How Viagra works

Viagra is one of the best-known drugs of all time. Nearly every adult in America has heard of the drug and can tell you what it does.

In the years since it was introduced in 1998, former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole has served as a spokesman for the drug, manufacture of counterfeit pills has gone through the roof, and Viagra talks are now a permanent feature of the pop culture landscape.

What's the big deal about the little blue pill?

It's simple: When it works as intended, Viagra causes a man who is sexually stimulated to get an erection.

How does Viagra do that? And why does Viagra work only if the man is sexually stimulated? For that matter, what causes an erection in the first place? In this article, we'll answer all of those questions and more.

This is a fascinating story it involves the technology of the human body and the techniques that scientists use to control its different parts with drugs. And in the case of Viagra, the story starts with the penis.

Viagra working properly

To better understand how Viagra works, it helps to understand how the penis works as well.

Viagra - anatomy

For many people, talking about the penis is tough. This area of the body is considered private and isn't discussed publicly (well, not in polite company). However, the penis is simply a part of the male anatomy designed to accomplish a task, and we'll treat it that way here.

In the case of the penis, there are actually two tasks that it handles:

  1. releasing urine from the bladder, known as urination
  2. releasing sperm and seminal fluid from the prostate gland, known as ejaculation

Viagra helps with the second task: ejaculation.

When things are working properly, ejaculation is a three-step process:

  1. The man becomes sexually aroused.
  2. The penis responds by becoming erect.
  3. Stimulation of the penis causes ejaculation.

That sounds simple enough, but in many cases, step two doesn't happen, making step three difficult or impossible. Although the man is stimulated, the penis doesn't become erect. To understand why, you need to understand the technology of an erection.

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Erections work kind of like a balloon filled with pressurized blood instead of pressurized air.

Viagra - technology of Erection

When you want to move nearly any part of your body, you do it using muscles. Whether you're moving your fingers, toes, arms or legs, muscles do the work. Even when you stick your tongue out, you do it using muscles:

Muscles let you move your body voluntarily with precise control.

The penis, on the other hand, is completely different. There are no muscle contractions involved in making the penis erect. To become erect, the penis instead uses pressure.

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The penis handles two tasks: urination and ejaculation.

Probably the easiest way to understand how the penis becomes erect is to think about a balloon. If a balloon has no air in it, it's limp. As you inflate a limp balloon with just a little air, it becomes elongated and rigid.

The penis uses a similar mechanism, but instead of using pressurized air to become rigid, the penis uses pressurized blood. The penis contains two cigar-shaped structures, called corpora cavernosa (singular: corpus cavernosum), that it uses to become erect.

Think of the corpora cavernosa as balloonlike tubes. Arteries bring blood into these two tubes, and veins carry blood away from them. The penis can be either limp or erect, depending on the flow of blood:

If the arteries leading to the penis don't open up properly, it's difficult or impossible for a man's penis to become erect. This problem is the leading cause of erectile dysfunction (ED).

To solve an erection problem when the cause is poor blood flow, you need to open the arteries. Let's take a look at how this can be done and how it was done before Viagra.

understand how does Viagra do erection

Smooth muscle plays a key role in every erection.

What was before Viagra

The first real breakthrough in the treatment of erectile dysfunction came in 1983. Prior to that time, it was thought that erectile dysfunction the inability to achieve an erection was primarily mental.

That concept came crashing down at the 1983 American Urological Association meeting in Las Vegas when Dr. Giles Brindley injected his penis with the drug phentolamine. Following the injection, Brindley appeared on stage and dropped his pants to display one of the first drug-induced erections to the incredulous audience of urologists.

What did the phentolamine do? It relaxed a muscle.

Inside the body there are several kinds of muscle:

Smooth muscle plays a key role in every erection, and phentolamine is a drug that relaxes smooth muscle.

The reason why an injection of phentolamine produced an erection was especially interesting in 1983 because no one had really thought about it before. Here's what happened:

Starting in the mid-1980s, it became common for men with erectile dysfunction to inject smooth-muscle-relaxing drugs as a treatment for the problem.

Viagra makes the process a whole lot easier by doing the same kind of thing with a pill instead of an injection. Another advantage of Viagra over an injection of phentolamine is that Viagra only causes an erection when the man is sexually aroused. Phentolamine, by contrast, causes an immediate and uncontrolled erection.

How can a pill work only on the smooth muscle in the penis and not the entire body, and only when the man is aroused? The answers to these questions begin with an understanding of how blood flow works in the body.

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  • How does Viagra do erection
  • What was before Viagra
  • Technology of Erection
  • Viagra anatomy
  • How to buy Viagra