Such results ought to mean good things for women too. Female genitals fill with blood during sexual stimulation just as male genitals do, resulting in engorgement of the clitoris and lubrication of the vagina. As women age, they experience some of the same genital problems men do, as a number of ailments--particularly atherosclerosis and diabetes--impair blood flow; this leads to vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse and problems in achieving orgasm. Indeed, according to one study, more than a third of women in the 18-to-59 age group experience sexual dysfunction, compared with just 10% of men. "Male sexuality has always been viewed as more important," says Julia Heiman, a psychologist at the University of Washington and one of the nation's leading experts on female sexual dysfunction. "A man needs an erection to have intercourse, so it's easy to regard a man's sexuality as important and a woman's as sort of an interesting pastime."
How effective Viagra is in women awaits the outcome of the tests. The FDA and Pfizer, the manufacturer, do not encourage women to use it. "We strongly recommend against women taking their husband's pills or physicians using it off-label," says Raymond Rosen, professor of psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, who will chair the Cape Cod meeting.
Still, when it comes to Viagra, some physicians see potential benefits in careful, off-label use. Goldstein plans to test female patients--mostly postmenopausal women--for impaired blood flow and give the drug to those he thinks it can help. He has already received E-mail from women eager to try it. Other doctors are bracing for the same. "The Viagra avalanche is about to begin," says Rosen. "Where the oral contraceptive was liberating for younger people, Viagra may be the sexual-liberation pill of older adults." This time both men and women will be getting in line.