about expressing their sexual needs and speak up for their equality. This makes them conscious in the bedroom.”

Low prices, fading stigma

A combination of factors, therefore, is driving Viagra use in the country. While Pfizer’s Viagra is available at Rs 527 per tablet, its desi versions — Manforce, Suhagra, Penegra, Zenegra — are available for an average of Rs 52 or just one-tenth of the price of the original.

The drug, which once had a stigma attached to it, is no longer spoken of in hushed tones, with its use being actively encouraged by friends and partners.

A 28-year-old chartered accountancy student said she got her husband to try the pill during a vacation in Goa. “He tried the pill when he was already high on alcohol. He said if the arousal is 100, it’s 1000 with these drugs. We tried it just because we wanted to; there was no particular reason. That was the first and probably the last time we tried despite having enjoyed the experience,” she said.

Moreover, it is easily available.

With lax regulation and audits, chemists sell the drugs without prescription. “My chemist asked for Rs 10 in excess of MRP when I first bought the drug. The next time, I bought the drug with some other daily use stuff like shaving cream and lotions. He did not ask for the prescription,” said a 26-year-old software engineer with a Gurgaon-based BPO. “Now, whenever I visit the chemist, I run my finger on his table drawing an alphabet ‘V’ for Viagra and he gives me the cheapest version available,” he said.

The side effects

Doctors warn against Viagra abuse, particularly for those who believe it could increase sexual euphoria. They said the drug could cause disorientation, confusion and tremors. “In severe cases, it can result in seizures, irregular heartbeat or even death,” warned Gupta from Fortis.

It can also lead to the death of a relationship.

Shah, from ePsyclinic, was recently counselling a couple who she said are headed for divorce because of the usage of anti-impotency drugs.

“Despite a love marriage, the couple was unable to meet each others’ expectations due to professional stress. Considering the growing distance, the wife encouraged the husband to use the drug. However, unaware of its major side effects, the husband landed in the operation theatre, with the surgery jolting their relationship.”

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