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The Risks of Taking Viagra Without Erectile Dysfunction

Katelyn Brenner FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 03/12/2018

Updated 10/20/2023

If you struggle with erectile dysfunction (ED), drugs like Viagra®, sildenafil, tadalafil and the other “real” ones — the ones you get from your doctor, not the gas station or sketchy website — could help with your sexual performance. But if you’re not prescribed one of these meds and just taking them for recreational activities, they could cause some serious health problems. 

Look, there are plenty of jokes that we could make about recreational Viagra use, casually popping a buddy’s pill to give that little blue pill boost to your own sex life. While we may be slightly cooler than your urologist, we’re no less aware of the serious problems that can come with Viagra that’s not actually prescribed to you.

Below, we’ve explained why young men and healthy guys look to online pharmacies and elsewhere to get their hands on ED meds, and the serious health risks they take when they use these medications without a prescription.

Advertising has spent decades showing men that Viagra is an effective ED treatment that can improve sexual performance. And the average guy, whether he has ED or not, also wants to get harder, more reliable erections.

Young men are of course the most likely to take Viagra without actually needing Viagra, given that they are less likely to have ED. Research involving more than 1,900 college-age men found that four percent of otherwise healthy undergraduates reported recreationally using ED drugs like Viagra.

More than 70 percent of these guys were “just curious” about ED medications, while others said they used it to counteract other drugs that were affecting their sexual health. Some even used them to impress a partner or enhance their self-esteem. 

For instance, many guys believe that Viagra might reduce their refractory period — the period of time after ejaculation when it’s difficult to get another erection. 

Some don’t do it for sexual reasons at all, using it instead to boost their athletic performance. It turns out that “Vitamin V” could have some mildly positive effects on a few types of exercise, since it was originally used as a treatment for pulmonary hypertension (a form of high blood pressure in the lungs), and functions as a vasodilator that increases blood flow to the lungs.  

For example, a 2004 study showed that sildenafil increased the maximum exercise capacity of mountaineers and trekkers at both sea level and at altitude. 

If you’re wondering more about how Viagra works, we talk more about the mechanism of action of this type of medication in our full guide to PDE5 inhibitors.  

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Guys have a lot of misperceptions about how ED drugs work, and these mistaken ideas make it more likely that someone will take Viagra in a risky way. 

Some men do it because they lack confidence or they want to avoid professional treatment. Research shows that men who use ED medications recreationally typically report lower erectile confidence and reduced  sexual satisfaction compared to peers. 

This behavior can lead to psychological dependency — a crutch in place of working on the most important problems (sexual self-confidence, physical health, etc.). 

And there’s the behavioral risk. Recreational use of ED meds is also associated with risky sexual behavior, according to a review of 14 studies, 11 of which focused on Viagra use among gay men. 

In many of these studies, the researchers found more than 10 percent of men having sex with men used sildenafil citrate — and that its use is associated with higher risks of unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners.

In general, according to the review, men who use erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra recreationally are likely to display one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Frequent one-night stands

  • Multiple sexual partners

  • Sex with other men

  • Illegal drug use

  • Unprotected sex

And last but very much not least, using Viagra when you don’t have ED also brings the risk of poisoning. Some of the pills you get could be counterfeits or may be manufactured in unsafe environments. They could also be made using potentially harmful ingredients — and those won’t be listed on the labels. 

Choose your chew

Look, there’s not much research about taking ED meds recreationally, but there's more than enough information available about the risk factors of taking this medication and the health conditions it can cause/exacerbate.

Common side effects of Viagra include:

  • Headache

  • Facial flushing

  • Dyspepsia (indigestion)

  • Nasal congestion

  • Myalgia (muscle pain)

  • Abnormal vision

  • Back pain

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Rash

Viagra could lead to more serious side effects, including:

  • Priapism (a painful, long-lasting erection)

  • Vision loss

  • Chest pain

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Heart attack

  • Stroke

  • Dizziness 

  • Sudden low blood pressure

You could also face serious risks from taking this medication if you have certain medical conditions or take other medications and products, especially:

  • Nitrates

  • Alpha blockers

  • Grapefruit juice

  • Recreational drugs like cocaine

  • Alcohol

Our guide to Viagra side effects goes into more detail about these side effects, the frequency at which they occur and the steps that you can take to limit their severity.

If you experience severe side effects after using Viagra or other ED medication, it’s important to seek medical advice and assistance as soon as possible.

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Okay, so you shouldn’t take Viagra for fun, but what about other ED drugs? Brand name medications like Cialis® (tadalafil), Levitra®(vardenafil), Stendra® and others are FDA-approved to treat ED, but there is no safe  use of these medications for healthy men. 

Basically, if a healthcare provider hasn’t prescribed these medications to you for any reason, don’t use them.

Erectile dysfunction medications aren’t magic, and a healthcare professional will explain that phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors aren’t penis growth hormones.

If you want to deal with ED, and get the right help and the right erectile dysfunction treatments, check out our erectile dysfunction blog for more information. 

We can provide medication after a consultation with a healthcare provider, as well as help with psychological ED, anxiety, depression and sexual performance anxiety problems with our online therapy platform.

5 Sources

  1. HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION: VIAGRA® (sildenafil citrate) tablets, for oral use . (n.d.-b). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/20895s039s042lbl.pdf.
  2. Jackson, G., Arver, S., Banks, I., & Stecher, V. J. (2010). Counterfeit phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors pose significant safety risks. International journal of clinical practice, 64(4), 497–504. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3069491/.
  3. Swearingen, S. G., & Klausner, J. D. (2005). Sildenafil use, sexual risk behavior, and risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. The American journal of medicine, 118(6), 571–577. https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(05)00086-0/fulltext.
  4. Harte, C. B., & Meston, C. M. (2012). Recreational use of erectile dysfunction medications and its adverse effects on erectile function in young healthy men: the mediating role of confidence in erectile ability. The journal of sexual medicine, 9(7), 1852–1859. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22568639/.
  5. Ghofrani, H. A., Reichenberger, F., Kohstall, M. G., Mrosek, E. H., Seeger, T., Olschewski, H., Seeger, W., & Grimminger, F. (2004). Sildenafil increased exercise capacity during hypoxia at low altitudes and at Mount Everest base camp: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Annals of internal medicine, 141(3), 169–177. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15289213/.
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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