One of the biggest unspoken problems in America is sexual dysfunction, but after centuries it has come out of the closet. What has made it possible to talk about it is that the drug companies now claim it's curable.

Those suffering from the condition are given a choice of three prescription drugs -- Viagra, Levitra and Cialis -- each promising the fountain of youth.

Fortunes are being made by the pharmaceutical giants and there is a great advertising war going on among the big three.

Viagra, manufactured by Pfizer, says it is no longer going to be "Mr. Nice Guy." Instead of running ads showing baseball players, race car drivers and grandfathers fishing, the company says it is not beating around the bush.

Pfizer's going to promote its product head-on and advertise it for what it is, a potent weapon in the battle against sexual dysfunction.

I have never taken Viagra because I don't need it, but I have friends who have. Tom said, "It works if you can find a woman. I still have a bottle in my medicine cabinet."

"Why did you buy it?" I asked.

"You never know."

Dick said, "I love hockey, and when I saw a commercial of a hockey player who takes Viagra, I was sold on it."

"What did your wife say?"

"At first she was very surprised. Now she's a big hockey fan."

And Harry said, "If not for Viagra, I would never go to a singles bar. Now I feel confident that something good will come when I meet Mrs. Goodbar."

In the new ad, the company is going to show a man with horns on his head. It is not subtle, but then what advertising is?

I spoke to a Pfizer salesperson.

"What's new?" I asked him.

"I keep filling my order books. I didn't realize there were so many men who suffer from sexual dysfunction -- more than the number of people in this country who don't have medical insurance, not that it matters. Some health insurance doesn't cover it."

"Why not?"

"Too many forms to fill out."

"Can you give me an idea of what your ads are going to look like?"

"Well, in one we have two people in bed and the man looks at the camera and winks. Then the word 'Viagra' comes on the screen and, in the background, we hear a chorus singing the 'Toreador Song' from 'Carmen.' "

"That's a good one," I said.

"We show Olympic wrestlers. One is pinning the other to the mat. The referee counts and then holds up his arm. As the winner accepts the gold medal on the platform, he winks and says, 'If you take Viagra, you will win a gold medal.' "

Then the salesman says, "We're going to give out samples at the Republican Convention. If you look at the average age of the male delegates, you realize they need it."

"That will liven up the convention," I said.

"We hear Cialis is going to do the same thing. You know, they were one of the sponsors of Janet Jackson during the Super Bowl show."

"Will Levitra models show up to hand out samples?"

"Yes. When it comes to treating sexual dysfunction, we are all in this together."

(c) 2004, Tribune Media Services