If you had even a quick moment to look around your gay village this summer amidst all the distractions of Pride celebrations, you might have been convinced from the barrage of Viagra advertising that Canada’s gay community was under siege from an epidemic of unprecedented male impotency. Bus stops, sponsorships, posters and bar tops all sporting a jaunty little blue pill in front of the rainbow flag urging you to “Talk to your doctor” but not really explaining just what it is was you were supposed to ask about.
Sure, other corporations have targeted Pride festivities in the past trying to peddle their wares, but sticking a bottle of Absolut in front of the rainbow flag followed by “Absolut Pride” is pretty straight forward: Drink this, get drunk, have fun, be gay. However when superimposing a Viagra in front of the rainbow flag and leaving it up to the imagination, is Pfizer saying: If his rock hard abs don’t do it for you, maybe this will?
If you ask Vincent Lamoureux, the Director of Corporate Communications for Pfizer Canada just what the message to the gay community is supposed to be, he’ll tell you that “Participating in Pride Week is a natural extension of the brand’s ongoing focus on reflecting the spirit of vitality and joy that’s associated with being proactive and open about your health and wellbeing,” and that “Pfizer Canada has always been a strong advocate for encouraging Canadian men and couples to be proactive and get educated about health issues.”
For the purposes of this article, a completely non-scientific sampling process put that statement to the test when 56 different gay men ranging in all ages and sizes were asked if they had ever used or known someone who had used Viagra. Of the 56 respondents, 32 of them answered yes to the question, but when asked if any of that usage had been for a diagnosed medical condition, not a single person answered yes.
So why had all these men popped a Viagra if it wasn’t prescribed to them? Let two of the respondents tell you in their own words.
Johnny K. – “The first time I took Viagra was in the context of having a drug induced sex party involving me and my current partner. I understood beforehand that the ecstasy would have erectile side-effects. I also have consumed Viagra while playing in a few adult movies. The studio supplied it to me after they asked if I wanted one, and knowing what it had helped me achieve in the bedroom, I wanted to have another try at it in another mindset completely.”
Marc L. – “I’ve probably taken Viagra at least 50 times since I started hitting after hours clubs and the big circuit parties here in Montreal, New York and Miami. The first time was at the Parking night club after I had taken some ecstasy and a few bumps of coke and this guy I had been dancing with all night asked me if I wanted one. It was kind of obvious at that point what accepting his offer meant, so I said yes, took the Viagra and a few hours later we were back at my place having sex all morning. Anyone who parties takes a few out with them. It’s just that common.
Pfizer insists that their drug is “indicated for the treatment of erectile dysfunction” and that they “create ads that speak to Canadian men and their partners from all walks of life,” but if that’s to be taken at face value then perhaps Pfizer should step up their game and advertise year round, instead of just during events where drug usage runs rampant.
Gay men who take drugs, and then take other drugs to perform sexually in the bedroom do so at their own choice and risk, but a possible pitfall with the direct marketing of prescription drugs to any community are the unrealistic expectations and pressure that patients place on their doctors to fulfill the promises of the ads they are exposed to: Monkey see. Monkey want.
Many of us in the HIV movement have been fighting the advertising of HIV meds for a long time … this is about trying to influence people to pressure their doctors to prescribe certain medications, whether or not they are the most appropriate, based on incomplete, even minimal, information. This creates frictions in the relationship with the doctor and unfounded expectations in the patient, all in the name of capturing or recapturing market share.
So here we go with Viagra. Now I have combed this advertising for information (pharmaceutical companies often insist that their advertising is ‘patient education’), but all I come up with is gay. Rainbow, pill, talk to your doctor. Must be a pill for the gays, right?
As difficult as it is to try and get a realistic answer from Pfizer on any one of their products that are out there on the market, it’s even harder to get an answer from Fierté Montréal Pride about how much money they got from the pharma giant to let Pfizer officially sponsor all things Pride in Montreal. At the time this article went to print, the organizers were unable to state how much they received from Pfizer because they were “away in Europe.”
If transparency is going to happen, someone has to ask them the “hard” questions.