Little Blue Pills: Viagra Use And Gay Men

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Performing at peak level under pressure is clearly something Justin M. prizes. "I'm exclusively a top—and I want to be as good a top as possible," he said. "I was answering these ads online from guys who were power bottoms. My role was to go the distance and then some. I wanted to be Supertop." Taking Viagra on his way to the stranger's apartment was the ticket to becoming Supertop, like Clark Kent switching outfits in his phone booth.

But at some point Justin M.'s responsible recreational use of Viagra began to go wrong.

Viagra Takes a Public Hit
The abuse of Viagra by gay men is an old story, but it made new headlines last week when Los Angeles' AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) filed a lawsuit against Pfizer for "promoting Viagra as a party drug...leading to more infections with sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV." The group is asking the court to force the drug giant not only to replace its direct-to-consumer marketing with a "responsible use" campaign but, more to the point, to hand over an unspecified sum directly to AHF, the largest provider of services to people with HIV in California. Calling AHF "a victim of Pfizer's irresponsibility," the organization's head, Michael Weinstein, said, "We estimate that a majority of new infections in this country are related to the use of crystal meth, and the majority are also using Viagra."

(The CDC begs to differ. Not even a majority of new infections among men who have sex with men are associated with Viagra.)

Joining AHF is San Francisco Department of Public Health's STD chief Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an archenemy of Viagra. "The promotion of Viagra for...recreational use must be stopped," he said. "Litigation is sometimes the only means available to the public to reverse unfair practices."

Pfizer predictably denied that it pushes its drug for recreational use, pointing out that Viagra ads and labels warn against STDs, including HIV. Less predictable was the immediate pushback from gay advocates and researchers. "The idea that people on speed are having wild sex with Viagra because they saw a halftime commercial during the Super Bowl is ridiculous," former San Francisco AIDS policy adviser Jeff Sheehy said. "I don't like direct-to-consumer TV ads, but the rest [of the suit] is just extortion." There are calls for investigations into AHF's funding practices, and some demands that "homophobic" Klausner resign. How could one little blue pill cause so many people to see red?

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