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Last updated January 3, 2020. 4 minute read

What if Viagra doesn't work? What should I do?

Viagra (sildenafil) is a medication for ED (erectile dysfunction). If you’re reading this, chances are it didn’t work brilliantly for you. That’s OK—there are many potential reasons why.

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

So the little blue pill was a big disappointment. You took Viagra (sildenafil) for the first time, and it didn’t give you the erection you were expecting. That’s OK! It happens. Read on to find out why Viagra may not have worked optimally for you, and the best things do now.

Vitals

  • Viagra (sildenafil) is a medication for ED (erectile dysfunction). If you’re reading this, chances are it didn’t work brilliantly for you. That’s OK—there are many potential reasons why.
  • Viagra may not work effectively if you ate a heavy meal or drank a lot of alcohol before taking it, or took it at a less-than-optimal time before sex.
  • ED could also be a sign of an underlying health condition you’re not being treated for.
  • Always consult a healthcare provider before taking a different dose of Viagra than the one you were prescribed.

What is Viagra?

Viagra is the brand name of sildenafil, an oral medication used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).

It’s one of a group of drugs known as PDE-5 inhibitors.

How does Viagra work?

Viagra works by blocking cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE-5), an enzyme that causes an erection to subside by encouraging blood to flow out of the penis. When PDE-5 is inhibited, levels of cGMP remain elevated, which relaxes smooth muscle and encourages blood vessels to widen, a process known as vasodilation. That makes blood flow more freely to the penis.

You should take Viagra one to four hours before sex, and you must feel sexually aroused for Viagra to work.

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Why didn’t Viagra work for me?

You might be on the wrong dosage

Brand name Viagra is available in three dosages: 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg. The most common starting dose is 50 mg, but your healthcare provider determines the right dose for you based on your medical history, current health, and the medications and supplements you’re taking. If Viagra isn’t working for you, you might need a higher dose. But don’t experiment on your own: Always talk with a healthcare provider before taking a different dosage of Viagra than the one you were prescribed.

You ate a heavy or high-fat meal before taking Viagra

A full stomach can delay the body’s absorption of Viagra, causing it to take longer to work. So if you ate a heavy or high-fat meal before taking Viagra, your erection might come later than expected, was less strong than you expected, or didn’t last as long as you would’ve liked. That doesn’t mean you have to take Viagra on an empty stomach—you may just want to try eating more lightly or taking Viagra earlier next time.

You drank too much alcohol before sex

Alas, Viagra is no cure for “whiskey dick.” Alcohol is a depressant that affects every system in the body, particularly those that produce an erection. Alcohol, illicit drugs, and marijuana can worsen the symptoms of ED. And chronic heavy drinking can damage the liver, heart, and nerves and reduce testosterone—all of which can lead to ED.

You have a cause of ED that’s untreated

The potential causes of ED are numerous and could be psychological, including depression, stress, or performance anxiety. It could also be a sign of several other serious health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. In fact, in young men, ED may be the first and only sign of heart conditions.

When you were prescribed Viagra, you talked with a healthcare provider about your full medical history and current health, right? You might need to investigate a bit further. A follow-up visit may be in order.

You weren’t aroused

This may be fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your perspective, but it’s just a fact: Viagra won’t work if you’re not turned on. If you tried Viagra and the results were underwhelming, maybe your head wasn’t in the game that night, or you were stressed or tired. You might just need to give things another try.

You didn’t give it enough time to work or took it too early

Viagra should be taken one to four hours before sex. If you popped a pill right before hitting the sack (or the afternoon before your 8 pm date) then experienced underwhelming results, you might want to try again, ensuring you take Viagra within the proper effectiveness window.

You’re not exercising regularly

Studies have found that being sedentary is a major risk factor for ED. And one study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (Janiszewski, 2009) found that men who were inactive or moderately active (30 to 149 minutes of physical activity a week) had 40% to 60% higher odds of ED compared to active men who got 150 or more minutes of physical activity weekly. Why? Viagra works best when you’re healthy, including your heart, so it can effectively pump blood throughout the body—including to the penis. Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to ensure cardiovascular health.

You may not be taking the right medication or ED treatment

Simply put, Viagra might just not be your jam. There are several other strategies you can try for ED, including other oral medications such as Cialis (tadalafil), penis pumps, cock rings, ED drugs delivered by injection (such as alprostadil), and sonic therapy.

Potential side effects of Viagra

You might also have experienced a side effect of Viagra that made your sexual experience less than ideal. Common side effects of Viagra include dizziness, headache, flushing, upset stomach or indigestion, increased sensitivity to light, blurred vision, “blue-tinted” vision, a stuffy or runny nose, back pain, insomnia, rash, and muscle pain.

Less common side effects of Viagra include priapism (a prolonged erection that won’t go away), heart attack-like symptoms, eye problems such as sudden vision loss, ringing in ears or hearing loss, seizures, or swelling in the extremities. (If you experience any of those, seek medical advice right away).

If you took Viagra and were disappointed by the results, that’s OK. Don’t throw in the towel. Sometimes our sexual health needs a bit more attention than at other times. Consult your healthcare provider about next steps. A healthy sex life is worth it.