Viagra: Medical Technology Constructing Aging Masculinity

Article excerpt

Medicalization and commodification of the body through technology in the form of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs is reinforcing the cultural expectations that ageing men are required to age well to maintain youthful masculinity. Ageing well is explored as it relates the construction of masculinity, sexuality and ageing men's bodies.

Key words: aging, masculinity, men, bodies, sexuality, cultural expectations

   Old age is full of death and full of life. It is a tolerable
   achievement and it is a disaster. It transcends desire and it
   taunts it. It is long enough and far from long enough. Ronald
   Blythe, 1979, p. 29

   [The male organ has been a seen as many things over the course
   of history], both noble and coarse. The penis was an icon of
   creativity; it was the link between the human and the sacred,
   an agent of bodily and spiritual ecstasy that hinted of communion
   with the eternal. Yet it was also a weapon against women, children,
   and weaker men. It was a force of nature, revered for its
   potency, yet just as amoral. It tied man to the cosmic energy
   that covered the fields each year with new herds and corps--and
   just as often destroyed them. The organ's "animal" urgency didn't
   trouble the ancients. Didn't the gods combine the human and savage
   in their own amours? All these complexities and contradictions,
   the very unpredictability of life itself, were embodied by one
   body part above all in antiquity--the penis.
        David Friedman (2001)

Introduction

The demand that little boys give up their dependency for a masculinity based on dominance and performance continues to have many consequences for the aging man. Boys start the process of discounting nature and human connections and in the end their own humanity and sense of dignity in the face of aging and dependency. The construction of masculinity within the dominant American culture is based on independence and competition and central to this masculine construct is youthful energy and physicality. Masculinity requires not only success in the competitive world of work but sexual dominance and prowess for men to maintain their "youthful" masculine identity. Aging men are faced with not only the inevitable fact of aging but with the social constructs of what that means to them or should mean to them from a society that is oriented toward youth. The paradox for men is that even though "ageism" has been attacked and challenged, in reality it still exists and is deeply engrained in our youth oriented society. In its place has come the "aging well" or positive ageing agenda whereby society still derides those who do not "age well." Men are now faced with aging that must have the air of youthfulness and vitality, and this includes sexual performance.

Viagra and the newer erectile dysfunction drugs are a part of this increasing expectation that has very quickly become a cultural phenomenon spread across the mass media. Viagra has entered into the mainstream of conversations and is a part of American culture. This paper explores the medicalization and commodification of men's sexual functioning and its impact on aging men and their sense of masculinity.

A Culture of Aging Well

As in most life matters today, the meaning of what it is to "age" has been turned over to the professional, in this instance the geriatric social worker, urologist, gerontologists, geriatric medical specialists, and economic interests. Over the past century "old age was removed from its ambiguous place in life's spiritual journey, rationalized, and redefined as a scientific problem" (Cole, 1992, p. xx.). Medicalization and commodification now provide the "scientific" management of aging. The concern produced is not only with understanding and controlling the aging process, but expectations that one must "age well" as if "aging" was merely a disembodied process that can be managed and kept at bay. …