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I Tried a Few of Those New Viagra Subscriptions to See If They Work

Like Netflix or Amazon Prime, men can now subscribe to online services offering performance enhancing medication. But are they any good?

by Andy Jones
07 June 2019, 11:12am

Illustration: Joel Benjamin

The concept of "strong and stable" hasn't just left British politics; it's also left British bedrooms.

Whether it's because of the nation's men watching too much porn, experiencing body issues or stress, or just people hoping to counteract the vasoconstrictive effects of smashing a weekend's worth of dark-net drugs, more young men than ever are seeking help with getting an erection. When it comes to Viagra prescriptions through the NHS, demand has tripled in the last ten years.

To meet interest, sex pills have moved out of the space they used to share with insurance scams and cam girl bots in our email spam folders, and out into the mainstream, appearing on tube adverts, bus stops and YouTube pre-roll ads. Obtaining them is relatively easy, too. So long as the patient ticks the relevant boxes in an online questionnaire – i.e. gets a prescription – and the service is certified by the government's regulatory agency, then it's all legal and above board.

One such service, Numan, launched in February this year with the tagline "Medicines for men – knowledge for everyone." Their website features a backdrop of well-groomed, healthy-looking guys who are presumably worried about their performance, and a load of approachable, buddy-speak info on the ins-and-outs of getting an erection (or not, as the case may be). Oh, and they also sell products to help with male baldness, if you're looking to fix up that area of your life too.

Another site, Hims, is broadly similar. It launched in January, a month before Numan, and features slick marketing shots of hench, manly-looking guys who are concerned about their libido. It too sells stuff to combat balding. However, while on Numan you pick your drug of choice – as well as Viagra, erectile dysfunction pills include the longer-lasting Tadalafil – on Hims it works the other way around: they choose what sex pill you get after an online consultation. They also don’t stock Tadalafil.

Cactus Viagra pills
Photo courtesy of Hims

But are they any good?

I'm 35 years old, in the second year of a long-term relationship, and like most men I've had my share of embarrassing starts in the bedroom. From my perspective (ex-partners can submit their own memories), I'm usually rubbish in bed after a heavy weekend at a festival. Other times – like after a brutal work period living on caffeine, snacks and the internet – I can't be bothered. Therefore, I'm keen to try these drugs. Out of personal curiosity, sure, but also as journalistic research, for you.

On Numan, I answer a few click-through questions – Am I taking any other drugs? Do I have any other conditions? – then I'm in. I'm surprised how easy it is. I pay £32 for eight tablets (including postage, etc) of Tadalafil on a prescription, and it arrives in a small brown box a day later, exactly like ordering a head-torch or an electric toothbrush from Amazon Prime.

During sex, I feel harder – like every penile vessel is clenched more than normal. Even after coming, my erection stays upright, expecting another go five minutes later, not limp like a washing basket sock. My sensitivity edges slightly higher throughout the 48-hour period the Tadalafil lasts, and I get aroused when my blood pressure rises too, meaning unsexy interview room scenes during Line of Duty gain an extra edge.

But then: some bad news. After two tablets, split across a Friday-Monday as prescribed, my kidneys feel heavy and I have a slight lower back ache. Is that from all the sex, or am I having difficulty processing the drug?

"That's common with Tadalafil," says Dr Michael Rayment of sexual medicine at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. "Back ache is very specific to Tadalafil, rather than other drugs. It inhibits the PE5 (a chemical that prevents you having a constant erection), but there are several phosphodiesterases that are slowed down with this too, which causes this ache in the kidneys."

So the pain I'm feeling isn't great, but it’s also nothing out of the ordinary. Onto the next one: Viagra – or, as it's sold on Hims, Sildenafil, which is the clinical name of the drug, as opposed to the brand name.

After a more exhaustive questionnaire – How soft are my erections? Do I ever suffer priapism (boners that won't go away)? Do I ever take poppers? – I'm sent eight 50mg tablets of Sildenafil in a nondescript box, for £33.

Unlike Tadalafil – which allows you to get an erection at any point for 48 hours – Sildenafil takes half an hour to work, but then disappears from your system within three hours. In practice, this means I’m hoisting the sail soon after dropping a tablet, though pleasingly my erection subsides around three hours later, which is a relief. The same happens when I have another ago the next night.

There's no back pain the next day either, but I do have a headache and a blocked nose. This, apparently, is also common. Dr Rayment tells me: "Viagra users can get a stuffy nose, a low level-type hangover and sometimes even blue vision – something to do with an enzyme in the back of your retina – but all of these things stop the moment [the medication] leaves your bloodstream."

Cactus VICE viagra
Photo via Hims

So is it good for you?

One thorny issue is that both Numan and Hims sign you up to a monthly rolling prescription that you have to actively cancel to get out of, like HelloFresh for dick pills. Therefore, you could end up with a costly pile of boxes by the front door. If you have a legitimate reason to pop these pills, you might need to take one every few days, but for most guys it's a fairly one-off kind of thing. One of my work-from-home friends, for example, would drop a Viagra after a day of "excessive Pornhub consumption" in order to recharge by the time his wife gets home.

Dr Rayment insists these are broadly safe drugs as long as they are taken responsibly and with a doctor's advice. He says, "Licensed Viagra and Tadalafil are incredibly safe. They were originally designed to treat angina in elderly patients, so are tailored to a much higher risk population. They can be risky with some medications, recreational drugs and things like poppers, which can increase blood pressure, but generally they are safe."

However, being able to pitch a tent doesn't necessarily mean you have solved your issues. Dr Rayment says, "Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom, not a diagnosis, so it can be a symptom of an underlying psychogenic and / or medical problem." So it’s probably sensible to go check yourself out, rather than yamming pill-after-pill just because the doc says they're medically safe.

By the end of my experiment I have six Tadalafil and six Viagra left over, which is a bit much for an "emergency one-off" stash. Maybe it would be an idea for both sites to sell an emergency weekend or trial pack, rather big monthly doses. However, Dr Rayment does say that, for men who have expectations of failure, simply having the tablets in their bedside drawer is enough to kill off those fears – so perhaps knowing I have a big old stockpile of them isn't such a bad thing after all.

@andyjoneswrites