What are aphrodisiacs?
Have you ever wondered if there is a natural way to increase your libido and enjoy sex more? If you notice a decrease in your desire for sex as you get older, you’re not imagining it: Both men and women experience a drop in their libido as they age. It’s also normal to experience changes in your sex drive throughout your lifespan. If you feel that your sexual desire is lagging, you’re not alone or experiencing anything abnormal, but you might not be happy with the current state of your relationship.
Many people in this situation turn to aphrodisiacs — foods and herbs that boost the sex drive — to increase their sexual arousal. Learn more about what aphrodisiacs are and when to use them.
Aphrodisiacs are foods, drinks, and herbs that raise your desire for sex. Not all of these substances work in the same way: They might lower your cortisol (a stress hormone), increase your level of testosterone (a hormone that increases sex drive), or simply make you feel happy and relaxed.
There’s a lot of mythology surrounding aphrodisiacs, and not every substance labeled as a libido-booster truly does what it claims. Some foods, such as chocolate-covered strawberries, may be more associated with romance than they actually raise your desire for sex itself. Most of these foods are harmless, but if you’re considering taking herbal supplements, it’s important to know what’s in them and how they work.
What causes low libido?
Sexual desire changes throughout a person’s life. It’s possible to feel highly sexual during one decade of your life and have little to no desire in another. There are many factors for experiencing a decreased libido, regardless of gender, including the following:
- Normal age-related decline in libido
- Emotional and lifestyle factors like stress, anxiety, and depression
- Drug and alcohol use
- Medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea
- Low testosterone (in men)
- Menopause and other hormonal changes (in women)
- Medication side effects
It’s important to note that erectile dysfunction is not precisely the same as having a low libido. Erectile dysfunction — when the penis is unable to maintain an erection, or get hard enough, to have sex — can happen for various reasons, including stress, physical health problems, and low sex drive.
If you experience ongoing erectile dysfunction or have other health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, you should talk to your doctor to determine the cause before trying to self-medicate with an over-the-counter aphrodisiac.
8 aphrodisiacs that you can buy without a prescription
Sometimes sexual dysfunction is treated with counseling and a prescription from your doctor. Other times, you can remedy this issue with honest communication between yourself and your partner — and by experimenting with herbs and foods known to have aphrodisiac properties. Look at the list below and consider whether any of them would be appropriate for your situation.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses ginkgo biloba as a “tonic” preparation to restore body balance. It aids in increasing blood circulation, which can help with sexual dysfunction, and traditionally, it was used to increase sexual energy as well.
Wild oats aren’t oatmeal — they’re a similar grain that grows as a weed in temperate climates. They’re found in the wild in Central Asia and Europe. Some research points to this grain having an aphrodisiac effect on both men and women because it can raise testosterone and help regulate hormones.
Horny goat weed
This oddly-named plant is also known as Epimedium and is known for being a standard treatment for sexual and erectile dysfunction in Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to research, it can also help bring low thyroid hormone levels into balance.
This amino acid works as an antioxidant, and it's a great supplement for sexual health. It boosts blood flow, helps prevent heart disease, and might be able to help treat male infertility as well.
It’s also commonly used by men who wish to treat high blood pressure issues. If this is the case for you, check with your doctor before you combine blood pressure medications with these supplements. You can purchase an over-the-counter arginine supplement, or you can increase your intake of this amino acid by consuming more protein-rich foods like fish, meat, chicken, beans, nuts, and dairy.
Chocolate has a reputation for putting people in the mood for sex. It contains a compound called phenylalanine, which increases certain brain chemicals that make people happier. It might boost your libido or act as an aphrodisiac in the sense that it puts you in a better mood.
Raw oysters can help bolster sperm count, which you might desire if you plan on having a romantic night with your partner and conceiving a child. The zinc in oysters can also help raise testosterone, which helps you maintain a good mood and a healthy libido in both men and women. Oysters also contain taurine, an amino acid that contributes to heart and nerve health.
Alcohol is known for lowering inhibitions, which helps socially anxious, shy, or naturally introverted people do things they might not do while sober. While it can facilitate situations that lead to sex, it isn’t a true aphrodisiac in the sense that it prepares the body for sexual activity. In fact, it can sometimes do the opposite: It can depress your central nervous system, make you sleepy, contribute to erectile dysfunction, and prevent you from orgasm.
If you use alcohol to make you feel more comfortable on a date or during a night in with your partner, try to be aware of how this drink affects your body. Limit your intake to one or two drinks to prevent alcohol from negatively affecting your sex life.
If you associate chocolate-dipped strawberries with Valentine’s Day, there’s a good reason behind this marketing tactic: They’re red, which can be related to this holiday for lovers, and they contain a lot of Vitamin C, a compound that can give your sex drive a slight boost and help men decrease their risk for prostate cancer.
Are there other ways to increase sexual desire?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for libido concerns. If you’re distressed about having a low level of sexual desire, try the following options while setting up an appointment with your doctor to uncover the root of the problem:
- Communicate honestly with your partner: Are you uncomfortable performing certain sexual acts? Talking about whether you want to have sex at a certain time or whether there’s something else you’d rather try. Awareness of your partner’s needs is an important part of the sexual communication process.
- Consider your current stressors: Have you had any major life changes around the time your desire dipped? For example, did you have a baby, experience a death in the family, or plan a cross-country move? Stress can kill your sex drive. A study with female participants suggests that women under chronic, high stress levels experience lower arousal and are more distracted during arousing situations. If you can tie your low libido to a recent event, either wait to see if things improve or get in touch with your doctor or a qualified mental health counselor to discuss how you can help overcome this hurdle.
- Stop relying on alcohol to put you in the mood: For example, drinking wine may be an aphrodisiac to a point — but drinking an entire bottle with your partner may actually make you sleepy, impair your ability to make smart sexual decisions, and decrease your desire to have sex overall.
- Practice healthy habits: People who are overweight or obese experience higher levels of sexual dysfunction and poor mental health than those with a healthy body mass index.
Who should not use an aphrodisiac?
Even if you understand that sexual desire can change over time and be different with different partners, you might feel distressed by your low libido. If you’re planning on using one of the aphrodisiacs listed here to boost your sexual desire, make sure you’ve read about the substance and use it responsibly.
You likely won’t experience problems if you overeat chocolate or indulge in strawberries, but you should be careful with alcohol or other substances that can cause harm in large amounts. You should also be cautious with herbs if you have a medical condition or aren’t sure how a particular supplement affects your body.
If you have questions about low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or anything else about your sexual health, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. Until then, healthy adults should feel free to experiment with over-the-counter aphrodisiacs when used appropriately and at the correct dose.
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Appalachian State University: "Alcohol and Sex."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Testosterone — What It Does And Doesn’t Do."
Health Psychology Open: "Obesity, mental health, and sexual dysfunction: A critical review."
The Journal of Sexual Medicine: "Chronic stress and sexual function in women."
Mayo Clinic: "Erectile dysfunction," "Is loss of sex drive normal as men get older?," "Low sex drive in women."
Penn Medicine: "Food for Your Libido: A Valentine’s Diet to Boost Your Sex Drive."
Public Broadcasting Service: "Learn Why These 10 Foods Are Edible Aphrodisiacs."
Translational Andrology and Urology: "Asian herbals and aphrodisiacs for managing ED."
UC Davis Student Health & Counseling Services: "Sexual Communication."
UCSF Department of Urology: "Decreased Libido."
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service: "Wild Oat."
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