Sales of Viagra registered US$1 billion in the US alone in 1999, a year after Pfizer debuted the drug, whose success was in part credited to its successful advertisement and marketing campaigns.
In May 2018, Hebei Changshan Biochemical Pharmaceutical Company, which manufactures a generic version of Viagra, announced that China was home to 140 million ED patients and a 10 billion-yuan (US$1.6b) market.
On December 29, 2020, however, the Hebei Provincial Securities Regulatory Commission fined the company 600,000 yuan (US$92,760) for “releasing incorrect data likely to mislead investors.”
Age proves to be the most important factor in ED cases.
According to a survey conducted by a research group in Massachusetts, US, from 1987 to 2004, 52 percent of men aged between 40 and 70 suffered from ED in the US. In 2017, Li Hongjun, a professor of urology surgery at Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing surveyed 5,000 men and found that 40.56 percent over 40 had ED.
Official statistics show that there are 300 million men over 40 in China. According to Li’s survey results, that means roughly 120 million of them have ED (excluding those under 40).
The prevalence of ED, however, does not equate to market size. Li told the reporter that there are different degrees of ED. Those with mild cases do not need treatment because they are neither impotent nor sexually dysfunctional. ED symptoms are not always the result of medical conditions, and elderly and younger people with lower libidos are not likely to seek medical treatment for ED.
Li said that basing a 10 billion yuan (US$1.6b) market on the assumption that 140 million people in China suffer from ED confuses several ideas. “Pfizer was the first company to be misled. When Viagra entered the Chinese market, the company thought that China had roughly 200 million ED patients. It eventually discovered that not many people went to pharmacies to buy ED drugs,” he said.
For many, ED is brought on by psychological or social factors. For example, roughly 10 percent of ED patients cite partners with inhibited sexual desire (sexual apathy), a narrowing of the vagina (colpostenosis), or painful intercourse (dyspareunia). Fatigue and loveless marriages also play a role.
“Ask ED patients three questions: Do you think you’re impotent? Do you like sex? Does your partner cooperate?” Li said.
Li said it is common for people in other countries above 50 to see a doctor for ED. In China, however, the majority of patients are aged between 20 and 40, many of whom are not married.
“Young people who have failed to perform once or twice usually end up with anxiety and diminished self-confidence, which is exacerbated by online and TV ads,” he said. “Drug manufacturers and advertising tend to exaggerate ED, leading many younger people to believe they’re impotent.”