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Erectile Dysfunction in History: Life Before Viagra

Can you imagine a day and age where it was commonplace to announce men’s erectile dysfunction (ED) to the world? While this may sound like the introduction to a dystopian movie, this was actually common practice dating back to the 1700s. So, who were these well-known historical figures? And how was ED treated back then since Viagra wasn’t introduced into the markets until the mid-late 90s?

This article takes you back in time with the experiences of two notable men in history believed to have lived with erectile dysfunction and the treatments they likely underwent for it. It concludes with a look at how far we’ve come.

King Louis XVI

Imagine holding the highest title in France ahead of the French revolution. You have it all. Wealth. Power. A Queen. Granted King Louis XVI had his share of problems, including a mishandled pesky financial crisis that led to him being guillotined for treason, but that’s a common fact you can read in any history book. Something you won’t read about in his biography is that he may have lived with erectile dysfunction. He and his wife, Marie Antoinette, struggled intimately, a fact that was obvious to their kingdom because of the absence of an heir to the throne.

Academics dissected the possible caused of King Louis’ sexual performance issues, including a possible physical condition known as phimosis, and hypogonadism, which can cause ED. Now, as if that doesn’t sound like enough to deal with, imagine your intimacy issues being used as entertainment material in the media. Though his public humiliation was largely confined to comics, you can see they didn’t pull punches.

Ivar the Boneless

Viking helmet on a rock wall.

Now, we could dedicate infinite space here to lament Ivar’s unfortunate moniker, but that’s not the purpose of this piece. Besides, there’s a lot of interesting things to learn about Ivar. Apparently, the Viking leader was a ferocious warrior who was known as a ‘beserker’, a person who was furiously zoned into a fight.

It’s not clear where his nickname, Boneless, comes from. One physical description describes him as a man made of purely cartilage, not bone. However, another explanation for the nickname could be for his purported erectile dysfunction. So, was Ivar struggling in the bedroom? Just really flexible? We won’t know for sure, but his public nickname lives on.

Historical ED Treatments

So, what treatments would’ve been prescribed for the likes of King Louis XVI and Ivar the Boneless during their times? Unsurprisingly, they were not as well-researched as Viagra.

Common erectile dysfunction treatments in history:

  • Wearing a talisman of rooster or goat genitalia
  • Eating the roasted penis of a wolf
  • Drinking the semen of birds of prey, like hawks and eagles
  • Injections of extracts from dog testicles

Conclusion

If you or someone you know is living with erectile dysfunction, you’re not the first by a longshot, as evidenced by the stories of King Louis XVI and Ivar the Boneless. And, thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the days of ingesting roasted wolf penis. We now know what physical and psychological factors can contribute to ED, and we have effective medications like Viagra and help through sex therapy that make treating ED easier than ever.

Visit our Erectile Dysfunction page for more .


Kwynn holds a Master of Public Health and is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Work. Her research examines the intersections of health, technology, and gender-based violence.