Test-Driving Viagra (And Other Things) First

As I’ve said before, I think people expect too much from erection drugs. If you’re chronically angry with your wife, you’ll still be angry after you take Viagra—and almost certainly won’t get an erection.

However, when men say they plan to start using Viagra, I encourage them to test-drive it alone first. That is, use it to masturbate once or twice to see what it’s like: how long does it take to get erect? How does the erection feel? What about ejaculation? Any unpleasant side effects?

This test-drive provides information and experience without the pressure of trying to please or impress a partner. It gives a guy the chance to stop sex (i.e., masturbation) right in the middle without having to explain or apologize. And he can experiment all he wants without having to think about frustrating, disappointing, or annoying someone else.

If he likes how Viagra enhances masturbation, he can try it with a partner—and again, I’d encourage them to use it a few times with low-pressure stuff like a handjob or self-stimulation, seasoned by plenty of kissing and caressing. By the time they have intercourse, they’d both know what to expect from Viagra. If he isn’t telling her he’s using it, at least he’d have the information before proceeding.

This approach could make other “first times” more enjoyable and relaxed. Young men could masturbate with a condom a couple of times before using one in intercourse. They’d learn how it feels, and could experiment with lube. To be really smart, I’d have these masturbating guys open the condom package after they’re already excited to see what that’s like. If they masturbate using lube they’d surely learn to keep a tissue or towel nearby to wipe off their hands before trying to open the package.

It’s hard to experiment with oral sex alone, of course. But for women who’ve never experienced cunnilingus but think they soon might, they can take some lube and stimulate their vulvas—learning what kind of pressure and pace feels best. If they feel inhibited about having someone “down there,” they can think about what might make them more comfortable. I’d start with the mantra that “if someone volunteers to lick me there, chances are they’re planning to enjoy it.” And, like a person rehearsing a new speech alone out loud, rehearsing a few instructions (like “a little slower, please” or “a tiny bit higher would be great”) alone out loud can be very comforting when the time comes.

For couples in which neither partner has much experience with oral sex, I suggest starting with a partner-guided genital tour—with the lights on. This would be for educational, rather than erotic, purposes. As a sex therapist, I am continually stunned by how many people are willing to poke around nervously with various sexual behaviors in the dark, rather than putting a bit of light on the subject. Too nervous to have your body seen by your partner? Perhaps you’re not ready for sex—not relaxed sex, anyway.

New toy? Get to know it (either alone or together) before you get excited, rather than springing it on an aroused partner straight out of the box. Spanking? Talk about it first—what do you each imagine you’d like about it? Some of the pleasure might be physical, some of it mental. Again, I suggest doing it first with the lights on so people can see what they’re doing.

When patients ask me if they should share their fantasies with their lover, I suggest a meta-conversation first: rather than “wouldn’t it be hot if your sister were here with us?,” try “how do you feel about us sharing fantasies?” If a partner is interested, you could explore some details: “are there any limits (ex-lovers? relatives?)? Does one of us tell a story, do we build a story together, or are we talking one-liners here?

When I discuss the idea of test-driving or rehearsing various erotic behaviors, some patients say this approach “isn’t romantic.” They’re absolutely right. When “romance” means everything has to be a surprise, or people need to pretend they weren’t planning something, or things just happen by accident, “romance” can undermine sexual intimacy, pleasure, and relaxation.

We don’t do any other important activity while pretending we weren’t thinking about it, or refusing to get some helpful information first. We shouldn’t disrespect sex that way, either.

Surely you’ve heard about the man visiting New York who walks up to a cabbie and asks “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Replies the cabbie: “Practice, practice, practice.”

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