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What Does Viagra Do to Your Sexual Experience?

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 04/26/2018

Updated 01/20/2024

You've probably heard some impressive claims about Viagra — it's a bedroom "game-changer," it's a miracle drug, etc.

Viagra's name is widely known. It’s the most popular erectile dysfunction (ED) medication in the world today, and for good reason — for most men, it works. 

But how does Viagra work? How real is the hype? What does Viagra do to your sexual experience, and what can you expect sex to look and feel like after taking it?

These are all good questions, and we’ve covered it in detail below as well as what happens when you take Viagra, what it does to men, how you know it’s working, side effects and common Viagra myths.

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Want the lowdown on Viagra? A few things to know off the bat:

  • Viagra and its main ingredient, sildenafil are medications known as PDE5 inhibitors.

  • These drugs work to increase blood flow necessary for an erection when you're sexually stimulated.

  • It's likely to experience some side effects with Viagra, like headaches, dizziness or nausea.

  • Fortunately, these side effects are mild and eventually go away in a short time period.

Viagra® has one of the biggest glow-up stories in the world of medicine. Originally designed as a blood pressure medication for people trying to avoid chest pain and stiff left arms, it quickly became clear that the little blue pill’s most curious side effect wasn’t causing low blood pressure, but making something else (yes, a penis) stiff, too.  

When they realized it could be prescribed to help men with ED function more normally, they knew they had a hit on their hands. 

Since it came onto the market in the late 90s, Viagra has grown from a niche medicine into a medication used by millions of men around the world treating erectile dysfunction (ED). 

Today, Viagra and its active ingredient sildenafil is still prescribed for pulmonary arterial hypertension (under the name Revatio), but it’s mostly and most popularly known for its penile powers.

What's in Viagra? 

So what’s in Viagra? Well, it’s not starch from your dry cleaners. Viagra is a medication for erectile dysfunction.

Viagra’s main ingredient sildenafil is part of a class of drugs referred to as PDE5 inhibitors, which (unlike non-prescription supplements) are approved by the FDA for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

This gov approved medication comes in tablet form, with both medications designed for use approximately 30 minutes to one hour before sex. Sildenafil — does this by inhibiting an enzyme referred to as phosphodiesterase type 5, or PDE5.

The PDE5 enzyme helps control blood flow to your penis. PDE5 normally breaks down cGMP, which is responsible for arterial smooth muscle relaxation. By preventing PDE5 from working properly, cGMP stays elevated and Viagra essentially gives blood a green light to flow into the erectile tissues inside your penis when you feel sexually stimulated. 

Viagra and similar forms of erectile dysfunction medication work by inhibiting PDE5 and making it easier for blood to flow to your penis and produce an erection.

By inhibiting PDE5, the blood vessels that supply your penis can relax, increasing their size and allowing blood to flow more freely. Since erections are all about healthy blood flow, this can improve your erections and allow you to have sexual intercourse. 

The mechanism of action of other oral ED medications (like Cialis® and Levitra®) is similar.

Viagra works by improving blood flow to your penis. The active ingredient, Sildenafil, is a PDE5 inhibitor that helps blood vessels relax. This helps improve blood flow to the penis, making it easier to get and maintain and erection.

If you have erectile dysfunction, Viagra can be extremely beneficial to your sexual function and experience, as well as the level of enjoyment you get from sex. Even a relatively modest dose of Viagra can make it significantly easier to get hard and stay hard during intercourse.

In clinical trials of Viagra, more than 82 percent of men with erectile dysfunction reported an improvement in their erections after using Viagra at a dosage of 100mg (the highest dosage prescribed for ED).

Even at the lowest prescribed dosage of 25mg, Viagra produced improvements in erections for 63 percent of men with erectile dysfunction.

Erections require a combination of stimulation and blood flow. When you feel sexually aroused, whether it’s due to visual stimulation, physical stimulation or both, impulses from your nervous system cause blood to flow to your penis.

Both brand name Viagra and its generic version sildenafil work by increasing blood flow to your penis.  The corpora cavernosa — a pair of sponge-like areas of tissue inside your penis — fill with blood, which causes your penis to expand and harden.

To keep your penis firm during sex, pressure builds up within a fibrous membrane called the tunica albuginea, blocking venous outflow and trapping blood inside your penis until you either no longer feel stimulated or reach orgasm and ejaculate.

Oh, believe us... You won't have to figure out whether or not Viagra's working. You'll know.

It generally takes about 30 minutes to an hour to start working, although it may require slightly more time if you consume a large, high-fat meal before or shortly after using this medication.

When Viagra starts working, you won’t suddenly develop an erection or notice any rapid change in your sex drive or sexual arousal. Viagra also isn’t a psychoactive medication, meaning it won’t have any noticeable effect on the way you feel, think, or perceive things during sex. 

Instead, you’ll find it easier to get and maintain an erection after taking Viagra. This might mean that you’re able to get an erection when you normally wouldn't, or that your Viagra-supported erections have a greater degree of firmness than usual.

The effects of Viagra are purely physical, so it won’t directly change your emotions. However, if you have erectile dysfunction, Viagra’s effects on your sexual performance can provide a confidence boost or make sex more enjoyable.

In some cases, using Viagra might not make your erection develop faster or become firmer than usual, but might make it easier for you to maintain an erection during sex. 

Is There a Way To Tell if a Man is Taking Viagra?

Wondering if your man is taking a pill to keep up his energy in bed? You could check his medicine cabinet, send an email to his doctor asking what prescription drugs he’s on, or have his blood tested. All of these things are, of course, unethical or illegal, so we’d suggest avoiding that altogether. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t going to be any noticeable changes that’ll tell you he’s using Viagra. If you want to know, why not consider communicating like adults? He may be embarrassed to need the medication (which might be why he hasn’t already told you), but if you let him know that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, you might get your answer while also bringing you two closer together.

What Should I Expect if My Partner is Taking Viagra?

If you’re keeping a really close eye on your partner’s dick, you may notice the signs he’s taking Viagra. Fewer partial erections and no floppy interruptions to your sex life are all signs that things are working normally downstairs. 

If those normal signs are a “new” normal for you, then it’s possible he’s on medication (though Viagra is just one of many options). Aside from that, however, there’s really no obvious tell. And even if his erections are suddenly more full and frequent, it’s not necessarily a sign of medication—he could just be improving his health.

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Before you start thinking Viagra's some kind of perfect pill, let's talk side effects. Common side effects of Viagra include:

  • Dyspepsia (indigestion)

  • Myalgia (muscle pain)

  • Abnormal vision (blurred vision and/or changes in color vision)

  • Back pain

  • Dizziness 

  • Nausea

  • Rash

  • Headaches

  • Nasal congestion 

  • Facial flushing

In rare cases, Viagra can also cause more severe side effects, including

  • Priapism (a prolonged, painful erection)

  • Sudden loss of vision

  • Loss of hearing

  • Damage to the optic nerve 

If you notice any of these serious side effects after taking Viagra, seek medical attention right away.

Viagra is a safe and effective medication for most men. However, you should always talk to your healthcare provider before using it, especially if you have a personal history of medical issues such as (but not limited to):

Like other medications, Viagra can cause drug interactions, including with medications such as alpha-blockers or nitrates. Common nitrates include nitroglycerin. Viagra can also interact with nitrites found in recreational drugs such as “poppers.”

Informing your healthcare provider about any medications you currently use or have recently used can prevent this.

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Viagra may call up different memories depending on who you ask. Some may have heard about its superpowers, while others may have only heard horror stories. The fact is that Viagra and similar medications have the capacity to be many things, but here’s what the public tends to get wrong.

Viagra Makes You Last Longer in Bed

This question is tough to answer with a simple yes or no since it depends on various factors. Viagra could potentially improve your general sexual performance overall. And there are studies that suggest Viagra can be a potential treatment option for men that suffer from premature ejaculation (PE), so it is sometimes prescribed off label for that purpose: 

  • In a 2007 study, researchers noted that Viagra is “effective and safe” for treating PE, and that it had a higher efficacy level than the SSRI paroxetine or the “squeeze” technique.

A different study in 2005 found that while Viagra didn’t significantly impact intravaginal ejaculatory latency (the amount of time until ejaculation), it did improve men’s confidence, sexual satisfaction and perception of ejaculatory control.

Taking Viagra Gives You an Immediate Erection

Superheroes love quick changes, but your dick isn’t going to go from Clark Bent to Superstiff the second this pill hits your stomach.

Viagra doesn't work instantaneously. The Food and Drug Administration recommends taking Viagra around 30 minutes to one hour before you intend on having sex. 

Viagra Helps You Recover Faster After Orgasm

Another common belief about Viagra is that it can reduce your refractory period — the amount of time that needs to pass for a man to recover after having sex and reaching orgasm.

In this case, the common belief about Viagra is actually true. Some scientific studies show that ED medications such as Viagra reduce the amount of time needed to recover after sex, often by quite a significant amount.

For example, a small study of 20 people that looked into Viagra’s effect on refractory time found that a standard 100mg dose of sildenafil citrate reduced the average male post-sex recovery time to 2.6 +/- 0.7 minutes (versus 10.8 +/- 0.9 minutes in the placebo group).

However, it’s worth noting that not every study produces these results, suggesting that Viagra’s potential effects on refractory time may not be the same in all men.

Viagra Increases Your Sex Drive

Another common myth about Viagra is that it can increase your sex drive and cause you to feel more motivated to have sex.

Viagra is designed to improve your physical performance during sex — that is, your ability to get and maintain an erection. However, it isn’t associated with any significant increase in your level of sexual interest, sexual arousal or your sex drive in general.

For the most part, the male sex drive is controlled by hormonal factors, including the androgen hormone testosterone. For example, a common sign of low testosterone is a weaker-than-normal sex drive.

Viagra isn’t a hormonal medication. As such, it won’t have any significant effects on your levels of androgen hormones or sex drive. Instead, Viagra simply makes it easier to get and maintain an erection when you’re already in the mood for sex.

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Viagra Changes The Way Sex Feels 

Although Viagra can make it easier to get and maintain an erection, it does not seem to have any effect on the way sex feels — other than what we’ve already said about helping with premature ejaculation, which may be a result of Viagra decreasing penile sensitivity. 

There’s also no research showing that Viagra causes more intense or satisfying orgasms. 

With this said, if you suffer from ED, using Viagra may produce a noticeable improvement in the general level of enjoyment you get from sex due to its effects on your sexual performance. 

Viagra can also have an indirect psychological effect by making you feel more confident in bed, which may improve your sexual experience overall.

Viagra Increases Ejaculation Volume  

Hoping to increase ejaculation volume? Yeah, sorry fellas, but if you’re looking to increase your volume or other grading criteria, Viagra isn’t your huckleberry. You’re better off staying hydrated and not masturbating too often.

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The Bottom Line on Viagra Results

So, what exactly does Viagra do to men? What it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, that’s not something that’s always well understood. Here’s your takeaway:

  • NO, Viagra doesn’t have any noticeable impact on your sex drive or general level of interest in sex. 

  • AND NO, it won’t trigger a sudden erection right after you take it or prevent you from having sex normally.

  • LUCKILY, although Viagra can cause side effects, most are mild. 

  • BUT be careful — like tadalafil, vardenafil, and other phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, Viagra should be prescribed and taken under the medical advice of a healthcare professional.

Put simply, Viagra makes getting and maintaining an erection easier. That’s it — there’s no catch or hidden effects, provided you use it as prescribed.

If you’re ready to see what the little blue pill can do for your sexual experience today, reach out.

8 Sources

  1. Smith, B.P. & Babos, M. (2022, September 19). Sildenafil. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558978/
  2. VIAGRA- sildenafil citrate tablet, film coated. (2017, August). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/spl/data/40578e70-350a-4940-9630-55d90989c146/40578e70-350a-4940-9630-55d90989c146.xml
  3. Erection Ejaculation: How It Occurs. (2020, November 27). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10036-erection-ejaculation-how-it-occurs
  4. Wang, W.F., Wang, Y., Minhas, Y. & Ralph, D.J. (2007, April). Can sildenafil treat primary premature ejaculation? A prospective clinical study. International Journal of Urology. 14 (4), 331-335. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17470165/
  5. McMahon, C.G., et al. (2005, May). Efficacy of sildenafil citrate (Viagra) in men with premature ejaculation. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2 (3), 368-375. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16422868/
  6. Aversa, A., et al. (2000, January). Effects of sildenafil (Viagra) administration on seminal parameters and post-ejaculatory refractory time in normal males. Human Reproduction. 15 (1), 131-134. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10611201/
  7. Ekmekçioğlu, O., Inci, M., Demirci, D. & Tatlişen, A. (2005, February). Effects of sildenafil citrate on ejaculation latency, detumescence time, and refractory period: placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover laboratory setting study. Urology. 65 (2), 347-352. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15708051/
  8. Could you have low testosterone? (2021, May 13). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000722.htm
Editorial Standards

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.

Mike Bohl, MD

Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician, a Medical Advisor at Hims & Hers, and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup, where he is involved in pharmaceutical drug development. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years working in digital health, focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show (receiving recognition for contributions from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences when the show won Outstanding Informative Talk Show at the 2016–2017 Daytime Emmy® Awards) and at Sharecare. He is a Medical Expert Board Member at Eat This, Not That! and a Board Member at International Veterinary Outreach.

Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.

Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. He has graduate certificates in Digital Storytelling and Marketing Management & Digital Strategy from Harvard Extension School and certificates in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Cornell Law School.

In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. He has also spent time conducting orthopedic and biomaterial research at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and practicing clinically as a general practitioner on international medical aid projects with Medical Ministry International.

Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.

Publications

  • Younesi, M., Knapik, D. M., Cumsky, J., Donmez, B. O., He, P., Islam, A., Learn, G., McClellan, P., Bohl, M., Gillespie, R. J., & Akkus, O. (2017). Effects of PDGF-BB delivery from heparinized collagen sutures on the healing of lacerated chicken flexor tendon in vivo. Acta biomaterialia, 63, 200–209. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1742706117305652?via%3Dihub

  • Gebhart, J. J., Weinberg, D. S., Bohl, M. S., & Liu, R. W. (2016). Relationship between pelvic incidence and osteoarthritis of the hip. Bone & joint research, 5(2), 66–72. https://boneandjoint.org.uk/Article/10.1302/2046-3758.52.2000552

  • Gebhart, J. J., Bohl, M. S., Weinberg, D. S., Cooperman, D. R., & Liu, R. W. (2015). Pelvic Incidence and Acetabular Version in Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 35(6), 565–570. https://journals.lww.com/pedorthopaedics/abstract/2015/09000/pelvic_incidence_and_acetabular_version_in_slipped.5.aspx

  • Islam, A., Bohl, M. S., Tsai, A. G., Younesi, M., Gillespie, R., & Akkus, O. (2015). Biomechanical evaluation of a novel suturing scheme for grafting load-bearing collagen scaffolds for rotator cuff repair. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 30(7), 669–675. https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(15)00143-6/fulltext

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