Aphrodisiacs - Love Potions or Poisons?
All over Southeast Asia, animals are tortured, killed and eaten in the name of health and an improved sex life.
In the pursuit of libido and sexual satisfaction, almost everything under the sun and moon has been proclaimed as being an aphrodisiac by some people or culture. Aphrodisiacs have been around for almost 5,000 years and there is no let up in the search for the ultimate sex potion. Despite the lack of any scientific data on any so called aphrodisiac, the industry is booming and business has never been better. The urge for sexual satisfaction overrides any concern the FDA may have over these agents. Love potions are on sale around every corner and every web page because the sexual urge is never gratified.
Despite the lack of any scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness of the so called aphrodisiacs, the fraudulent "love potion" industry is thriving and going strong. From recent estimates, the sex industry rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars each year from mail order business. The majority of the love potion industry is a fly by night order business. These charlatans sell the product, close overnight, disappear and appear under a different name, usually in the same location and address.
"All over Southeast Asia, animals are tortured, killed and eaten in the name of health and an improved sex life. Forget the Latin lover - Casanova is outdated. He never consumed tiger penis, bear paws, snake gall bladders, yellow beavers, cat-boiled-alive soup, or snake bile like your Asian lover does, although the jury remains out on the efficacy of the alleged aphrodisiacs. If even one percent of these statements are factual, then the females of this region must be the luckiest people alive," wrote Bangkok-based writer Norma Moss in Asia magazine.
Charlatans in the business of selling aphrodisiacs have claimed that various foods, drinks, devices, drugs and even smell can increase the sexual desire, satisfaction and performance. The list of things purported to be aphrodisiacs are in the 100s and almost everyday a new proclamation is made. Apparently, some people think the solution to sexual problems lies in a certain food or pill, and they're willing to swallow anything that would add spice to their sex lives. However, those who follow this philosophy are usually disappointed sexually and financially.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the alleged sexual powers of so-called aphrodisiacs are all fiction and based in folklore. So far, there has been no scientific proof that any substance obtained over the counter has any therapeutic benefit. The list of aphrodisiacs is enormous and aside from the fancy, romantic and erotic names, they have only one thing in common - they don't work.
The most you can probably expect from your expensive aphrodisiac is a mental boost like the one you can get from a hot cup of soup on a rainy day. That is enough in most cases since many sexual problems are psychological in nature. But the downside is that these love potions have side effects which aren't all psychological. That makes them dangerous as they can poison - rather than prolong - your love life. Instead of finding one self deeply aroused and irresistible, the chances are that you may end up sick with shriveled and dried up genitalia.
HistoryThroughout history, man's quest for aphrodisiacs has led him to consume oysters, tiger penis, scorpions arse, rhinoceros horns, and sexual organs of rabbits. Also, drink, taste and smoke hundreds of other substances. The search is fueled by the sweet promises of quacks out to make a fast buck at the sexual ignorance of many people.
The word aphrodisiac is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and beauty. An aphrodisiac is just about anything that awakens or increases sexual desire--be it your own or the object of your desire's.
For as long as humans have been having sex, they've been struggling to be continuously in the mood. Anecdotes about "love potions" which increase the user's sexual prowess and enjoyment have been found in the written records of most our ancient civilizations. Prior to 2000 BC, the Egyptians and Babylonians took substances to enhance their sexual prowess. In ancient Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, emerged from the sea bringing erotic ecstasy to mankind. The cult of eternal love and sexuality which she initiated persists today in our search for aphrodisiacs, the use of which can intensify sexual desire, sensation and performance. With the ongoing sexual revolution, there has been a change in sexual values, a greater tolerance of premarital and extramarital sex, an increased emphasis on sexual gratification, a loosening of sexual inhibitions, a reduction in adherence to cherished traditions and taboos and a more accepting atmosphere for sexual experimentation. The folklore is rich with tales of alchemists and magicians selling potions to those eager to become attractive to a desired lover or to increase their sexual prowess. The sexual effects of the ingested potions depended then as today more often on the gullibility of the individual and the prestige of the potion than any true efficacy of the substance sold.
In order to overcome sexual inadequacy, men and women have sought means to stimulate sexual excitement by resorting to food, plants, herbs, spices, alcohol, imagery and even prayers to the gods. By advertising sex stimulants with narratives of heightened and longer lasting sexual pleasure, many dealers receive millions of dollars from the public. When the product fails to live up to the expectation of the individual, the dissatisfied customer rarely complains, because of unwanted publicity but often goes on to buy a different aphrodisiac from another buyer or magazine.
Not only illicit drugs and alcohol but also numerous plants are believed to have sexually stimulating properties. In addition to increasing sexual sensation by ingesting chemicals, there are many other ways that sexual arousal is known to take place. (Eg flagellation, voyeurism, pornography).
Folklore TalesSome cultures have viewed animal reproductive ability of rabbits and goats as magical and genital organs from these animals are always held in high esteem. Spicy foods such as curry and chili are known to increase the heart rate and cause facial flushing and sweating, reactions which are similar to those obtained during sex and thus these foods are also viewed as aphrodisiacs in some cultures
For many years, chocolate was also viewed as an aphrodisiac. This was a time when no one could afford to eat them. Today, chocolates are available and affordable and no longer hold the mystical view of aphrodisiacs. Rather than being an aphrodisiac, it leads to obesity and even acne.
In some cultures animals that have projections, horns or extra limbs hold special significance. Thus ginseng, rhinoceros horn and oysters are held in esteem and consumed at a ferocious pace. Donkey's milk, dried salamander, elephant's foot, salted crocodile, lion's penis, shark's fin, bee's wing, bat's blood, clam, sheep gonads, mandrake and many other chemicals have been and are still used in various cultures as aphrodisiacs. However, all evidence regarding the aphrodisiac potential of these substances is based on folklore and subjective reports and since no scientific appraisal of any of the above substances has been undertaken. All claims of their ability to modulate sexual pleasure remain unknown.
AlcoholThe ability of alcohol to reduce sexual inhibitions is legendary as Ogden Nash has said, "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker". Regarding the aphrodisiacs value of alcohol, Shakespeare wrote (Macbeth act 2, semen 3, "it increaseth the desire, but reduceth the performance") and his statement still holds true today. Basically alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Recent work indicates that the increase in sexual desire found with alcohol ingestion is mainly psychosomatic, resulting from the individuals expectation that alcohol will enhance his/her sexual interest. While smaller doses of alcohol are reputed to increase sexual drives, larger doses have been known to render the individual's (esp. the male) incapacity to perform sexually. In women the effects of alcohol are variable. A few studies report a decrease in the woman's ability to respond sexually as reflected by a lack of vaginal lubrication but others report the exact opposite. However, most studies have found that alcohol makes the woman more compliant and ready to initiate sex.
In men, alcohol excess is known to cause partial erections, impotence and delayed ejaculations. Today however alcohol serves less as an aphrodisiac and more as a powerful factor in social interactions, serving as cue for sexual behaviors.
In India, heavy doses of marijuana have been used to decrease hypersexuality in some patients.
Amyl nitriteThis volatile inhaled agent is reputed to be the best aphrodisiac. It is known to increase sexual pleasure both during sexual foreplay and sexual intercourse. Surveys done among uses of amyl nitrite to determine its aphrodisiac power reveal that most men and women experience a greatly potentiate sexual effect. Following inhalation of amyl nitrite, the user may experience a sudden feeling of warmth, exhilaration and a sense of total freedom. During foreplay, amyl nitrite has a uninhibitory effect, with some users claiming to experience a total body sensuality and sensitivity. During intercourse, women users have reported that amyl nitrite facilitates penetration and that is also a "feeling of being filled". It is believed that this enhanced perception of being filled and easier penetration is due to a combination of muscular relaxation of the vaginal walls and decreased pain perception. Because of the muscle relaxing abilities, this agent is frequently used by homosexuals, when performing anal intercourse. There are however, a number of potential side effects which makes the use of amyl nitrite as an aphrodisiac less than safe. Following inhalation, the most common side effect of amyl nitrite are headaches and nausea. Reports of death have also been reported.
CantharidesCantharides or Spanish Fly is a putative aphrodisiac which has enjoyed some popularity for a number of decades. Cantharides causes a pseudosexual excitement in the male by irritating the genitals. Made from dried beetle remains, the purported sexual arousal is related to the irritation of the urogenital tract from the chemicals in the Spanish Fly, with a resultant increase in blood to the sex organs. But this substance also burns the mouth and throat, leading to genitourinary infections it can scar the urethra and even cause death. Long term use is known to result in painful erections (priapism) and increased vulnerability to urethral and bladder infections. Therefore this substance is not recommended for use as an aphrodisiac.
CocaineThe use of cocaine began with the natives of the Andes of South America who chewed the leaf of the coca plant. Coca from which cocaine is derived is known as the divine plant, of the Incas. For decades, Coca and it's byproduct cocaine, have enjoyed a reputation as powerful sexual stimulants. It was the Europeans who first documented the effects of cocaine on the natives of South America. They observed that natives who ingested cocaine during various festivals developed a frenzied state of hypersexuality which was insatiable and undifferentiated. During this torrid sexual phase which lasted up to several days, the natives were observed to have continued bouts of sexual coupling. At the end of the festival, the genitals of most men were swollen and mutilated. Despite the long history of cocaine in South America very little is known scientifically of the sexual effects of cocaine. Today there is a powerful mythology surrounding enhanced sexual desires and performance among users of the drug.
Cocaine users express the belief that cocaine is a true aphrodisiac which causes intense orgasms. These sexual experiences have been described as electrifying, exhilarating and a charge of sexual energy. There is reportedly an immediate rush of euphoria, pleasure and ecstasy marked by hypersexuality. Within a few seconds to minutes, this rush is replaced by an extended period of excitement and arousal which may be followed by dysphoria, restlessness, hyperirritability, aggressiveness and paranoia. The aphrodisiac effect is lost at high doses because the adverse or distracting affects psychological effects of cocaine which overwhelm the increase in sexual desire.
Most recent studies indicate a high incidence of sexual dysfunction among chronic users of cocaine. In males, a high incidence of impotence has been found and in females anorgasmia as been reported. Despite the long term adverse effects, the appeal of cocaine continues. The reasons for cocaine's appeal can perhaps best be understood in terms of its association with power, wealth, charm and status. In addition, it is the one drug that almost always produces a sexually stimulating effect and is therefore thought of as the most reliable.
MarijuanaDuring the past 3 decades, the use of marijuana as a social intoxicant has become common place. Throughout much of recorded history, it has always been claimed that marijuana is a sexual stimulant. However, marijuana is not always reliable in this regard and its aphrodisiac activity is dependent on the circumstances, time, surroundings and physical & psychological condition of the individual. The conclusion of many surveys and retrospective studies is that there is often an increased sexual awareness, satisfaction, feeling of emotional closeness and pleasure when the substance is used. In general women report an increase in sexual desire and men report an increase in sexual excitement. The modulatory range in both sexes is very broad with some reporting no particular change and some even reporting adverse reactions.
Unlike cocaine, marijuana appears to have more direct effect in some men and women, focusing sexual desire to an already familiar partner. The effect of promoting sexual fidelity is one which is rarely associated with use of other substances. Numerous long term studies indicate that with heavy marijuana use, loss of interest in sex frequently occurs over a period of time. In India, heavy doses of marijuana have been used to decrease hypersexuality in some patients.
Despite the fact that may users of marijuana claim that this agent is an aphrodisiac, only the most chronic users smoke marijuana for this purpose. For others, the use of marijuana is more likely secondary to sexual and social behaviors. Because of the availability, cheapness compared to other illicit agents, and the ease of administration, marijuana is still one of the most popular agents used for its sexual effects
YohimbineFor many years, Yohimbine has been used as an aphrodisiac in many cultures. It is now known that the bark of the Corynanthe Yohimbine contains the alkaloid. Yohimbine was once used as a drug to treat high blood pressure but the product is no longer available on the market. It may have a role in treatment of impotence in males.
GinsengThe word ginseng means "man root," and the plant's reputation as an aphrodisiac probably arises from its marked similarity to the human body. Ginseng has been looked on as an invigorating and rejuvenating agent for centuries in China, Tibet, Korea, Indochina, and India. The root may have a mild stimulant action, like coffee. There have been some experiments reporting a sexual response in animals treated with ginseng, but there is no evidence that ginseng has an effect on human sexuality.
The main problem lies in the fact that there are over 900 different varieties of ginseng and promoters themselves are confused about this matter. They all claim theirs is the real thing even if most products are so adulterated they contain mostly sugar! The absence of universal standards for the purity and potency of ginseng has made matters worse.
On the contrary, large doses may cause hypertension, depression, nervousness, insomnia, swollen and painful breasts, menstrual irregularities and decreased libido - the very thing ginseng is supposed to correct.
OystersBecause Aphrodite was said to be born from the sea, many types of seafood have reputations as aphrodisiacs. Oysters are particularly esteemed as sex aids, possibly gaining their reputation at a time when their contribution of zinc to the nutritionally deficient diets of the day could improve overall health and so lead to an increased sex drive. So far the buzz from oysters is an illusion.
Other agentsAlmost everyday there is a new product on the market with properties of an aphrodisiac. Amphetamines, LSD, heroin, morphine all have been thought to be an aphrodisiac at one time or another. On a daily basis, the internet web pages have a newly discovered aphrodisiac. While many of these substances claim to have sexual potency, there has been no study to date on any of these substances to prove that fact. Since personal expectation is an important part of ones sexual experience, claims of aphrodisiac must be refuted or repeated by objective controlled comparative studies in order to be of any value.
ConclusionAs long as humans place a high value on sexual attraction and performance, newer aphrodisiacs will continue to surface with the promise of enhancing sexual pleasure. However if these agents are to serve any legitimate purpose, these chemicals will have to survive scientific scrutiny
As of 2005, there is no magical love potion yet. However the perfume industry is attempting to isolate pheromones (substance secreted by animals to attract members of the opposite sex through the olfactory sense). It is believed by some that pheromones may truly be the only effective aphrodisiac. However the isolation of pheromones from vaginal secretion of females and male sweat is still in its infancy and it remains to be seen if it ever becomes a reality. To date, imagination and affection are the only proven aphrodisiacs.
In humans, all available for potential aphrodisiacs remains anecdotal and subjective. People should use basic common sense when approaching the sex industry with prolific claims. To avoid being ripped off, individuals with sexual problems should always seek a physician's advice before embarking on a perilous journey of the sex markets, where charlatans are waiting to prey. A lack of sexual energy, failure to obtain an erection or arousal may be caused by stress or medications. Physicians may recognize this and be able to do something about it.
Unfortunately, charlatans are not unique to the sex industry. Where there is money to be made, false hopes will always be glorified. We live in a society where the search for the ultimate sexual experience is always a priority. And as long as there is the market searching for Nirvana, so the hunt for the elusive love drug will persist. A universal aphrodisiac may never be found, but experts agree that what's good for your overall health is probably good for your sex life too.
A good diet and a regular exercise program are a more dependable path to better sex than are rhinoceros horn, goat's eyes, deer sperm and frog's legs. A good mental state is equally important.
Maybe the wishful search for a cure-all drug should be abandoned in favor of an easier, more reliable mechanism: the erotic stimulation of one's own imagination. To quote renowned sex expert "Dr. Ruth" Westheimer, Ed.D.: "The most important sex organ lies between the ears."
Dr. Shabir Bhimji is a semi-retired MD. He now volunteers his time helping people all over the world, including Asia, Africa and the United States. He enjoys writing and bringing awareness of Asian cultural and medical interest to the American public and beyond.