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Health » Sexual-health » Aphrodisiacs-030716
Searching for the elixir of love (Part II)

Dr. Aniruddha Malpani Dr. Aniruddha Malpani
Renowned infertility specialist. He runs an infertility clinic in Mumbai and has written many books.

Just like the age-old search for the alchemist's mythical stone, which would turn lead to gold, man has always longed to find a potent aphrodisiac. Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, aphrodisiacs are substances that elicit sexual desire, enhance sex drive and improve sexual "performance".

Yohimbine, an extract from the bark of the West African yohimbe tree, has been shown to be helpful in maintaining an erection, but it's not as likely to enhance sexual arousal or desire. The most famous reputed aphrodisiac of all is Spanish Fly, which is made from ground up beetles of the Lytta vesicatoria species. Its active ingredient is cantharidin, which irritates the bladder and urethra, causing increased blood flow to the genitals and creating sensations of warmth in the private parts, which can be very pleasurable. However, it can lead to an abnormally prolonged or constant erection (priapism) or an engorged vulva and vagina, both of which are often painful.


Prolonged use can permanently scar urethral tissue, infect the genitourinary tract, and can even be fatal. Indeed, many commercially available preparations, which claim to be aphrodisiacs, can be dangerous. In Asia, for example, a number of people have suffered severe poisoning after taking herbal formulations containing mercury and arsenic complexes to enhance sexual performance, so beware!

Alcohol is an depressant What about alcohol or mind-altering drugs such as ecstasy? Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and barbiturates help reduce inhibitions and produce pleasurable feelings that could lead one to feel sexually stimulated. However, instead of this intended outcome, decreased sexual response could occur, often when taking larger amounts, or from long-term usage. Alcohol is actually a depressant, and so, as Shakespeare observed, it "provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance."

Not desirous
The recent introduction of Viagra has helped to revolutionize this field of research into aphrodisiacs. Since Viagra became a billion dollar blockbuster, pharmaceutical companies now realize that this area is a potential gold mine, and are willing to invest millions in developing new lifestyle enhancing drugs, which can improve sexual performance. However, Viagra is not an aphrodisiac. While it helps to enhance erection by improving blood flow, it does not create sexual desire. Even worse, it does not seem to work well on women. In a way, this is hardly surprising, because female sexual desire is such a complex area, which is affected by so many variables, many of which are practically impossible to analyse or study.

New age aphrodisiac
John Morgenthaler, author of the book, Better Sex Through Chemistry, discusses a new class of pharmaceuticals called "prosexual drugs". Niacin, or vitamin B-3, when taken on an empty stomach causes blood vessels near the skin to dilate for several minutes, which produces the well-known "niacin flush." Taking niacin prior to sex may increase tactile sensations, electrifying the sense of touch, and enhancing orgasms. Niacin is a safe vitamin, which is inexpensive and easily available.

Viagra is not an aphrodisiac Other popular prosexual chemicals include: deprenyl (which is a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor); GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate); L-Dopa which is commonly used to treat patients with Parkinson's disease, some of whom develop "hypersexuality" as a side effect; and bromocriptine , which works by stimulating the brain's production of dopamine (low levels of this chemical are associated with a decline in sex drive). More recently, researchers have investigated the role of neurotransmitters in sexual behaviour, and as a result many new potential drugs have been explored. (Don't worry about missing out on this research - when they find one, which works, you'll read about it on the front page of every newspaper!)

Ideally yours
The ideal aphrodisiac would be one, which is cheap, easily available, safe, retains activity when used repeatedly, and effective for both men and women. Current trends indicate that psychopharmacological agents - compounds that stimulate both mind and body - will be useful in the future. However, 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 ? and your partner's! To quote renowned sex expert, Dr. Ruth Westheimer Ed.D, "the most important sex organ lies between the ears."

Previous issue: Dr. Malpani identifies types of aphrodisiacs.

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