When future historians seek to understand why once-taboo topics such as a man's sexual function, sexual peccadilloes, and impotence made the transition from backyard gossip to front-page news, they will inevitably and inextricably be drawn back to the extraordinary political and scientific events of 1998.
Male sexuality, never mentioned in polite circles throughout most of the twentieth century, quite suddenly became the number-one topic of conversation as we inched toward the millennium. In January 1998, the world learned of President Clinton's relationship with "that woman" -- Monica Lewinsky -- and almost everyone from media pundits to citizens on the street weighed in with their insights on men and their sexual behavior.
Two months later, the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) approved sildenafil (Viagra), a pill to treat impotence. Overnight the word "Viagra" was embraced and instantly incorporated into the lexicon of daily living.
"Pure theatrical Viagra," one critic enthused in his review of The Blue Room when the erotic play was first staged in London.
"Who put Viagra in the thermometers?" another wag wanted to know as he described the relentless upward thrust of daily temperatures during that summer's torrid Texas heat wave.
CBS television's Leslie Stahl, speaking at a luncheon, quipped that someone must have spiked the floral displays with Viagra to account for the rigid upright blooms in all the guest-table centerpieces.
Maureen Dowd, the witty columnist for the New York Times, decried the gender inequity of the FDA's eagerness to approve Viagra for men, shortly after the same agency had axed Phen-Fen, the diet-pill combination so popular among women.
Late-night comedians like Jay Leno had a field day. Capitalizing on our national anxiety about sex, he and his writers fashioned a series of oneliners and, by incorporating the word "Viagra" into every punch line, kept his audience roaring with delight.
The seamy and sordid details of the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship were played out on national television. Congressmen insisted it was not the sex