Erectile dysfunction treatments have a long and somewhat colourful history, which is understandable since much of our understanding of sexual health only dates back over the last 60 years, and yet cures for ED date back much further.

Nowadays, most people who have ED can buy Cialis, Viagra or other PDE5 inhibitors with consultation from a doctor and are likely to see results.

However, the first ‘doctor’ to prominently promise a cure for ED managed to raise awareness of a condition for which many men where suffering in silence.

However his history was controversial, his medical qualifications dubious, and his life was lived under a cloud of promises he had made to desperate men.

This is the story of John R Brinkley, the first ED ‘doctor’.

Goat Gland Treatments

Mr Brinkley learned during his incomplete time at Bennett Medical College about the effect of glandular extracts on the human body, and whilst he would not complete his time at the school, this information would shape his life going forward.

Mounting debts would stop him from completing his degree, so he instead bought a certificate from a diploma mill and eventually completed his qualification in 1915, being able to practice medicine in eight states as a result.

In 1918, during his remarkably good treatment of people suffering from the influenza pandemic of the time, he stumbled upon his ED treatment.

There are multiple accounts as to how this happened. According to Brinkley himself, he initially joked to a patient suffering from ED that they would perform better if goat glands were transplanted into him and the patient begged him to try the procedure, which for $150 he would.

Another account by the patient’s son argued that Brinkley himself had asked his father to go along with the experiment, promising to pay him handsomely.

The procedure, which would make him millions, involved surgically inserting goat testicles into the sac of a male patient or near the ovaries of a female patient. In practice, it was about as effective as goat gonad talismans used in Ancient Rome.

The theory was that the goat glands would be absorbed and provide extra virility, but they ultimately were simply absorbed as foreign matter and discarded.

That may have been the end of it, except that the wife of one of his patients by chance gave birth to a baby boy, who became known thanks to press coverage as the “Goat-Gland Baby”.

The term even became known outside of medicine, with “goat gland” becoming a term used in the film industry when a silent film has ‘talkie’ sequences grafted onto it to sell to a new audience.

This attention wasn’t all positive, as the American Medical Association, as well as several other doctors who aimed to expose medical frauds also came calling. He would lose his medical license in 1930.

He expanded his public image with an at the time very popular radio show (before his broadcast license was also revoked) and a political campaign that nearly saw him become Governor of Kansas as a write-in candidate.

He only lost because over 30,000 ballots were disqualified for spelling his name wrong.

After spending some time in Mexico operating a “border blaster” radio station that apparently was so powerful it could be received via metal fences, his lies caught up with him in 1938.

Dr Morris Fishbein published an article on his career and dubious medical credentials, and a failed libel case opened the floodgates for litigation against Mr Brinkley, who would die in 1942. His methods were dubious and highly dangerous, and he exploited desperate men and women for financial gain, but despite this, he did help to raise awareness of a condition too many men kept secret. A few decades later we would see the first steps towards effective ED treatments.