The husband and wife, bone tired from work, married more than a decade, and well beyond 40, hatch a foolproof plan for sex. They farm the kid out to friends, take a room at a local hotel, unpack the lingerie, uncork the bubbly and make a pact: They will camp out in bed until the deed is done.
The final pre-sex ritual: He swallows a blue Viagra pill.
"Then," says the woman, who threatened great bodily harm if her name were ever revealed, "we waited for the salute. You have to perform once you take it. It's all got to be planned."
Viagra, introduced in April 1998, delivered sexual salvation to millions of grateful men (and women). Men with erectile dysfunction have been thrilled that their sexual healing arrived in pill form. (Far better than the alternative, an injection into you know what.)
But while the $10 impotence pill is the answer for millions, it has certainly zapped some of the delicious spontaneity from sex.
"Most people are happy with Viagra, but then they start nit-picking," says Dr. Jacob Rajfer, a UCLA urology professor. "They'll say: 'Yeah, I like it, but I have to plan my evening. If you are planning on having sex, you have to plan on having it about an hour after taking Viagra."
And therein lies the downside of Viagra, which one 55-year-old West Los Angeles man characterizes as the "not-wanting-to-waste-my-erection" syndrome. (Nor, it must be said, his $10.)
Best taken on an empty stomach, the drug increases blood flow in the smooth muscles of the penis, helping to get and maintain an erection. The bonus prize for a lucky few is not only longer-lasting erections, says Rajfer, but a greater number of erections during the drug's four-hour window of effectiveness.
Sex pioneer Hugh Hefner pops Viagra like most people pop vitamins. He calls it "the best legal recreational drug on the market."
"If one doesn't have a clue that they are going to be having sex within the next hour or so, one wonders what is going on in their life," says the original Playboy, who marked his 72nd birthday last year by taking Viagra for the first time.
"I am dating four girls, so I take it regularly to keep up with the action," he says. "I take it before I go out. . . . You don't have to worry about performance. . . . It gives you an erection you had as a teenager, and you keep it."
Hefner, in other words, is always ready to rumble. But what happens in other households, when he's ready to rumble, but she's ready to nod off?
"An hour is a long time to wait," says Steven Lamm, a New York internist and author of "The Virility Solution" (Simon & Schuster, 1999). The problem, he says, is a kind of imbalance: She got used to less sex, and suddenly he wants more.
"I often ask my wife if she would like a 'Viagra party' tonight," wrote a 60-year-old Washington, D.C., man in an Internet chat room devoted to impotence. "She usually laughs and says, 'OK, if you are up to it.' (Pun intended.) That way, each of us can plan accordingly and not fall asleep before Act 1."
Another chat extolled the virtues of scheduled sex: "As far as my wife goes, she would much rather have the reliability than more spontaneity."
Even couples who hate waiting for Viagra to take effect have discovered there's an upside to the downside.
"We tell our patients after you take Viagra you have to have 35 to 45 minutes of foreplay before intercourse," says Dr. David Chamberlin, a UC Irvine urologist.
"The wives love that."