Erectile dysfunction: a brief history

Vintage erectile dysfunction treatmentErectile dysfunction (ED) is a term we hear frequently nowadays. On television, on the radio, in magazines, and on the internet, we are bombarded with advice on how to deal with ED, advertisements for medications to treat it, and articles for partners of the men who have it. With this apparently sudden explosion in interest, you’d be forgiven for thinking that ED was a 20th century invention.

Well, we can confirm that it wasn’t. As long as men have had penises (so, always), erectile dysfunction has been a hot topic, and doctors have been trying to combat it since time immemorial. The earliest recorded incidence of ED comes from India in the 8th century BC. The popular theory among doctors at the time was that ED was caused by having sex with “undesirable” women. Treatments included herbal medicines with additives from animals that were thought to increase desire or arousal. Alligators, mice, frogs, and sparrows were all animals that contributed to the concoctions of the time.

Fast forward several thousand years and, as an ED sufferer, you would have been introduced to the work of Dr. John R. Brinkley. The infamously fraudulent doctor dismissed (not unreasonably) the idea of using the extract of sheep testes to treat impotence, as had been the practice since the 1800s. Instead, Brinkley began promoting the use of transplanting goat testicles into men with ED, which was a very pricey and exclusive operation at the time. He was subsequently stripped of his bought medical licence, since such procedures were not regulated or approved at that period in time.

By the 1970s, penile implants had made a name for themselves as a solution for erectile dysfunction. At the same time, penile vacuum pumps were gaining popularity and Geddings Osbon’s “youth equivalence device” (or YED) was paving the way for the penis vacuum devices that we are familiar with to this day.

The 1980s laid the groundwork for a sexual revolution with the research of Dr. Giles Brindley. Brindley injected a vasodilator into his veins, which caused corporal smooth muscle relaxation and induced an erection. His discovery led to research on vasodilators and alpha-blocking agents as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.

In the early 1990s, sildenafil was approved as a heart medication, and it was discovered that men taking the medication were experiencing firmer, longer-lasting erections. This led to further research on sildenafil as an erectile drug, and Pfizer unveiled Viagra in 1998. The drug exploded in popularity and now, nearly two decades later, it remains the most popular oral medication for erectile dysfunction.

Viagra has been extensively tested for safety and efficacy and continues to be the top contender in oral ED drugs. It is widely available with a prescription and also over the counter, and men now have the option to purchase Viagra online, making it even easier to get. The treatment of erectile dysfunction has come a long way from the days of potions and animal components and, for many men, life has never been better.