While erectile dysfunction is usually considered a condition that affects older men, it can also be a problem for young males.
Just how widespread the use of Viagra and other similar drugs is among young men is unknown. But judging from the results of the new research -- which included 234 sexually active men aged 18 to 25 years old attending three Chicago universities -- the drugs appear to be used by a significant number of young men in the United States.
The researchers reported that 13 percent of the young men said they'd experienced erectile dysfunction, but rarely discussed this with a doctor. Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, was defined as ever having difficulty getting or keeping an erection.
"We asked men about erectile dysfunction when using a condom, and 25 percent said they lost an erection while putting on a condom," said lead researcher Dr. Najah Senno Musacchio, a fellow in general academic pediatrics at Children's Memorial Hospital.
Among the men who completed the survey, 6 percent said they'd used erectile dysfunction medications; 57 percent said they used the drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, and 29 percent used them to enhance sexual performance.
"Most of these men, (64 percent) mixed these medications with alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy," Musacchio said. "Those drugs increase your sex drive, reduce your inhibitions, but may make you less likely to sexually perform. When people mix those drugs with Viagra, they may be able to have sex when they couldn't normally do so. This is of concern for transmission of STDs and unwanted pregnancies."
One expert agrees that the combined use of Viagra and alcohol and drugs by young men can be a risk for the transmission of STDs.
"It's hard drawing conclusions from one study," said Dr. Ira Sharlip, a clinical professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a spokesman for the American Urological Association. "If it's true that these medications are being combined with drugs and alcohol and produce risky sexual behavior, then there is an increased risk of undesired pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases."