Hype, hope and hysteria: welcome to the pill that's made the world quiver

IF YOUR erection lasts for more than four hours, consult a doctor immediately. And stop sniggering at the back of the class, Tompkinson- Minor.

Viagra is a serious business. It has brought hope to thousands of men who suffer from erectile dysfunction. The impotence pill has also been responsible for a plague of bad puns, and the worst epidemic of schoolboy humour since medical records began.

How many times have we read about shares in Pfizer, the company that makes the wonder drug, rising as spectacularly as the afflicted organ? Or about "hardened" criminals peddling counterfeit versions on the black market?

It is not only headline writers who have been snorting with laughter since Viagra burst on to the scene. There was the airline pilot who, banned by Air New Zealand from taking it lest it impair his flying ability, observed: "Maybe they're worried we'll get too much lift when we take off."

Viagra has every ingredient that one could wish for in a news story. Sex, of course, lashings of it, together with the salacious details justified by the important medical angle.

Politics, too; earlier this month it was reported that election candidates in Taiwan were bribing rural voters with bottles of the diamond-shaped tablets.

And gender wars: disgruntled women demanded to know why female sexual dysfunction was not receiving the same degree of scientific scrutiny. It was not long before rumours spread that the drug worked for women too. One guinea pig, Annie Williams, told a tabloid newspaper: "Once Viagra kicks in, your only interest is pleasure. Having an orgasm, or three, is easy."

Not to be outdone, rival companies designed drugs specifically for the girls, including the evocatively named Erogenex.

Then came Viagra wars: as the hype and hysteria grew, there was a dash to claim credit for inventing the drug. Pfizer said that it was a team effort, but one British scientist, Dr Nicholas Terrett, begged to differ, pointing out that his name was on two patents.

Talking of inventions, when Bristol consultant urologist Clive Gingell conducted the first pilot study of the chemical compound used in Viagra, he used a device called a Rigiscan to measure the girth of penises of volunteers and their degree of rigidity in response to the drug. "The results were remarkable," he said. "You could see an increase in the quality and duration of erections."

Finally, every good story needs the added spice of danger, and in that respect Viagra did not disappoint. After the initial euphoria came the first reports of side-effects such as blurred vision: a relatively minor problem, patients may have thought, a small sacrifice in the pursuit of pleasure.

Then came the warnings about the potentially dire effect of unaccustomed exertion on men with weak hearts. And inevitably, the lengthening list of fatalities: 69 in four months, as one newspaper pointed out; another article asked: "Did he die with a smile on his face?"

Joking aside, what man could suppress a shiver at the fate that befell a Dutch tourist who decided to experiment with Viagra while on holiday in Spain? The 50-year-old, according to reports, was in a state of agonising tumescence for 36 hours. His plight was eased by doctors at an Alicante casualty unit, who treated him with a lotion normally used to shrink nasal tissue.

Pity, too, the hapless Harley Street doctor who tried the drug out on himself before prescribing it. "First of all, I went bright red and my eyes began to bulge out of my head," said Dr Richard Petty, medical director of the WellMan Clinic.

"Then my neck started to swell around my collar. My partner started laughing like a drain as soon as she saw me. I had the most whopping hangover, which lasted for hours, although the pill did have the desired effect."

Some elderly patients have turned violent after taking Viagra. An 89- year-old Florida man attacked a woman with a crowbar when she spurned his advances. In Argentina, pensioners have turned down an offer of free Viagra from the state, accusing the authorities of "trying to kill us off".

It has not all been bad news. At the Moonlight Bunnyranch brothel in Nevada, business is said to be booming as older men patronise the establishment again. In Vienna, impotent theatre lovers can buy half-price tickets for the world's first play about the drug: Viagra Makes It Possible 99 Times a Day.

Now spare a thought for the French fertility expert who claims his career is under threat because patients no longer take him seriously. According to Dr Ronald Virag: "People think I am the inventor of the drug. I am frequently called Dr Viagra."

And the Men Who Use and Recommend It

BOB DOLE

The American presidential candidate who stood against Bill Clinton in 1996, was the first public figure to admit trying Viagra. "It's a great drug... I participated in the trials programme," said Mr Dole, 74. The senior Republican, who suffered impotence problems after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in 1991, added: "Depending on what your problem may be, it can certainly help."

JERRY SPRINGER

The US talk-show host, said the drug made him a "sex addict" after he was caught with a porn star, Kendra Jade, who appeared on his show. "I thought I was a sex superman," said Springer, 54. He was later said to have been thrown out by his wife when she learnt of a secret film made of her husband with Jade and her stepmother, Kelly, sold by the same Internet company that made millions from an X-rated video featuring Pamela Anderson.

HUGH HEFNER

The 72-year-old Playboy mogul, endorsed the drug recently when he said it turned him into a "babe magnet". "It permits you to perform as you like to think you were performing in your twenties and thirties," said the soft-porn purveyor. His estranged wife, Kimberly Conrad, fearing for his health, said he had "gone girl-crazy again", adding "he's already suffered one stroke. If he goes on like this, trying to push back the clock, he'll have another."

BOB MONKHOUSE

Was quoted at the weekend as saying that the drug "works after 40 minutes and lasts for about 90 minutes". Speaking about his active sex life as a younger man, the 70-year-old comedian told a newspaper: "My generation was at it all day long, as well as all night. They did it a lot more than the previous generation ... I was just fortunate with the timing."

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tulisa as a judge on the X Factor in 2012
tvLouis Walsh confirms star's return
Life and Style
fashionClothes shop opens on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Test Manager - Banking - Yorkshire - £450 per day

£400 - £500 per day: Orgtel: Test Manager - Banking - West Yorkshire - £400-£5...

IT Support - Hampshire - £24,000

£19000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

Nursery Room Leader

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: JOB DESCRIPTION - NURSERY ROOM LEADER...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone