Longer Harder Faster

From Sex Parties to Raves, for Both Men and Women, It's Not Bob Dole's Viagra Anymore

The party's in a semiconverted industrial loft in Dumbo, on the third floor of a former factory with scabbed plaster walls and thick pillars and huge windows admitting both the vaporous light of street lamps and the ambient, hungry-organism thrum of the nearby Manhattan Bridge. The gooseneck lamps clamped to the columns are covered with gel strips to moderate the incandescence. On the floor is a series of interlocking rubber mats of the type you'd associate with kiddie playgrounds. Atop those are futons and plastic sheeting and scattered rolls of Bounty towels bought in bargain eight-packs this afternoon at the Astor Place Kmart. Two linked Bose systems are pre-set to play four hours of ambient music, mostly trance and a kind of global dance mix in which vocals by Pygmies and Bulgarian choirs and anthemic white soul divas are digitally reengineered as aural fragments-chirps and melismas and guttural diaphragmatic moans-overlaid on an accelerated beat. The feeling is of being close to the pulse in a mechanical womb. "Mood music for the new millennium," says the cheery host of tonight's event, billed to a small group of people as an inclusive boy - girl - boy sex party themed around a blue pill shaped as a rounded diamond. The pill is Viagra. The party is named for one of its not-unpleasant side effects: The Blue Flash.

Not long from now the loft will be comfortably filled with bodies. The bodies will be joined in a number of predictable ways. There will be men with women and men with men and women with women and geometric extensions of these possibilities, etc. The couplings and triplings won't have the hokey, throwback hieratics of some Kubrickian fantasia. The fucking will be straightforward and good. The women will all be lubricated. The men will all be ostentatiously erect. Given their ages—roughly 25 to 39—there's no particular reason to imagine things otherwise. But the point—the point, at any rate, that lifts this party out of the image murk of swinger mythology, from Playboy Mansion to Plato's Retreat and the Mine Shaft—is that everyone present will eventually get off.

"Sex follows culture," explains the party's host, Chip Baum (not his real name), an artist and sometime body worker. "This kind of thing has been predicted for a long, long time. Our culture isn't satisfied anymore with the prospect of failure and delay. If you're engineering genes, why not tinker with desire?"

Viagra was first pitched to the market as a palliative for impotence, that hoariest of male sexual stigmas, now recast and smartly medicalized as Erectile Dysfunction. What's happening, says Baum, "is that people are starting to realize there's a way to guarantee better sex when you want it. It's not just about old Bob Dole's limp dick."

Emphatically it's not. In the year and a half since Viagra was introduced to the public, U.S. doctors have written 14 million prescriptions for over 6 million men. Last week, Pfizer Inc., the drug's maker, posted a phenomenal 36 percent increase in third-quarter operating income, up to $906 million on overall annual corporate sales of nearly $4 billion. But that, in all likelihood, is just the beginning. Despite Pfizer's strenuous efforts to control both the image and use of the popular drug, Viagra is skidding off on a separate trajectory, carried along Internet vectors beyond the target niche of graying boomers and into places unintended by corporate planners, much less by the scientists who stumbled on the drug while trying to find a treatment for angina.

Viagra is now routinely being used, in other words, by private partyers posting at sites throughout the Web; by ravers as an additive to weekend drug cocktails (Ecstasy, GHB, Special K) that leave them euphoric but too stoned to function; by circuit queens as date insurance; by bodybuilders to counteract the testosterone-reducing effects of decadurabolin and other popular steroids; by porn actors once reliant on Caverject syringes or fluffers; by armies of male escorts; by scores of clubbers on the island of Ibiza who last summer staged a Viagra bacchanal as a world-famous DJ spun music for a crowd that once would have found itself too tired and stoned after a night of flailing to be grinding each other into the sand at daybreak. And it's increasingly being used by women alerted to the fact that clitoral engorgement is one of Viagra's delightful effects.

"Obviously we can't track these kinds of usage," says Pfizer spokesperson Mariann Caprino. "We're a responsible developer and maker of medicines, advocating the appropriate use of our medicine for what is potentially a serious medical condition." While it was once widely thought that impotence was psychological in origin, "we know now that the vast majority of cases can be linked to some organic cause." It remains very important, adds Caprino, "to see a doctor in person. We don't have a single ad out there that says, 'Do it yourself.' "

Still, when the huge multinational pharmaceutical corporation introduced Viagra, in April 1998, it did so with an ad campaign that largely bypassed traditional medical media, marketing the impotence drug directly to consumers instead. The $185 million Pfizer allocated for Viagra ads targeted at the public represented a 27 percent increase over the company's previous promotional budget. The ads urged the 30 million who suffer from some degree of erectile dysfunction in their lives (half of all men 40 to 70) to consult a physician and "Let the Dance Begin." A great many obviously took the advice, although skipping the office visit and copping their Viagra the easy way, by clicking a mouse.

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