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The Viagra dilemma: My partner doesn't like it Add to ...

The question

My partner doesn't like my using Viagra because she says it 'makes the experience unreal.' So I find myself in a Catch-22: Without Viagra I have difficulty sustaining an erection, ergo my partner is unsatisfied and so am I. But if I use it, it's pretty obvious to both of us. She is willing and apparently able to 'give up' sex. I, on the other hand, feel completely frustrated by the situation.

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Dear Catch-22,

You are already vulnerable. What is perplexing here is that your partner makes you more so.

Viagra works by promoting blood flow to the penis. It does not make you fantasize, feel desire or fall in love. Only you and your partner can do that. To wit, in terms of what matters - the charge between you - there is nothing "unreal" about adding a small blue pill to your life between the sheets.

So where has this sense of the "unreal" come from?

"It sounds as though she's a bit ambivalent," says Caroline Lensen, a Toronto-based psychotherapist who works with couples. "They should discuss what her ambivalence is about, what this means for her."

She adds: "What sometimes happens is the woman feels pressure. 'Now I've taken the Viagra; let's not waste it.' "

Is your partner, as Lensen intuits, feeling pressured by your sudden vigour - or is she feeling sidelined? Now that you have this remedy, you no longer need her. The drug is the seductress; her sexiness has been retired.

Catch-22, there are physical considerations as well: Does the sex last longer than she wants? Does it concentrate the act on penetration rather than all of those bases that form its sultry prologue?

I can see, given your letter, that you are an articulate and thoughtful man. Your first step? Lending these qualities to sex therapy sessions with your partner. You are facing a significant divide: Your partner is advocating celibacy when you have just recovered your virility. With the insight and mediation of a sex therapist, you will identify the issues that separate you and, in so doing, begin to diffuse them. In the meantime, your sex life does not have to disappear entirely. A lot can be done other than the act itself.

Viagra is wildly common. There is nothing errant in your approach. And yet when you write, "If I use it, it is pretty obvious to both of us," my impression is that you are treating it clandestinely. This may be playing a role in your partner's discomfort. By having the Viagra hidden, it is almost a betrayal, a lipstick smudge on your collar.

Catch-22, find a way to work the pill into your conversations and into your sex play. Only then will it benefit both of you.

Claudia Dey is the author of How to Be a Bush Pilot: A Field Guide to Getting Luckier

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