You may have seen advertisements online or on your favorite podcast recently for new online services that promise to provide easy access to medicines for erectile dysfunction (ED) without the “embarrassment” of going in-person to a doctor. The websites for these companies are highly stylized, with a seeming desire to appeal to young adults, particularly web-savvy millennials. But is getting these medications online a good idea?
Drugs for ED available through these sites include sildenafil (both generic and as branded Viagra) and tadalafil (generic of the brand Cialis). Citing statistics that between 25-40% of men under age 40 experience ED, these websites promise to help manage this condition by making sure men get the right treatment.
But what if the treatment you get online for ED is not addressing the true cause of the condition? While a recent scientific review did estimate the prevalence of ED in young men as high as 30%, the key causes are both psychogenic (depression, anxiety, and partner-related issues) and organic (more likely to be physiologically linked). In addition, some physicians caution that ED in young men may actually indicate an underlying health concern which may remain untreated if people simply seek drugs online.
The American Urological Association’s clinical guidelines for ED recommend a “thorough medical, sexual, and psychological history; a physical examination; and selective laboratory testing” for evaluation and diagnosis (before treatment). Online companies do not provide this. In response to criticism, these companies say they are reducing the stigma associated with talking about these issues, as well as encouraging the identification of possible health conditions through screening.
This conversation will surely continue, with telemedicine access to drugs expanding. In fact, investors are betting on the size of the market for these medications online, with the latest valuation of one of the companies estimated at $1 billion dollars. In the future, getting your medication online without a visit to the doctor may be commonplace. Currently, though, medical associations have not made formal statements on the safety and quality of these websites. It might be more convenient to order your ED medication from one of these websites, but it still makes sense to go and visit a provider in person if you suspect an underlying health condition is impacting your sex life.
By: Alice Cartwright