It was once seen as the saviour of older men who wanted to reignite their sex lives. But now it seems the anti-impotence pill Viagra is increasingly becoming the recreational drug of choice for millions of men in their thirties.

It was once seen as the saviour of older men who wanted to reignite their sex lives. But now it seems the anti-impotence pill Viagra is increasingly becoming the recreational drug of choice for millions of men in their thirties.

A study in the International Journal of Impotence Research found that Viagra prescriptions to men under 45 have tripled in the past three years. The fastest-growing segment of the market for the little blue pills was among men aged 30-39, according to the research.

Its use among men under 45 has risen from 0.8 per cent of that age group's population in 2000 to 1.8 per cent in 2002.

Experts believe that thirty-something men may be taking the drug to boost their performance as they try to satisfy a generation of young women reared on Cosmopolitan magazine and programmes such as Sex and the City.

There is also anecdotal evidence that young male clubbers who take the so-called love drug ecstasy are finding that its effects can dampen desire to a sometimes disastrous degree.

Viagra is now available from thousands of internet sites, where supplies can be posted anonymously to a home address. Viagra UK, a site which actually operates out of Mexico, offers to ship the little blue diamonds to British customers for as little as £2 a tablet.

Michael (not his real name), 31, from Wandsworth, south London, started using Viagra last year. He said: "I would go clubbing and take drugs and then not be able to have sex for hours and sometimes days, which was obviously a bit annoying. A friend had some Viagra and when I tried it, it really did the trick. Everyone is taking it. I get it off friends or just buy some off a website during my lunch hour."

He added: "The only problem now is that I've started to feel I want it all the time."

Viagra sales have topped $1bn (£665m) a year since it was launched as the first oral cure for impotence in 1998. It works by increasing the flow of blood to the penis. The majority of prescriptions are still written for men over 50 who have been made impotent through conditions such as diabetes.

But experts have expressed doubt Viagra has any dramatic impact on most young men's performance, and believe they may simply be experiencing an imaginary, "placebo" effect. Annette Owens, a sex therapist, said: "Young men have good erections anyway."

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