Opinion | Sexuality

Sex, Drugs, and Getting Old

The cost of turning to prescriptions promising to keep us young.
Sex, Drugs, and Getting Old
Image: neyya / iStock

The moment might strike while antiquing; their eyes meet over a mid-century modern divan, and the sparks fly. Both middle-aged partners are ready for some empty-nester afternoon delight… thanks to the pharmaceutical industry.

That’s the picture we get from the ads for erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra that pepper late-night TV programs. A new batch of commercials for the drug Osphena target women who experience painful intercourse, or dyspareunia, due to the hormonal and physiological changes at menopause.

For many, these products have lived up to their promises to enhance intimacy—countering the effects of other medications, alleviating sexual performance anxiety, and extending sexually active years beyond what most of our forebears could have imagined. But I wonder how 15-plus years of such ads have affected our understanding of “normal” sex at midlife.

Physiological changes that accompany the aging process increasingly ...

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