The "Viagra phenomenon" is the most visible expression of a global process of construction of masculinity through medicalized practices, led by an alliance of specialized physicians’ expert discourses and multinational pharmaceutical companies’ marketing strategies. In Italy, since direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs is not allowed, insistent awareness campaigns have been promoted, reproducing a cultural script in which sex is recast as a core element of a healthy lifestyle: these campaigns depict male underperformances as an emerging social epidemic and invite all men to self-monitor their sexual health, living up to medically defined standards, and to ask for medical advice if they feel inadequate. The analysis of documentary material and in-depth interviews with medical experts shows how medical discourses, setting male sexual health as a new public issue, construct both the masculinity to be fixed and the new forms of medical expertise legitimized to treat it. Treatments for male sexual dysfunctions work at transmitting cultural scripts which reinforce normatively gendered expressions of sex. However, some interviewees step aside the hegemonic narrative and criticize what they consider an improper and risky overuse of quick-fix diagnostic and therapeutic solutions, bringing psychological, relational and socio-contextual dimensions back into the picture.
Keywords: Sexuality, masculinity, medicalization, naturalization, pharmaceuticalization, Viagra.