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As easy to use as Viagra, a cream called Topiglan shows promise in treating erectile dysfunction with fewer side effects than the blue pill, reports the urologist leading studies on the drug for MacroChem pharmaceuticals.

Applied to the head of the penis, Topiglan is a new way to deliver a well-established drug called alprostadil, which, like Viagra, increases blood flow to the penis.

“This is truly a novel administration of a well-accepted medicine,” says Dr. Irwin Goldstein, the Boston University urologist leading the current round of studies on Topiglan.

In clinical trials on men with moderate to severe impotence, Topiglan had a 40 percent success rate in producing erections that were likely to have been satisfactory for sexual intercourse, according to the study.

Goldstein’s study involved measuring erections in men who were observed in a partnerless “rather clinical” setting. The next phase of testing, Goldstein said, will include at-home trials.

“No soft lights, no music, not even a partner, and yet, within 45 to 60 minutes of applications, almost 40 percent of the impotent men receiving Topiglan produced erections sufficient for intercourse, versus less than 7 percent receiving a placebo gel,” said Goldstein.

The worst recorded side effect of the cream was skin irritation, reported Goldstein. The side effects of Viagra are well documented, including blurred vision, headaches and potential complications in patients who take other medications.

At present, the options for administering alprostadil are injection at the base of the penis or catheterization in the urethra before intercourse.

Goldstein is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for developing a prescription ointment. MacroChem President Alvin Karloff said the gel could be ready for the American market in two or three years, if continued studies and FDA approval go smoothly.

Meanwhile, another company, NexMex of Robbinsville, N.J., says it is on a fast track to develop a similar alprostadil-based gel, which it hopes to have for sale on international markets early next year, according to vice president Vivian Liu.

That company recently reported favorable results from a study in China among men suffering from mild to moderate impotence.

Karloff did not rule out the possibility of a somewhat accelerated timetable for Topiglan development for the international market. He stressed that an absolute guarantee of Topiglan’s safety and efficacy has to be established.

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There is nothing wrong with a few well-worn habits. But the same old, same old can get stale — even with sex.

A moratorium on sex “creates a little more tension, a little more desire,” says Kaplan.

Think you’re ready to give abstinence a try? Keep the following in mind:

Be careful what you ask for.
You don’t want your request to come out like this, “I’d like to not have sex for a while…” Convey the things you’d like to do instead, not the things you don’t want to do.

Be clear about your goals.
If her aim is to explore Oriental and Swedish massage and his aim is to have sex in every way he can think of but intercourse, these lab partners may be off on wildly different experiments.

Start modestly.
Abstaining for one or two weeks is plenty, says Kaplan. This isn’t punishment or penitence; it’s part of your journey of discovery.

Communicate your desires.
Abstinence may make the heart grow fonder, but don’t let the prospect of a little pent-up desire move your decision. A better relationship and improved communication is still the best motivator. A moratorium can be an excellent tool in getting there.

Don’t recognize failure.
What if you violated the moratorium, broke down and had wild sex. So what? Nothing’s lost and everything is gained, says Kaplan. You’ve just found a way to enhance your pleasure, and that was the goal in the first place.

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A love story can be beautiful, as when a couple reads from a script like the garden story — a relationship that grows from constant nurturing. It can also be nightmarish, as in the case of the horror story.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg in his book, Love is a Story, describes the good and the bad. He has identified 25 love story scripts and says there may be many more.

Do you recognize yourself or anyone you know in these love stories?

House and Home Story: The home is not only the focal point and the symbol of the relationship; it may be more important than the relationship itself. Depending on the people, this is not always a problem.

Travel Story: Love is a journey in which you encounter many challenges, continual change and unlimited opportunities to learn. Doing it together makes the ride more fun, special and enriching. Hopefully you’ll always have the same destination in mind.

Sewing and Knitting Story: A relationship is something you stitch with your own hands. It’s whatever you make of it. Hopefully you have the same garment in mind.

Garden Story: A relationship is like a garden that needs constant nurturing and care. When both actors are reading from this script, it offers the best chance of a happy ending.

Science Story: The couple may over-analyze their relationship, constantly putting it under a microscope. While a little science is good, so is a little passion. This story is often imbalanced.

Business Story: Efficiency is the watchword for the couple that runs their relationship like a business. While the players have a cooperative more than a loving unit, if this is what they want, they will renew the contract year after year.

Cookbook Story: A pinch of quiet time. A dash of shared meals. While there is much nurturing in this script, the couple usually feels that there are exact steps that need to be followed for a relationship to work.

Teacher-Student Story: This is one of the classic unbalanced relationships. One partner has an infinite amount to teach, the other has an infinite amount to learn. There’s often an age difference or an obvious experience gap.

Pornography Story: This script is driven by the need for novel and adventurous sex — lots of it and in ever intensifying ways. There’s often a subtext of exploitation and objectification from one side or the other.

Science-Fiction Story: Opposites attract, right? Perhaps you’re normal and your partner is weird beyond belief — as if from another planet.

Collection Story: The philosophy of a woman who reads from the collection script: “Always have a man waiting in the lurch should your first date bow out on Friday night.” The philosophy of a man collector: “Keep a black book with women’s names and a star rating beside them.” People in this story believe lovers are like CDs in a music collection-go with whatever you are in the mood for.

Art Story: Beauty is everything, personality nothing. People in this story are always ready to trade up to a newer model.

Recovery Story: She was abused or he was an addict. This is often a co-dependent relationship in which healing becomes the central theme. The couple may not be happier after recovery has taken place, if it ever does.

Religion Story: Version 1: Two people are united in their quest to know and serve God. Version 2: The relationship itself is a religion, and salvation is offered through the relationship.

Game Story: There is endless competition between the couple — and there can only be one winner. The line separating reality and fantasy tends to get blurred, creating both excitement and the potential for relationship destruction.

Fantasy Story: He meets the girl of his dreams, and she is swept off her feet. The couple believes that the honeymoon will never end, but it always does.

History Story: The couple ponders bloodlines, reconstructs anniversaries and landmarks, and gazes at photo albums. Lots of great memories, and a few unshakable grudges as well.

Theater Story: Usually we act out scripts without realizing it, but in this story, one person’s attention seeking and flair for the dramatic makes everything too stagy. The couple also may be very happy on the same script, but their friends are unlikely to think them very deep.

Humor Story: One or both of you is a comedian, and one or both of you is a captive audience for the constant jokes. Nothing is taken very seriously.

Mystery Story: One may delight in keeping secrets; the other in digging them up. She thinks, “He’s just the strong silent type.” But she may be disappointed if she learns he really doesn’t have much to say.

Sacrifice Story: Another unbalanced script, in the sacrifice story one is enslaved to the other and may even serve with a kind of worshipping spirit. Theoretically, both can be sacrificers, but it usually doesn’t happen that way.

Police Story: The perpetual themes are suspicion, surveillance and punishment. Jealousy moves the bad cop dangerously close to criminal behavior.

Horror Story: This script includes violence, stalking and terror. Deep down, the victim may not want to leave, deriving satisfaction from the relationship in ways most people don’t understand.

Addiction Story: Addiction here is defined as the need always to be with the partner. The addict goes through withdrawal as if from a drug. Meanwhile, the other may get a high from being needed to such a degree.

War Story: Perpetual war on the home front is not uncommon for the couple in this story. They may stay with each other despite the constant battle.

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