The Big Organic O

Forget Viagra—try all-natural aphrodisiacs instead

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Image by Flickr user: barockschloss / Creative Commons

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We are animals. So while our advanced brain function and comparatively broad emotional range allow for the possibility of feeling higher love, our human nature often brings even the most nuanced emotional connection down to one singular thought: what the hottie in apartment B looks like naked.

Which is why it makes sense that the pharmaceutical industry is heavily promoting a wide range of sex drugs that promise to enhance and enlarge, erect and protect. Viagra, for instance, is marketed as a cure for erectile dysfunction. Simple physical problem, easy gel-coated answer.

Often, though, a person’s declining interest or ability to engage in sex is not a medical problem. As Ziauddin Sardar notes in New Statesman (Jan. 2005), it is just as possible that if you’re not interested you’re “pissed, stressed out, simply not in the mood, or no longer find your partner attractive.”

And, if the pharmaceutical industry has anything to say about it, sex in the future will be more medicated and discordant than it is today. Drug companies are now focused on learning to manipulate oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins, the neurochemical catalysts for long-term intimacy and attachment. “A ‘love pill’ that modulates your subtler emotions and takes you straight to deep feelings of intimacy, trust, and affection is just over the horizon,” writes Sardar. Also available soon at a drugstore near you: an implantable pacemaker-like device that will trigger an orgasm, and patches to increase vaginal lubrication.

If this crazy drug trip to user-friendlier sex and automatic intimacy seems overwhelming (and more than a little terrifying), don’t forget that there are a host of natural alternatives—available without prescriptions and dizzying lists of possible side effects—that can put the spark back in your sex life:

Consume (even more) coffee and chocolate. Women coffee drinkers are more likely than other women to call themselves sexually active, reports Michael Castleman in Healing Lifestyles and Spas (Jan-Feb 2005), and 59 percent of coffee-free men report erectile dysfunction. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant and stimulant that has been called the “molecule of love.” It imitates the brain chemistry of amour, and those feelings often ignite a sexual spark.

Ginkgo doesn’t have a history as an aphrodisiac, but recent studies have shown that it boosts blood flow into the genitals and can be particularly helpful for men and women suffering from the sexual side effects associated with antidepressants (known for improving memory, its sexual benefit can take time to appear, so don’t be discouraged by slim returns in the beginning).

Ginseng is a historically renowned body-strengthening tonic. A recent Yale University study indicates that it increases the body’s production of nitric oxide, a compound essential for erection. Other herbs with a history include muira puama, known throughout the Amazon as “potency wood,” which can augment a woman’s libido and increase the likelihood of orgasm, and bark from the West African yohimbe tree, which increases blood flow to the penis.

An even simpler and cheaper way to reclaim your randy side is to have a good old-fashioned fight. According to Psychology Today (Sep-Oct 2004), “Arguments trigger a rush of adrenaline which may explain the high-voltage couple who dramatically split only to reconcile with still more gusto.” Enforced separation increases attraction through delayed gratification, which stimulates the neurochemicals that play a role in romantic interest. Studies have shown that novelty is also a sexual enhancer. Couples who share new and exciting experiences, says Psychology Today, report a heightened sense of romance and more satisfaction with their overall relationship.

Of course, all the standard health recommendations double as natural sexual enhancers: exercise vigorously, manage stress, stay trim, don’t smoke, and, perhaps most important, make sex a priority. “If you wait until the kids are fed, the dog is walked, and the bills are paid,” writes Castleman, “sex isn’t going to happen.”