Erectile dysfunction (ED) isn’t a topic that most men are inclined to talk about with their mates, or even with their doctor. This is despite the fact that it’s a common condition that affects about half of all men over the age of 40. However, a new BBC drama that premiered over the festive season is aiming to change the situation.

The TV drama ‘Men Up’ is written by Russell T Davies, the man who reinvented Dr Who for a new generation. It focuses on one of the early trials for the drug Viagra, which went on to become a game-changer for millions of men who were living with ED. It’s an affordable and reliable treatment that works well for the majority of men.

Back in 1994 when the trial took place, there were no clinically safe and effective treatments for impotence, and it was considered to be a source of shame and stigma. Even today, unhelpful stereotypes exist about ED being associated with the supposed loss of manhood and masculinity, and this can hold men back from seeking the treatment that they need.

This has serious consequences not just for the sexual wellbeing and relationships of men with ED, but it can also mean that important underlying health conditions are missed. For example, the inability to get an erection is often caused by damaged blood vessels, which could be a symptom of heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels. 

Other causes of ED may include low testosterone levels or mental health problems such as stress and anxiety. Sometimes, lifestyle changes such as taking more exercise, eating healthily, and cutting back on smoking and drinking is all it takes for sexual function to drastically improve. 

The critically acclaimed BBC drama keeps the tone light and humorous as it tells the story of five volunteers in Swansea, south Wales, who took part in the pioneering clinical trial. Viagra, which was then known as sildenafil, was originally developed as a treatment for heart conditions, but early trials were not showing promising results. 

However, it came to light that men who were taking part in the trials were experiencing frequent erections as a side effect, particularly if they were on a high dose. Some men even refused to return their leftover medication at the end of the trial; a sign of just how much this issue really does affect men.

Viagra works by relaxing the muscles of the erectile tissue in the penis. This process is achieved by blocking the action of an enzyme called PDE5, which allows levels of another enzyme called cgmP to rise. Once the cgmP levels have built up, it makes it easier for the blood to flow to the penis when the man is sexually aroused. 

Most men find that if they take Viagra according to the dosage recommended by their doctor or pharmacist, they can become sexually active within 30 minutes to one hour.