12. "Viagra Soup": Consumer Fantasies and Masculinity in Portrayals of Erectile Dysfunction Drugs in Cairo, Egypt
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159 12 “Viagra Soup” Consumer Fantasies and Masculinity in Portrayals of Erectile Dysfunction Drugs in Cairo, Egypt L. L. Wynn When new reproductive health technologies emerge, the cultural work that occurs around interpreting them and integrating them into existing social worlds highlights previously unremarked cultural norms, social relationships and hierarchies, and political economic structures in a society. Beyond their status as medical technologies, medicines are particularly “good to think with,” van der Geest and Whyte argue, because they make ephemeral and even invisible bodily states tangible, and in so doing they “facilitate . . . social and symbolic processes” (van der Geest and Whyte 1989, 345). In this respect, the introduction of Viagra® into global marketplaces, medical economies, and social relations has provided anthropologists and other social researchers with an unparalleled opportunity to understand cultural constructions of masculinity and sexuality, and their relationships with pharmaceutical technologies. Viagra, as Meika Loe (2001) and other theorists have argued, contributes to the construction of a world in which it is the norm for human bodies to be deeply embedded in and pervaded by technologies, even in the most intimate realms of pleasure and human sexual contact. Viagra is part of a biotechnological world in which technology does not simply heal the body, it transforms it, creating cyborgs of technology-enhanced bodies (Haraway 1991) and fashioning and refashioning our ideas of “normal” (Tiefer 2004; McDougall 2014). It not only modifies but produces sex and gender (Loe 2001, 102). Yet cross-cultural analysis reveals that Viagra has taken on quite different local meanings and uses in different contexts (see, for example, Wentzell 2013). This chapter explores the literature on erectile dysfunction and its treatment to reveal the unique constructions of masculinity and medicine that emerge. I compare Viagra in Egypt not only with erectile dysfunction 160   Abortion Pills, Test Tube Babies, and Sex Toys treatment in other parts of the globe, but also with female reproductive health drugs in Egypt and a recent government-sponsored family planning campaign. Based on ethnographic research conducted in Cairo from 2008 to 2014, this chapter examines the material culture surrounding reproductive health technologies in Egypt, as well as the way Egyptians from a range of social classes talk about Viagra, and the way it circulates socially. This analysis reveals that Viagra in Egypt is associated more with exuberant sexuality than it is with shame and sexual lack, as has been the dominant paradigm in other cultural contexts. Indeed, considering Viagra an erectile dysfunction drug is less productive in Egypt than thinking of it as an erection enhancement drug, one which has significant continuities with indigenous (nonpharmaceutical) remedies meant to enhance masculinity and both male and female sexuality. What it has in common with female reproductive health technologies in Egypt, as promoted in government family planning campaigns, is a shared language of aspirational consumerism. Comparative Perspectives on Masculinity, Sexuality, and Erections As Loe notes, the average Viagra user in the United States is white, middleclass , heterosexual, and over forty (Loe 2001). Not long after its approval and introduction to US markets in March 1998, Viagra became the fastest-selling drug in history (Loe 2004, 8). The drug was framed, sold, and used for transformative projects within a performance paradigm of masculinity, one that sees the body in terms of parts that need repair, and that seeks to turn men into well-functioning machines that are always ready to perform (Loe 2001). The mainstreaming of sexuality in popular culture is both the result and the cause of increasing scientific scrutiny of the body sexual. The result, Loe argues, is a population of individuals who increasingly question whether they are normal (Loe 2004; see also Tiefer 2004; McDougall 2014). After all, defining bodies and body parts as normal or not is the first step in pathologizing them, delineating a problem, and presenting a solution. This is at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry’s project: to produce drugs that solve problems, a process that often includes defining, publicizing, or even creating a problem in need of fixing, and thus a market for the pharmaceutical products that fix it (Dumit 2012). The release of Viagra in the US “both created and made visible a cultural crisis of widespread proportions” (Loe 2004, 23). Loe’s account of Viagra is a very US-centric account, as were most of the early social science accounts of the new drug, but these accounts were used “Viagra Soup”    161 as the foundation for building universalizing theories about masculinity in crisis, bodies...



Subject Headings

  • Human reproductive technology -- Middle East.
  • Human reproductive technology -- Africa, North.
  • Birth control -- Middle East.
  • Birth control -- Africa, North.
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