When little red dot met little blue pill: Viagra’s ‘immense impact’ on Singapore
Since Viagra's introduction to Singapore, doctors have been seeing new patients for erectile dysfunction issues every day, and they expect the numbers to keep growing (Illustration: Kenneth Choy)
SINGAPORE: Seven years ago Desmond (not his real name) popped a little blue pill in a bid to rescue his marriage. And the Singaporean businessman still remembers being blown away by his virgin Viagra experience.“It worked very well,” said the 57-year-old, who had been struggling to keep an erection. “I was shocked by the result initially, and then the lasting strength of it.“It helped me maintain a sexual relationship with my wife. It took away the stress I felt from being unable to perform ... It might have helped my marriage in one way or another,” he reflected. “And I haven’t stopped taking it since.” Twenty years ago in March 1998, the drug got regulatory clearance by health authorities in the US, a significant first step into the global mainstream. Since then, Viagra has firmly cemented its identity as the signature, "iconic" treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED), at least according to the pharmaceutical firm responsible for its birth and subsequent entrenchment into popular culture.A local spokesperson for the US corporation Pfizer, whose name is branded on each diamond-shaped tablet, said approximately 66 million men worldwide have taken Viagra since 1998. It was first approved for use in Singapore in 1999, as a prescription-only drug which cannot be bought over the counter in pharmacies.
Viagra pills displayed at a press conference in Singapore in 1999. Local hospitals and clinics had begun receiving the drug as manufacturer Pfizer assured supplies were sufficient to meet "encouraging" demand. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)
reported on peddlers in Singapore’s Geylang area selling 10 fake "Viagra” pills for S$25. According to Dr Tan’s website, a box of four Viagra pills costs at least S$53.50.
Some of the purported Viagra pills for sale in Geylang show a dosage of 1000mg, when legitimate ones usually come in dosages of 25mg to 200mg. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)
Although he started out with a legitimate doctor’s prescription of Viagra, Desmond admitted he later “got it from other sources across our checkpoints”, but did not reveal more. Viagra is also prescription-only in Malaysia.“I’ve gotten used to the effects … I don’t feel any different,” he claimed.Desmond may also have gotten lucky. In October 2017, Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said there were 17 cases over the past five years of people suffering “adverse effects” from illegal sex drugs. Back in 2014, HSA also revealed that since 2008, these illicit substances had left at least 11 men dead and caused over 300 to experience “nasty reactions”.
Pfizer is now exploring the option of making Viagra a non-prescription drug - and late last year announced it would start with Britain in 2018 (Photo: AFP)
“THERE IS LESS SHAME”With the expiry of its patents, Pfizer’s Viagra sales have declined in recent times, dropping to US$1.2 billion in 2017. But go to its official Viagra.com website and the tagline below the instantly-recognisable blue silhouette reads: “Original brand, still the one to talk about”.On this, the doctors agree that if Viagra has done anything right over the last 20 years, it is to make men more open to talking about their sexual issues.“Viagra certainly has helped by being a conversation starter,” Dr Tan observed.
Viagra is credited with turning a bedroom frustration for many men into an openly-talked about medical issue (Illustration: Kenneth Choy)
In an email, the Pfizer Singapore spokesperson said: “Through Pfizer’s investment in research and education, and partnerships with academia, Pfizer has helped transform ED from being a topic of private shame to a publicly discussed and accepted medical condition.”Desmond concurred. “I feel that there is less shame to it now. ED is a common and widely accepted illness that many men have suffered from or will suffer from in the future.“It used to be associated with a lack of masculinity, but now that we are more educated we understand that like cancer it can happen to anyone, anytime.”Dr Ng said Viagra’s introduction has led to more men seeking medical treatment for their sexual problems. “Its availability was a strong factor in bringing men's sexual health issues into the mainstream,” he added.Said Dr Sim: “I would also say that public awareness topics such as World Aids Day has also helped bring the other aspects of sexual health to the forefront … But we are still only scratching the surface.“Most men will experience erectile dysfunction for many months to years before they seek help, even though they know about options such as Viagra.“Most often the taboo and perceived emasculation is enough to stop them,” he stated. “Most have taken big steps just to see me.”Darren has no regrets taking that leap of faith to go to a doctor. “I’m definitely more confident now. I’ve stopped giving excuses,” he declared.“In just these few months I can say yes, in terms of my marriage, Viagra has changed my life.”