Natural Aphrodisiacs: What works, what doesn’t, and what’s safe

Many of us wonder- Is it possible to increase libido or desire for sex without turning to a prescription? Are myths of natural aphrodisiacs true, at all?

Research shows that nearly a third of women and 15% of men lack the desire to have sex on a regular basis. BUT there are things you can do to put the sizzle back into your sex life that are natural and also good for your overall wellbeing.

Similar to our search for “The Fountain of Youth”, there is also the ongoing hunt for any drug, food, remedy, or supplement to improve sexual desire.

Viagra or even pornography may be commercialized options people turn to, but natural aphrodisiacs (named after Aphrodite, the goddess of love) are out there too. How safe they are however, is questionable.

The myths and realities of boosting sexual desire, naturally

Herbs and supplements have been used as aphrodisiacs for centuries in many cultures with limited success and significant risk. The market is filled with thousands of these products available worldwide, promising everything from better sexual performance to super-sizing a man’s penis.

Some of these supplements, which are not regulated, have been found to illegally contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. It’s no wonder they work, but they could also be harmful to your health. 

Here are a few natural supplements you may see on store shelves that claim to help a low libido:

  • Damiana – A tree shrub extract native to Mexico and Central America, has an unproven reputation as a female aphrodisiac. It should not be used in woman nursing, pregnant, or with diabetes.
  • Ginseng and Asian Ginseng – These supplements have some promising research demonstrating better male erections by improving blood flow, however it should not be taken if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or take blood thinners like Warfarin.
  • L-Arginine – An amino acid with research showing mild effectiveness and promise for men with erectile dysfunction. It cannot be taken if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, with blood thinners, or prescription Viagra.
  • Maca – A starchy vegetable that looks like a radish and grows in the Andes. It’s used as a food and believed to help increase libido in both men and women as a result of a few small studies done with rats.
  • Yohimbine – An extract from the bark of an African tree. It was once touted and marketed for years as the best erectile dysfunction drug pre-Viagra. Serious side effects of stomach cramps, profuse sweating, arrhythmias, and even death have occurred with Yohimbine.

It’s important to keep in mind that many supplement companies often combine these botanicals into one product. A popular seller, ArginMax, does just that, but carries all the serious warnings and risks of each ingredient! With so many people suffering from conditions like high blood pressure and taking meds like blood thinners, I would recommend avoiding these supplements unless a physician reviews your medical history and clears you.

The truth about foods being aphrodisiacs

Many still believe that certain foods are aphrodisiacs, however, there is little or no science to support this theory. This is all mostly a placebo effect from our cultural belief in certain so-called aphrodisiac foods. For example:

  • Oysters contain Zinc which may be helpful to our immunity and prostate in men. 
  • Chocolate, especially with high concentrations of cocoa butter (more than 70%), is often associated with better sex, but essentially is a health food in moderation.
  • Fruits in the melon family or grapes are also part of sexual “folklore” with no valid scientific evidence.

The truth is, a very significant part of effectiveness in these supplements is ultimately placebo or psychological rather than physiological. Your mind, through projected thoughts, is the most powerful aphrodisiac!

Overall health goes a long way

It may be easy to turn to supplements for an attempt at a quick libido boost, but for lasting results, living a healthy lifestyle is still the best way to improve your sex life.

Here are my tips and recommendations:

  • Stop smoking! It’s the number one cause of impotence in men
  • Check your medications! Meds used to treat high blood pressure and depression are frequent culprits of impotence or diminished libido. In women, contraceptive pills often cause lower libido.
  • Get regular checkups, especially after 40. Screen for conditions which can affect sexuality like circulatory or heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, prostate, colon, uterine, and ovarian cancers.
  • Take care of your mental health. Treat depression, stress, and anxiety. Consider relaxation therapies like Yoga and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Be aware of high cholesterol. If necessary, treat it with medication and a better diet. Also, keep your circulation fluid!
  • Stay in shape. Exercise regularly, 30 to 45 minutes daily

The lack of lust

If you feel your engine’s still stalled after making these lifestyle tweaks and trying out some natural aphrodisiacs, it may be time to visit your general practitioner.

It’s important to discuss and figure out what may be the root cause behind your lack of libido if you continue to have a prolonged lack of lust in your life. It may be a medical condition, something more mentally based, or a combination of the two. 

This blog post was written by Dr. Joseph Mosquera and copy edited by Arlene Borenstein-Zuluaga and Elara Mosquera

For any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email