Viagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore | Mary Beth Bonacci | IgnatiusInsight.comViagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore | Mary Beth Bonacci |

Why the epidemic of sexual dysfunction? Because we've lost the sense of sexual meaning.

I am constantly amazed at the types of products I see advertised on TV.

When I was a kid, we never would have dreamed that we'd see ads for prescription medications. Who'd have wanted to? The drugs just weren't that interesting. ("Antibiotics. They'll make your bacterial infection go away in no time.") We did, however, see lots of commercials for cigarettes. (Does anybody else remember "You've come a long way, baby"?)

Gosh, how television has changed.

Advertising cigarettes on TV has been banned since 1970. (When, for the record, I was still a very young child.) Apparently the "powers that were" decided that smoking wasn't an activity they wanted to be promoting through the public airways. Which is fine with me.

But what has taken its place? Well, in the past few years, it's been drug advertisements. Specifically, we've seen a plethora of ads for Viagra, Enzite and other "male enhancement" products. (And yes, that's about as specific as I'm going to get.)

What's wrong with this picture?

First of all, smoking is apparently bad for our collective health. But we as a culture seem to believe unfettered sexual activity is just good clean fun. ("Cialis. Will you be ready?") I would think the carnage left in the wake of the post-sexual revolution would have disabused us of that notion.

And, speaking of the carnage of the post-sexual revolution, who'd have thought 30 years ago that we would all need so much pharmacological help in the bedroom?

Seriously. When these ads first came out, we all though they were targeting older Baby Boomer men who were just getting on in years and thus needed a little help, well, "getting it on." Of course, most of the ads featured handsome men with graying temples strolling the beach with well-preserved middle-aged women.

But apparently it's not just the old guys any more.

From everything I am reading and hearing, it seems we have an epidemic of partial and total impotence among men of all ages, as well as a corresponding "epidemic" of decreased sexual enjoyment among women.

Nothing is "dirty" any more. Porn shops, once found only in seedy neighborhoods, have been repackaged as "adult gift shops" and franchised into the suburbs. Provocative magazine covers, once hidden underneath drug store counters, are now proudly displayed at grocery store check stands.

But there remains one dirty little secret in our society. People may be having a lot more sex (or at least trying to). But they're enjoying it a lot less. And nobody wants to admit it.

What's the matter here?

I've known for years that studies on sexual satisfaction consistently reveal the same results. The most sexually satisfied people in America--the ones who apparently have the best and most frequent sex--are highly religious married people who saved sex for marriage. I've always seen those studies as evidence
that sex is best when it's done God's way. He intended it to speak a language--the language of self-donating love. And so it only stands to reason that it would be the most pleasurable when it takes place in that context.

There is an element of tremendous vulnerability in sexual expression. The heart is saying "I give myself to you forever." Bonding hormones like oxytocin are flooding the brain, working to create a strong emotional attachment between these two people. In the context of a loving marriage, these partners know that
bonding is taking place, and they are fully consenting and yielding to it. There is a real security and freedom in knowing that this person is planning to stick around--forever.

But sexual activity between the "uncommitted" is different. That bonding element is unwelcome. It has to be resisted. There is no freedom to yield oneself, no security, no assurance that this person will be around next year or next month or even tomorrow.

Apparently, that makes it more difficult to enjoy sexual activity.

This phenomenon, unfortunately, is not relationship-specific. It's not that a woman can have less-than-enjoyable sex throughout her dating years, and then transition easily into a happy, fulfilling marital sex life. Or that a man's promiscuity-induced performance issues will suddenly be cured by the love of the right woman. There is a reason that those most sexually satisfied Americans had saved sex for marriage. Sexual habits form easily. And sexual dysfunction brought on by premarital promiscuity will almost certainly follow young men and women into their marriages.

Americans don't seem to get this. We keep developing new drugs, new supplements. We churn out books and magazine articles aimed at "spicing up your sex life." We open more suburban porn stores. Everyone is trying to bring the pleasure back to sexual activity.

I don't see how any of it is going to help. The only way we're going to recover sexual pleasure is to recover sexual meaning. They're tied together. The real pleasure comes when we respect the language of sex, when we speak it honestly, in the context in which it belongs.

In other words, the sickness isn't in our nerve endings. It's in our souls.

• This article originally appeared on on February 8, 2007.

Related Articles:

Teens, Sex, and Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci
• Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
• Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend Michael Hull, S.T.D.
• The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley

Other Articles by Mary Beth Bonacci:

Rich Bad, Poor Good? Is Wealth Good For Our Spiritual Health?
Lust in the Workplace: It's Not Always About You Know What
The Love Behind the Rules
The Horrible "H" Word
Teens, Sex, and Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci
There's More to Prayer Than "Saying Our Prayers"
Was Pope John Paul II Anti-Woman?
JPII, Why Did We Love You?
A Hero Goes to His Reward
Some Atrocities are Worse than Others
Parents Love the Chastity Girl
The Attack on Abstinence

Mary Beth Bonacciis internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.

Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.

Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.

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