Treated.com recently commissioned a YouGov poll asking UK men a series of questions on the subject of erectile dysfunction treatment.

  • 47% of men said they would be likely to tell a romantic partner they were using erectile dysfunction medication;
  • 71% of men said they would be likely to tell a spouse they were using it;
  • but only 36% said they would be likely to tell a sexual partner they were using it.

In other results:

  • 82% of men said they hadn’t ever used erectile dysfunction medication
  • 48% of men said they thought erectile dysfunction medication was safe
  • but 45% said that they didn’t know if it was safe or not
  • when asked how comfortable they would be going into a pharmacy to buy erectile dysfunction medication, 54% of men said not comfortable.

You can find more detailed results and comment from Treated.com Clinical Lead Dr Atkinson below.

You can also find a regional breakdown of the ED poll here

Attitudes towards erectile dysfunction and treatment have changed significantly in the last 20 years. The launch of Viagra in 1998 marked the start of a process which helped to bring the condition into mainstream discourse. Since then, male impotence has become more widely recognised as a legitimate medical problem, with several other prescription drugs for the condition having been successfully tested, trialled and released.

In 2018, the reclassification of Viagra as a pharmacy medicine (Viagra Connect) took this normalisation a step further. Men seeking treatment no longer had to go exclusively to a doctor; they could talk to a pharmacist about the problem too. As a result of all this, men are more likely today than they were two decades ago to recognise erectile dysfunction and seek help.

But do we still have some way to go before the subject becomes one men can comfortably talk about, not just with their doctor, but with their partners too?

To explore this further, we commissioned a YouGov poll of over 1,000 UK men aged 18+, asking them questions on the subject of treatment, how they perceive it, and whether or not they would tell a partner they were using it. We also asked Treated.com Clinical Lead Dr Daniel Atkinson for his take on the results.

1. Have you ever taken erectile dysfunction medication?

Full question:

For the following question, by "erectile dysfunction medication", we mean medication which can help to improve an erection.

Have you EVER taken erectile dysfunction medication? (Please select the option which best applies):

  • 14% of men answered ‘Yes, I have’.
  • 82% of men answered ‘No I have not’.
  • 1% answered ‘Don’t know/can’t recall’.
  • 3% answered ‘Prefer not to say’.

Daniel: ‘On the surface, the stat that 14% of men said they had taken treatment might seem surprisingly high, but it is in keeping with what we would expect. The NHS estimates that about 1 in 10 men have a sexual dysfunction problem. Previous studies have shown that ED affects almost half of men aged 40, and this incidence rises with age.’

The statistic may well appear surprisingly high to men who haven’t used treatment: either because ED is something they’ve seldom or never encountered, and therefore not had to deal with; or because (for whatever reason) they don’t view medication as a viable option.’

However, I doubt the stat will be that surprising to much of the 14% of men who responded that they have used treatment. They are more likely to be attuned to the reality of the problem, which can be daunting to seek help for.

What percentage of each age group responded 'Yes, I have'?

  • 5% of men aged 18-24
  • 10% of men aged 25-34
  • 14% of men aged 35-44
  • 8% of men aged 45-54
  • and 22% of men aged 55 and over

Daniel: ‘Erectile dysfunction can affect men of any age. But because ED is a problem that tends to become more prominent as men get older, we would expect to see a gradual rise in men responding that they had used treatment as we ascend through different age groups.

To an extent this is what we see in the poll, but the dip to 8% for the 45-54 age group (which, if you were plotting a steady vector, you would imagine to be closer to 18%) is an interesting one.’

It could be to do with generational trends and stigma. For example, this group of men may have come of age at a time when talking about ED or seeking help was still taboo, or considered an ‘older man’ thing to do. Because it’s a subject men are much more ready to discuss now than they have been previously, men in the younger 35-44 age group may have been more open to getting help, which may be why a larger portion of them said that they have used treatment.’

It’s also possible that a larger portion of men in the 45-54 age group have used treatment but said that they hadn’t; again, because for them more stigma is attached to ED.’

Or, it could simply be that our sample size was relatively small, and we happened to catch a group of men in this age group who aren’t necessarily representative of the wider population.’

2. How safe do you think erectile dysfunction medication is?

Full question:

For the following question, even if you don't have any knowledge about erectile dysfunction medication, we are still interested in your opinion.

By "safe" we mean things such as: not causing any serious side effects, not having long term implications etc.In general, how safe, if at all, do you think erectile dysfunction medication is? (Please select the option which best applies)

  • 10% of men said ‘Very safe’
  • 38% of men said ‘Fairly safe’
  • 5% of men said ‘Not very safe’
  • 2% of men said ‘Not at all safe’
  • 45% of men said ‘Don’t know’

Was there a difference between men who said they had and hadn’t used treatment?

Yes.

Of men who answered ‘Yes, I have’ to our question on whether they had used treatment:

  • 34% said ‘Very safe’
  • 51% said ‘Fairly safe’
  • 5% said ‘Not very safe’
  • 0% said ‘Not at all safe’
  • 10% of men said ‘Don’t know’

Of men who answered ‘No, I haven’t’ to our question on whether they had used treatment:

  • 7% said ‘Very safe’
  • 36% said ‘Fairly safe’
  • 5% said ‘Not very safe’
  • 2% said ‘Not at all safe’
  • 50% said ‘Don’t know’

Daniel: ‘Erectile dysfunction treatments have been available for over 20 years and have a very good safety record. Like any other prescription medicine, they do have the capacity to cause side effects, and aren’t suitable for everybody.’

Licensed medicines are safe treatments, as long as they’re issued by a qualified healthcare professional who is aware of a patient’s medical history. Before a treatment is made available for clinical use, it undergoes rigorous clinical trials and safety checks.’

That a net 48% of men responded that treatment was safe, to an extent, reflects a wider awareness and understanding of this (it’s possible the 38% of men who responded ‘Fairly safe’ were of the opinion that it was generally safe, but mindful of the side effects and contraindications we have referred to above).’

It isn’t too surprising to see that a net 85% of men who indicated they had used erectile dysfunction medication responded that they thought it was safe. Because they are more familiar with treatment, this group is likely to have a better understanding of how it works, and the checks it goes through before being made available.

A straight reflection of this is seen in the large proportion of men who said they hadn’t ever used treatment answering that they didn’t know if it was safe (50%).

Again, a large percentage of men who haven’t used treatment will never have had erection problems or needed to seek help, so would have no cause to know whether medication is safe or not.

But we would expect that there are many men who have or have had erection problems previously but chose not to seek help for them; wholly or in part because they didn’t know how treatment works or whether it was safe.

3. Would you tell your partner you were using ED treatment?

Full question:

For the following question, by "romantic partner", we mean someone that you are seeing or are in a relationship with. By "sexual partner", we mean a sexual relationship, which lasts for one night or more, with no desire for a relationship. By "spouse", we mean someone who is your significant other in a marriage, civil union, or common-law marriage. Even if you do not currently have a romantic and/ or sexual partner or a spouse, we are still interested in your opinion.

Please imagine you were taking erectile dysfunction medication. How likely or unlikely, if at all, do you think you would be to tell each of the following that you were taking erectile dysfunction medication?

  • romantic partner
  • sexual partner
  • spouse

Even if you do not currently have a romantic and/ or sexual partner or a spouse, we are still interested in your opinion.

For ‘sexual partner’:

  • 18% said ‘Very likely’
  • 19% said ‘Fairly likely’
  • 22% said ‘Not very likely’
  • 20% said ‘Not at all likely’
  • 21% said ‘Don’t know’
  • Equates to 36% net ‘Likely’ and 43% net ‘Not likely’

For ‘romantic partner’:

  • 21% said ‘Very likely’
  • 26% said ‘Fairly likely’
  • 18% said ‘Not very likely’
  • 13% said ‘Not at all likely’
  • 21% said ‘Don’t know’
  • Equates to 47% net ‘Likely’ and 32% net ‘Not likely’

For ‘spouse’:

  • 52% said ‘Very likely’
  • 20% said ‘Fairly likely’
  • 6% said ‘Not very likely’
  • 8% said ‘Not at all likely’
  • 14% said ‘Don’t know’
  • Equates to 71% net ‘Likely’ and 14% net ‘Not likely’

Daniel: ‘It isn’t a shock to see that the more emotionally involved and serious the relationship, the more likely men are to be open with their partner about using erectile dysfunction medication. While there are numerous factors that can cause or contribute to it, the condition is a very personal issue, so it’s natural for men to be selective about who they share it with.’

How did different age groups respond to this question?

For ‘romantic partner’:

  • in the 18-24 age group, 44% were net ‘Likely’ and 24% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 25-34 age group, 52% were net ‘Likely’ and 29% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 35-44 age group, 50% were net ‘Likely’ and 30% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 45-54 age group, 49% were net ‘Likely’ and 33% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 55+ age group, 44% were net ‘Likely’ and 35% were net ‘Not likely’

Daniel: ‘It’s quite interesting to see the different attitudes towards telling partners in different age groups.’

A higher percentage of men in the 18-24 group responded ‘Don’t know’ (32%, compared to 17-21% in the other groups), as you would perhaps expect given that they’re less likely to have encountered ED by this point and have formed an opinion.’

The percentage of men who were net ‘Not likely’ to tell a romantic partner increased as the groups got older, starting with 24% in the 18-24 age group and rising to 35% for the 55+ group.’

The percentage of men who were net ‘Likely’ to tell their romantic partners peaked at 52% in the 25-34 age group and gradually decreased to 44% by the 55+ age group. This could be indicative of the condition becoming less stigmatised as time has gone on, with people aged 25-34 more ready to talk about it with a romantic partner.

For ‘sexual partner’:

  • in the 18-24 age group, 23% were net ‘Likely’ and 43% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 25-34 age group, 29% were net ‘Likely’ and 51% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 35-44 age group, 37% were net ‘Likely’ and 43% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 45-54 age group, 42% were net ‘Likely’ and 41% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 55+ age group, 39% were net ‘Likely’ and 40% were net ‘Not likely’

Daniel: ‘Once more, a higher percentage in the 18-24 group responded that they didn’t know (33%) if they would tell a sexual partner, as we might expect.

But for this question relating to sexual partners, the trend we see as the groups get older is almost the reverse of that we saw in the same question relating to romantic partners.

We are dealing with a different landscape. We would posit that younger men aged 25-34 might feel less able to show emotional intimacy or even (what they perceive as) vulnerability in a sexual relationship than older men. Younger men may also see a clearer distinction between sexual relationships and romantic relationships than older men do, and so be less likely in a sexual relationship to let down certain boundaries and talk about more intimate problems like ED.’

For ‘spouse’:

  • in the 18-24 age group, 60% were net ‘Likely’ and 14% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 25-34 age group, 70% were net ‘Likely’ and 15% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 35-44 age group, 75% were net ‘Likely’ and 12% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 45-54 age group, 72% were net ‘Likely’ and 16% were net ‘Not likely’
  • in the 55+ age group, 73% were net ‘Likely’ and 14% were net ‘Not likely’

Daniel: ‘The question relating to telling a spouse produced much more consistent responses across the board. With the exception of the 18-24 group, where again a more significant percentage answered ‘Don’t know’ (26%), the results for different age brackets didn’t show much variation; indicating that attitudes towards telling a spouse don’t seem to change with age.

Was there a difference between men who said they had and hadn’t used treatment?

Yes.

  • men who said they had used treatment were 51% net ‘Likely’ and 41% net ‘Not likely’ to tell a romantic partner. 8% said ‘Don’t know’
  • men who said they hadn’t used treatment were 47% net ‘Likely’ and 30% net ‘Not likely’ to tell a romantic partner. 22% said ‘Don’t know’
  • men who said they had used treatment were 39% net ‘Likely’ and 52% net ‘Not likely’ to tell a sexual partner. 8% said ‘Don’t know’
  • men who said they hadn’t used treatment were 36% net ‘Likely’ and 41% net ‘Not likely’ to tell a sexual partner. 22% said ‘Don’t know’
  • men who said they had used treatment were 81% net ‘Likely’ and 17% net ‘Not likely’ to tell a spouse. 2% said ‘Don’t know’
  • men who said they hadn’t used treatment were 72% net ‘Likely’ and 13% net ‘Not likely’ to tell a spouse. 15% said ‘Don’t know’

Daniel: ‘This tells us that men who have used treatment have a better idea of whether they would or wouldn’t tell their partner, with fewer answering ‘Don’t know’ and more committing to a ‘Likely’ or ‘Not likely’ indication.’

  • 33% of men who said they had used treatment were ‘Very likely’ to tell a romantic partner, compared to 21% overall
  • 23% and 17% of men who said they had used treatment were ‘Not very likely’ and ‘Not at all likely’, respectively, to tell a romantic partner, compared to 18% and 13% overall
  • 26% of men who said they had used treatment were ‘Very likely’ to tell a sexual partner, compared to 18% of men overall
  • 28% and 24% of men who said they had used treatment were ‘Not very likely’ and ‘Not at all likely’, respectively, to tell a sexual partner, compared to 22% and 20% overall
  • 65% of men who said they had used treatment were ‘Very likely’ to tell a spouse, compared to 52% overall
  • 6% and 11% of men who said they had used treatment were ‘Not very likely’ and ‘Not at all likely’, respectively, to tell a spouse, compared to 6% and 8% overall

Daniel: ‘What this suggests is that men who have used treatment tend to have much stronger feelings, one way or the other, about whether they would be likely to tell their partner.

For each degree of relationship, the percentage of men who were ‘Very likely’ to tell their partner was higher among men who had used treatment than it was among men who hadn’t used treatment.

At the other end of the scale, this was the same for men who had used treatment but wouldn’t be likely to tell a romantic or sexual partner; the percentage of men answering ‘Not very likely’ or ‘Not at all likely’ was higher among men who had used treatment than it was overall.

For all three relationship types, the percentage of men answering ‘Fairly likely’ was higher among those who hadn’t used treatment.

But while the percentage of men who would tell their partner was higher among those who had used treatment than it was among those who hadn’t, the percentage of men who wouldn’t tell their partner was higher among this group too.

This is likely because men who have used treatment before will have first-hand experience of this scenario, and have more of a developed opinion.

4. How comfortable would you feel going into a pharmacy and buying erectile dysfunction medication?

Full question:

For the following question, please imagine that you had to personally buy erectile dysfunction medication from a pharmacy.

How comfortable, if at all, would you feel going into a pharmacy and buying erectile dysfunction medication? (Please select the option which best applies)

  • 10% said ‘Very comfortable’
  • 25% said ‘Fairly comfortable’
  • 29% said ‘Not very comfortable’
  • 25% said ‘Not at all comfortable’
  • 11% said ‘Don’t know’
  • Equates to 35% net ‘Comfortable’ and 54% net ‘Not comfortable’

Daniel: ‘That a higher net percentage of men said they would not feel comfortable buying ED medication from a pharmacy in person again highlights the stigma around the condition and seeking help for it.’

Even though awareness of the condition has grown over the past two decades, many men still find the subject of ED an awkward one to talk about with a doctor they know, which is why many men turn to online pharmacies to seek treatment.

Was there a difference between men who said they had and hadn’t used treatment?

Once again, yes.

  • 50% of men who had used treatment indicated that they would be net ‘Comfortable’ going into a pharmacy and buying erectile dysfunction medication, and 48% indicated that they would be net ‘Not comfortable’. 2% said ‘Don’t know’
  • 33% of men who hadn’t used treatment indicated that they would be net ‘Comfortable’ going into a pharmacy and buying erectile dysfunction medication, and 56% indicated that they would be net ‘Not comfortable’. 11% said ‘Don’t know’
  • 22% of men who had used treatment indicated that they would feel ‘Very comfortable’; whereas 8% of men who hadn’t used treatment before indicated that they would feel ‘Very comfortable’.

Daniel: ‘It’s to be expected that men who are familiar with treatment would be more likely to feel able to buy it in person. Many men who have used treatment may have purchased it in person before, and be aware of (and have become comfortable with) what the process involves.

However the data suggests that there isn’t too much difference between men who have and have not used treatment in the middle ground. The percentage of indications for ‘Fairly comfortable’ and ‘Not very comfortable’ were quite similar between the two groups, with only two to three percentage points separating them.’

This seems to indicate that even in men who have used treatment before, there is a sizeable portion that don’t feel ‘Very comfortable’ buying it from a pharmacy in person.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,054 men. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6th - 7th March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK men (aged 18+).