Impotence Has Nothing to do with Machismo: Just ask Pele

The footballer Pele is idolised by millions of people across the globe for his skill, style and sportsmanship. He’s considered by many to be the very epitome of masculinity, so it’s no wonder that people sat up and took notice when the Brazilian star and father-of-five became the public spokesperson for one of the greatest male taboos: erectile dysfunction, or ‘impotence’.

Pele shows that impotence has nothing to do with machismo or ‘manliness’. Being a traditionally masculine role model, he was in the perfect position to successfully deliver this important message and bring the subject into the public arena.

Spreading the word

With a glittering career and natural screen presence, Pele was a regular on TV screens around the world during his heyday. But his more recent TV appearances have focused not on football, but on opening up a discussion about erectile dysfunction (ED), and the treatments that are available.

Pele’s aim in becoming the public face of Viagra was to stress that it can be difficult for some men to admit that they have a problem. Encouragingly, Pele found that friends of his whom he never thought suffered from ED subsequently approached him and – inspired by his message – found the courage to talk about their problem and seek medical help.

Causes of ED

There are many reasons why a man may experience ED, and the condition is far more common than many people realise – indeed, most men suffer from ED at some point in their lives.

There are certain conditions that can reduce blood flow to the penis, and these can lead to difficulty in attaining or sustaining an erection. Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol can cause narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the penis. Smoking can exacerbate this, as can some prescription medicines, including some of those used for treating high blood pressure and prostate conditions. Abnormal hormone levels are also known to contribute to ED, as are the excessive consumption of alcohol and the use of recreational drugs.

In many cases, and particularly in younger men, there is a strong psychological element resulting from performance anxiety, or underlying stress or depression. The pressure to perform is compounded by previous failed attempts, and the sufferer finds himself caught in a vicious cycle, his confidence increasingly ground down. ED treatments such as Viagra can help in this respect, as they can greatly boost sexual performance, leading to improved confidence in future encounters.

Warning signs

Many people have a natural inclination to ignore medical warning signs and hope that the problem will simply resolve itself naturally over a period of time. Sometimes this is the case, particularly if there is a psychological component, but often ignoring the problem can be unhelpful, if not downright dangerous.

ED is not something that should be ignored as it could well be an early symptom of an underlying condition that needs attention. As stated above, there is a strong correlation between ED and heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Pele is doing great work in raising awareness of ED and letting men know that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to seek medical help, and this is proving enormously useful in reducing the fear and embarrassment surrounding the subject.

Dr Tom Brett trained St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London and graduated in 1992. A year later he moved to Australia where he began post-graduate General Practitioner training. In 1998 he gained fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and in 2000 was awarded a certificate in Sexual Health and HIV prescribing. In 2007 he returned to live and work in London and is now Medical Director of Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor.