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Last updated November 15, 2019. 4 minute read

Recreational Viagra: Can I take Viagra without ED?

“Usually people who ask for these medications are asking for a reason. They’re dealing with performance anxiety—when they masturbate, their penis is hard and everything’s easy to achieve and maintain, but when they’re in front of a partner, they prematurely ejaculate or lose their erection too quickly. That is a form of erectile dysfunction. There’s nothing wrong in their penis, but psychologically there’s an issue.” – Seth Cohen, MD, a urologist with NYU Langone Health.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Viagra (sildenafil citrate) is the go-to medication for erectile dysfunction (ED). The first effective oral treatment that enabled men to get erections—besides the ancient oral treatment that is—has proven safe and effective for men who don’t have medical issues, such as heart conditions, that contraindicate it.

But is Viagra so safe that you can use it recreationally—that is, if you don’t have ED? You might be tempted to “borrow” a pill from a friend or family member’s prescription just to try it. Is that dangerous? What about taking one every now and again, or even regularly, to improve the quality of your erections?

Vitals

  • Sildenafil (brand name Viagra) is a medication to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).
  • Viagra has been found safe and effective since it was introduced by Pfizer and FDA-approved in the ’90s.
  • But Viagra and other ED medications are still prescription drugs and you should talk with a healthcare provider before using them.
  • Whether Viagra is safe for “recreational” use—meaning, if you don’t have ED—is a bit of a complicated question to answer.

Is it safe to use recreational Viagra?

“It’s a little bit of a loaded question,” says Seth Cohen, MD, a urologist with NYU Langone Health.

First—and this is very important—you should talk with a healthcare provider before you start taking any medication or supplement. And when you talk with them, really talk honestly about your medical history and any other medications or supplements you’re currently taking. That will help your provider determine if Viagra is right (and safe) for you.

But when we talk about the recreational use of Viagra, what does that mean?

“If the average guy comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, if I just take a small dose of Viagra, is that going to do anything really negative to me?’ Nine times out of ten, the answer would be no,” says Cohen. “But if someone has a cardiac defect or he’s on other medications for high blood pressure, that could do some damage.” Viagra and other ED medications known as PDE5 inhibitors can be unsafe to take with cardiovascular disease or abnormal blood pressure, they can cause complications (Harvard Medical School, 2019). 

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That said, erectile dysfunction drugs are safe to take if your heart is healthy and you aren’t on any other medications that would interact with them. “If we’re talking about someone relatively young, with no cardiac risk factors or serious comorbidities, who aren’t on other medications that interact with PDE5 inhibitors, then I would say at a low dose, Viagra is a reasonably innocuous medication that will just improve their erectile function,” says Cohen.

But if you’re interested in the recreational use of Viagra, Cohen says he’d be curious what you mean by “recreational.”

“I guess I would say, ‘If your sex life is good, why do you need to take Viagra?'” he says. “Usually people who asked for these medications are asking for a reason. They’re dealing with performance anxiety—when they masturbate, their penis is hard and everything’s easy to achieve and maintain, but when they’re in front of a partner, they prematurely ejaculate or lose their erection too quickly. That is a form of erectile dysfunction. There’s nothing wrong in their penis, but psychologically there’s an issue.

“I have a bit of a problem with ‘recreational use’, because a lot of times, guys who get Viagra from a friend or take it from their parents’ cabinet may call that recreational use but actually have erectile problems,” adds Cohen. “And maybe they actually need the medication.” 

Another level of recreational use involves taking Viagra along with multiple other drugs for “chemsex,” or sex parties. We’ll talk about that separately, but suffice it to say it’s not a great idea, and can in fact be very dangerous.

What is erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Erectile dysfunction can include softer erections, erections that don’t last as long, less frequent erections, or even a lack of morning erections. ED isn’t just about not being able to get hard—it’s really more about how you and your partner feel about your sex life.

And it’s very common. Most guys experience ED at some point in their lives. In fact, more than 30 million men in the U.S. have dealt with erectile dysfunction (Nunes, 2012). It’s important to address ED at the initial signs—not only will you have a better sex life, ED can also be a sign of a potentially serious condition like heart disease, depression or low testosterone.

How does Viagra work?

The ED drugs known as PDE5 inhibitors include Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), Levitra (vardenafil) and Stendra (avanafil). They work by beginning a chain reaction that ends up relaxing and widening blood vessels in certain parts of the body—thus easing blood flow, including to the penis—by increasing their supply of nitric oxide. Some heart disease medications also increase nitric oxide, which is why taking ED meds with them can be dangerous, potentially leading to heart attack or low blood pressure.

Viagra side effects

Viagra and other ED medications can have side effects including headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, stomach upset, backache and, rarely, temporary impaired color vision (men with the eye condition retinitis pigmentosa should check with their healthcare providers before using those prescriptions).

You might have noticed that we’re banging on a similar note here. If you’re interested in trying Viagra, or you suspect you might have ED, it really is a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider. That can be daunting, because of the embarrassment factor. But there’s no reason to be embarrassed—sexual function is just as important an aspect of men’s health as any other.

“Treat your body as best you can and take your health as a priority,” says Cohen. “Just like you would seek medical help for anything major, why not go to a professional and have it treated professionally, instead of taking these matters into your own hands?”