Toronto
3 min

Throbbing desire

Aphrodisiacs old & new are about letting your love juice free

LOVE POTIONS. One can make you horny, the other, just itchy. Credit: Mia Hansen

“Take the remains of flowers that have been thrown on a corpse that has been burnt. Now, anoint your genitals with them.”



This recipe does not come from Martha Stewart’s test kitchens. It’s one of many aphrodisiac concoctions (including one composed of ram testicles boiled in milk) listed in the ancient Indian text, the Kama Sutra or Aphorisms Of Love.



The quest for agents of sexual enhancement is as old as the sex act itself. What has changed in modern times is that the emphasis has shifted away from associating increased sexual activity with increased reproduction, to sex as an expression of the self. Our contemporary concern with body image and the psychology of sexual well-being would have been considered bizarre by the ancients.



With the arrival of pills that expand blood vessels that can engorge the erectile tissue in both men and women – vasodilator drugs like Viagra – our genitals are now being told to obey our brains. But Viagra’s blood pumping possibilities aren’t for everyone.



Don’t take it with heart drugs (like organic nitrates) or poppers (amyl nitrate). Viagra can also interfere with certain antidepressants. And people on powerful medications like anti-HIV drugs make their livers work even harder when processing Viagra.



Little wonder there is renewed interest in so-called natural aphrodisiacs. Some seem to work and some remain the product of myth.



In 1989, the US Food And Drug Administration announced that “there is no scientific proof that any over-the-counter aphrodisiacs work to treat sexual dysfunction.”



However, recent research contradicts this. The August 1996 issue of the Archives Of Sexual Behaviour suggests that Yohimbine (known popularly as Yohimbe) helps men who had trouble getting and maintaining erections. It did not, however, appear to be as effective among women suffering from lowered libido. It also has many of the same problems in combination with other drugs as Viagra does.



(Canadians interested in adding Yohimbe to the medicine cupboard are out of luck. Yohimbe is banned by Health Canada in this country, both on its own and in combination with other ingredients. Carol Buss of Lenny’s Whole Foods says selling Yohimbe, or any other blacklisted herb, can result in a $500,000 fine or two years in jail.)



Another herb that has aroused interest is Muira Puma, also called Potency Wood. Found in northeastern Brazil, the bark of this tree is made into a tea. A French study of 262 male patients who complained of erectile dysfunction found that 62 percent regained their erections after two weeks of treatment.



Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium Grandiflorium) is an ancient aphrodisiac still being sold today. Its history goes back to 100 AD, when a Chinese emperor noticed that a (now extinct) beast called the Yin Yang ate freely from that plant. The beast reputedly orgasmed 100 times a day.



“Apparently it can cause a build-up of ejaculate in the testicles,” says herbalist Roger Lewis of Thuna’s, “putting pressure on the nerve that triggers ejaculation.”



Lewis says that although a variety of herbs have aphrodisiac properties attributed to them, often the claim is overstated.



“And with the ones that do work, you have to remember that anything that works strongly comes with a whole list of side effects,” Lewis says.



Anecdotal evidence often gives a product an unwarranted reputation as an aphrodisiac.



A case is point is Spanish Fly, the topic of many a high school lockerroom filthy story fest. No less a sexual adventurer than the Marquis de Sade believed that Spanish Fly could work as an enhancer of sexual pleasure. The first toxicity report on Spanish Fly resulted from the Marquis force-feeding it to a young girl who developed a painful urinary tract irritation.



“Take the mythology of a product,” Lewis says, “and add the fact that it does act on the genito-urinary system as an irritant, and people ascribe aphrodisiac properties to the irritating agent.”



Individuals may take a particular herb for a specific problem and then identify it as an aphrodisiac.



“If you have impotence caused by something like an enlarged prostate, and it responds to saw palmetto, there will be a cascading effect. The saw palmetto will help shrink the prostate and, consequently, renew sexual interest,” says Lewis.



Tantric healer Serge Grandbois uses the essential oils of various herbs for the sexual healing work he does.



“Marjoram and cinnamon added to massage oil are relaxing and erotic. Even if someone doesn’t want to have an orgasm during a session, they – as in the case of a Parkinson’s client of mine – become eroticized and then go home and interact erotically with their partner,” says Grandbois.



He mentions a new herbal combination developed in Toronto by Omega Alpha Pharmaceuticals called Vita-Sex (available in health food stores) that he recommends as a libido enhancer.



Others say the state of mind is more important than the chemical combination.



“Nothing will work as an aphrodisiac unless you really want it to,” says Port Hope aromatherapist and psychotherapist Layla Wilde. “Clarysage and jasmine, [which] have aphrodisiac qualities, will elevate mood if you’re depressed; but, they won’t make you aroused if that’s not what you’re interested in.”



Wilde says that essential oils work on neurotransmitters in the brain that allow one to relax and respond to stimulation.



“And the brain, after all, is still the biggest sex organ there is.”