Being Single

Why I Would Swallow an ‘Anti-Viagra’ Pill (If It Existed)

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pills spelling out helpFrom the birth control pill to Viagra, the pharmaceutical industry long ago figured out that there’s serious money to be made in making sex safer, more convenient, and more pleasurable.  As The New York Times Magazine recently chronicled in a fascinating article, another potentially revolutionary drug is on the horizon: Lybrido, which enhances female sexual desire.

This is great news for the countless couples whose otherwise healthy relationships have gone off track as their sex drives diverged.  But as the piece points out, Lybrido is sure to spark bedroom arguments between women who are reluctant to take the drug and men who are convinced they’re only a doctor’s signature away from achieving a teenage fantasy of as much sex as they can handle.

Which made me wonder: Why isn’t anyone tackling the problem from the opposite side, and investing millions in developing a mass-market drug to decrease male desire — an anti-Viagra? And why do I sort of wish someone would?

It’s been about 20 years since I hit puberty, and when you crunch the numbers there’s no denying the obvious: my libido has caused me more pain than pleasure. Let’s be generous and say that for six of those 20 years, I was in a functional relationship that fulfilled my emotional and physical desires. That leaves 14 years of bachelorhood, which in my case meant mild loneliness at best and existential angst at worst.

After a few years turned into a decade, I started getting cynical and self-destructive, obsessing over unattainable women and sabotaging promising starts. That guy really could have used an anti-Viagra-assisted break from his desire.

Granted, I realize that some people enjoy being single. Now that I’m in a committed relationship, I sometimes trick myself into believing that I was one of those people, and that my bachelor years were an “Entourage”-esque blur of carefree flings. But then I’ll stumble across one of my old journals and remember the truth: I hated being single. Two random excerpts from the mid-2000s:

  1. “Perhaps more disturbing is Collette’s lack of interest in me.  I put myself out there twice, against my better judgment, and was shot down both times.  WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN?”
  2. “God, I want to be with a beautiful woman. Not even for sex, just to walk down the street with her. Is this too much to ask?  I don’t think so. I want someone to go ice skating with. Someone to—I’m going to stop this right now.”

I have stacks of tattered Mead notebooks full of similar drivel, and it all makes me feel not just embarrassed but also deeply regretful. When I think about my twenties, what I remember as vividly as any first kiss are the long, pre-dawn bus journeys I took almost every Saturday night from a downtown bar to my crappy apartment in East Harlem. As the city sped by like a fast-forwarded VHS tape, I would rehash every stupid thing I said to every woman I encountered over the course of the night. By the time I got to 120th Street, I’d talked myself into renouncing love for all eternity.

A few years of nights like that are to be expected, even cherished.  To paraphrase a book title, someday this pain will be useful, and it has been (see: the essay you’re reading right now). But after a few years turned into a decade, I started getting cynical and self-destructive, obsessing over unattainable women and sabotaging promising starts. That guy really could have used an anti-Viagra-assisted break from his desire, which had gotten twisted into a sort of emotional consumerism that was more concerned with acquiring women than connecting with them.

And a break is what I’m advocating here, not long-term neutering. Back in 2002, This American Life profiled a man whose body stopped producing testosterone, the hormone of desire. He gradually became a completely different person, devoid of ambition or even a whisper of a sex drive, perfectly happy to stare at a wall for hours at a time. It was a profoundly disconcerting experience and one he has no interest in repeating.

Still, there were benefits to being without desire. As he put it, “There were things that I find offensive about my own personality that were disconnected then. And it was nice to be without them. Envy, the desire to judge itself; I approached people with a humility that I had never displayed before.”

That’s what I want for my past self: the ability to disconnect from his base urges for a few hours and realize that he doesn’t need to define his self-worth according to his ability to get laid.  And it’s not just my past self who might benefit from the occasional anti-Viagra—even now that I have a wonderful girlfriend, a pang of longing still shudders through me whenever I pass a beautiful woman on the street, the same way I shiver when I’m cold. It’s far less seismic than it used to be, but I still feel it.

Would access to anti-Viagra have made my twenties less interesting, erased a few painful but instructive romantic misadventures? Maybe. But sometimes, when I think back to those bus rides, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that interesting experiences are like sex: often overrated.

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