Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

Erectile dysfunction, ED, is a medical disorder that has been highly medicalized within the culture of the United States. One of the cultural influences that propelled this medicalization was the ideology that men who exhibited the symptoms of erectile dysfunction were viewed as less competent and ultimately were viewed as less of a man. This chip on the man’s ego compelled men to seek medical treatment in order to live a “healthier” happier life, and to restore his “manhood.” ED was no longer seen as a flaw in the individual, but rather a legitimate biomedical disorder in which the disorder and its symptoms could be managed and treated. An economic force that further propelled the medicalization of ED came from the pharmaceutical companies.

As men came in large numbers to their doctors for the drug to treat ED, Viagra, the pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, pushed the advertisement for this drug. As stated in the BBC Horizon film, “Pill Poppers,” Viagra is now one of the most prescribed drug in the world; Six tablets are dispensed somewhere every second. After Pfizer discovered the economic potential of Viagra, ED and its diagnosis was further expanded to not only include the 9% of men with chronic ED that consistently couldn’t get erections (usually older men), but also men who only occasionally couldn’t get erections. (1) This implied that if men experienced occasional erectile dysfunction that they weren’t perfect, and that they were exhibiting some level of illness and this illness could be treated. This created an unlimited marketing potential for Viagra within Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies. Soon after, other drugs such as Cialis or Staxyn, started to play the same role or similar roles as Viagra.

In a 2011 Viagra advertisement, it portrays a strong confident competent man out sailing on the water. As the ad is talking about in this day and age an individual knows what needs to get done, it is also showing a problem that comes about on the sail of the sailboat. In the ad, the man quickly improvises and solves the problem and maintains sailing again; this is illustrating the American ideology that to be a competent man he must also be “Mr. Fix It.” The ad is implying that today with all this medical information and knowledge it’s not a question of knowing what needs to get done, but whether or not an individual will be smart enough to make a decision to fix the problem. The ad also states, “With every age comes responsibility,” which is implying that men have a responsibility to correct their disorder.

The music also contributes to the ad because it is upbeat and acts to aid in motivating the consumer/patient to take action and seek medical treatment. The physical appearance of this man is characteristic of the Western culture’s stereotypical manly man which most men whether or not they admit it strive to be like. This makes the ad more appealing to the consumers of the West. Also, at the end of the video it shows the man after a long day of fixing problems on the water returning home with a more confident smile then before because he knows he will have no more problems to face that night, thanks to Viagra. Lastly, the ad states that 20 million men have already taken action; which is basically asking, “Why should YOU be missing out?” At the end of the ad, it instructs YOU as the consumer to ask your personal doctor if it is right for YOU, implying that the pharmaceutical company wants to help YOU personally, while in the same sentence also mentioning that its product, Viagra, is the most prescribed treatment for ED. At the same time it is also implying that your doctor knows what is best for you. All of these factors are effective advertising techniques used by the pharmaceutical companies to hook you in as a consumer of their product which in this case means you first have to become a patient.


1.) YouTube, BCB Horizon, “Pill Poppers” (Part 2)

2.) YouTube, Viagra Commercial, 2011.


Leave a Reply