An aphrodisiac is a substance that, when consumed, increases sexual desire. Aphrodisiacs are distinct from substances which address fertility issues like impotence or secondary sexual (dys)function such as ED.
Assessment of aphrodisiac qualities
Throughout history, many foods, drinks, and behaviors have had a reputation for making sex more attainable and/or pleasurable. However, from a historical and scientific standpoint, the alleged results may have been mainly due to mere belief by their users that they would be effective (placebo effect). Likewise it is noteworthy that many medicines are reported to affect libido in an inconsistent or idiopathic ways: enhancing or diminishing overall sexual desire depending on the situation of subject. This further complicates the assessment process. For example: wellbutrin is known as an antidepressent that can counteract other co-prescribed antidepressants' libido-diminishing effects. However, because wellbutrin only increases the libido in the special case that it is already impaired by related medications, it is not generally classed as an aphrodisiac.
Classically, to be considered an aphrodesiac, a substance should:
- Be administered orally
- Reliably increase libido or sexual desire (no placebo effect, no diminishment of libido)
- Take effect in a relatively immediate time frame (minutes or hours, not days or weeks)
Libido is clearly linked to levels of sex hormones, particularly testosterone. When a reduced sex drive occurs in individuals with relatively low levels of testosterone (e.g., post-menopausal women or men over age 60), testosterone supplements will often increase libido. Approaches using a number of precursors intended to raise testosterone levels have been effective in older males, but have not fared well when tested on other groups.
Some compounds that activate the melanocortin receptors MC3-R and MC4-R in the brain are effective aphrodisiacs. One compound from this class, bremelanotide, formerly known as PT-141, is undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of sexual arousal disorder and erectile dysfunction. It is intended for both men and women. Preliminary results have proven the efficacy of this drug, however development was suspended due to a side effect of increased blood pressure observed in a small number of trial subjects who administered the drug intra-nasally. On 12 August 2009, Palatin, the company developing the drug, announced positive results (none of the previous heightened blood pressure effects were observed) of a phase I clinical study where trial subjects were instead administered the drug subcutaneously. Palatin is concurrently developing a related compound they call PL-6983.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) present in many food compounds as well as the human body is an aphrodisiac; however, this compound is quickly degraded by the enzyme MAO-B and so it is unlikely that any significant concentrations would reach the brain without a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Amphetamine and methamphetamine, both phenethylamines, at high doses have been associated with hyperarousal, hypersexuality, and frequent or prolonged erections, although libido is reduced for some. Methamphetamine markedly enhances sexual desire in some individuals, and an entire sub-culture known as party and play is based around sex and methamphetamine use.
Drugs that act on the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which includes psychostimulants like cocaine and methylphenidate, have libido-modifying (usually enhancing) effects which are mediated through increased receptor signaling in the nucleus accumbens. Pramipexole is the only dopamine agonist used in medicine as an aphrodisiac, and is sometimes prescribed to counteract the decrease in libido associated with SSRI antidepressant drugs. The older dopamine agonist apomorphine has been used for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, but is of poor efficacy and has a tendency to cause nausea. Other dopamine agonists such as bromocriptine and cabergoline may also be associated with increased libido, as can the dopamine precursor L-Dopa, but this is often part of a spectrum of side effects which can include mood swings and problem gambling and so these drugs are not prescribed for this purpose.
The libido-enhancing effects of dopamine agonists prescribed for other purposes has led to the development of a number of more selective compounds such as flibanserin, ABT-670 and PF-219,061, which have been developed specifically for the treatment of sexual dysfunction disorders, although none of them have yet passed clinical trials.
Some psychoactive substances such as alcohol, cannabis,[not in citation given] methaqualone, GHB and MDMA can increase libido and sexual desire. However these drugs are not aphrodisiacs in the strict sense of the definition, as they do not consistently produce aphrodisiac effects as their main action and often actually impair function (hence, Shakespeare's famed statement that alcohol "provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance"). Nonetheless, these drugs are sometimes used to increase sexual pleasure and to reduce sexual inhibition. Anti-erectile dysfunction drugs, such as Viagra and Levitra, are not considered aphrodisiacs because they do not have any direct effect on the libido, although increased ability to attain an erection may be interpreted as increased sexual arousal by users of these drugs.
Aphrodisiac foods and herbs
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2010)|
||This section needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (December 2012)|
Foods and herbs which have been claimed to be aphrodisiacs include:
- Deer penis and antlers (in Taiwan and China)
- Epimedium grandiflorum (Horny Goat Weed)
- Eurycoma longifolia
- Ginkgo biloba
- Mucuna pruriens
- Salamander Brandy 
- Socratea exorrhiza
- Spanish fly (cantharidin)
- Tribulus terrestris
- Turnera diffusa
- Watermelon Citrulline is a weak nitric oxide stimulator.
In popular culture
The invention of an Aphrodisiac is the basis of a number of films including Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Spanish Fly, She'll Follow You Anywhere and Love Potion No. 9. The first segment of Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) is called "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?", and casts Allen as a court jester trying to seduce the queen. The novel Aphrodesia: A Novel of Suspense centers on an aphrodisiac perfume so powerful that it drives some people to kill their lovers in a fit of insatiable lust.
- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th ed.), Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2
- Definition at thefreedictionary.com
- ἀφροδισιακόν. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- "aphrodisiac". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- R. Shabsigh (1997). "The effects of testosterone on the cavernous tissue and erectile function". World J. Urol 15 (1): 21–6. doi:10.1007/BF01275152. PMID 9066090.
- Goldstat, Rebecca; Esther Briganti; Jane Tran; Rory Wolfe; Susan R. Davis (September 2003). "Transdermal testosterone therapy improves well-being, mood, and sexual function in premenopausal women.". Menopause 10 (5): 390–8. doi:10.1097/01.GME.0000060256.03945.20. PMID 14501599.
- Gray, P.B.; A.B. Singh, L.J. Woodhouse, T.W. Storer, R. Casaburi, J. Dzekov, C. Dzekov, I. Sinha-Hikim, S. Bhasin (2005). "Dose-dependent effects of testosterone on sexual function, mood, and visuospatial cognition in older men". J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 90 (7): 3838–46. doi:10.1210/jc.2005-0247. PMID 15827094.
- Brown, G.A.; Vukovich MD; Martini ER; Kohut ML; Franke WD; Jackson DA; King DS. (2001). "Effects of androstenedione-herbal supplementation on serum sex hormone concentrations in 30- to 59-year-old men". Int J Vitam Nutr Res 71 (5): 293–301. doi:10.1024/0300-98220.127.116.113. PMID 11725694.
- Brown, G.A.; Vukovich MD; Reifenrath TA; Uhl NL; Parsons KA; Sharp RL; King DS. (2000). "Effects of anabolic precursors on serum testosterone concentrations and adaptations to resistance training in young men.". Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 10 (3): 340–59. PMID 10997957.
- King, S.H.; Mayorov AV; Balse-Srinivasan P; Hruby VJ; Vanderah TW; Wessells H. (2007). "Melanocortin receptors, melanotropic peptides and penile erection.". Curr Top Med Chem. 7 (11): 1098–1106. PMC 2694735. PMID 17584130. Retrieved 11 July 2007.
- "Palatin Technologies Announces New Strategic Objectives". Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- "PALATIN TECHNOLOGIES, INC. REPORTS POSITIVE BREMELANOTIDE STUDY; IMPROVED SAFETY PROFILE WITH SUBCUTANEOUS ADMINISTRATION". Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- Hadley ME (Oct 2005). "Discovery that a melanocortin regulates sexual functions in male and female humans". Peptides 26 (10): 1687–9. doi:10.1016/j.peptides.2005.01.023. PMID 15996790.
- "Tanning drug may find new life as Viagra alternative". CNN. 1999. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
- Jaroff, Leon (20 June 1999). "Tanning Bonus". Time. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
- "The effect of saffron, Crocus sativus stigma, extract and its constituents, safranal and crocin on sexual behaviors in normal male rats" 15 (6-7). June 2008. pp. 491–5. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2007.09.020. PMID 17962007.
- "Adderall XR Prescribing Information". United States Food and Drug Administration. December 2013. pp. 4–8. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
- Montgomery KA (June 2008). "Sexual desire disorders". Psychiatry (Edgmont) 5 (6): 50–55. PMC 2695750. PMID 19727285.
- San Francisco Meth Zombies (TV documentary). National Geographic Channel. August 2013. ASIN B00EHAOBAO.
- "Desoxyn Prescribing Information". United States Food and Drug Administration. December 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2014. "ADVERSE REACTIONS ... changes in libido; frequent or prolonged erections. [emphasis added]"
- Olsen CM (December 2011). "Natural rewards, neuroplasticity, and non-drug addictions". Neuropharmacology 61 (7): 1109–1122. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.03.010. PMC 3139704. PMID 21459101. "Cross-sensitization is also bidirectional, as a history of amphetamine administration facilitates sexual behavior and enhances the associated increase in NAc DA ...In some people, there is a transition from “normal” to compulsive engagement in natural rewards (such as food or sex), a condition that some have termed behavioral or non-drug addictions (Holden, 2001; Grant et al., 2006a). ... In humans, the role of dopamine signaling in incentive-sensitization processes has recently been highlighted by the observation of a dopamine dysregulation syndrome in some patients taking dopaminergic drugs. This syndrome is characterized by a medication-induced increase in (or compulsive) engagement in non-drug rewards such as gambling, shopping, or sex (Evans et al, 2006; Aiken, 2007; Lader, 2008)."
- Brioni JD, Moreland RB. Dopamine D4 receptors and the regulation of penile erection. Drug Discovery Today: Therapeutic Strategies. 2006;3(4):599–604. doi:10.1016/j.ddstr.2006.10.006
- "Cannabis Puts Females in the Mood for Love". Mark Henderson, The Times. 29 January 2001. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
- William Shakespeare. "Act 2, Scene 3". Macbeth. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved November 23, 2012.
- "Aphrodisiacs past and present: a historical review" 11 (5). October 2001. pp. 303–7. doi:10.1007/BF02332975. PMID 11758796.
- Harding, Andrew (23 September 2006). "Beijing's penis emporium". BBC. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
- Bonnard, Marc (1999). The Viagra Alternative: The Complete Guide to Overcoming Erectile Dysfunction Naturally. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. pp. 24 & 125. ISBN 0-89281-789-5.
- "Epimedium grandiflorum". ibiblio.org. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
- Ang, H.H.; M.K. Sim (1997). "Eurycoma longifolia Jack enhances libido in sexually experienced male rats.". Exp Anim. 46 (4): 287–90. doi:10.1538/expanim.46.287. PMID 9353636.
- Ang, H.H.; Lee KL; Kiyoshi M. (2004). "Sexual arousal in sexually sluggish old male rats after oral administration of Eurycoma longifolia Jack.". J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 15 (3–4): 303–9. doi:10.1515/JBCPP.2004.15.3-4.303. PMID 15803965.
- McKay, D. (2004). "Nutrients and botanicals for erectile dysfunction: examining the evidence.". Altern Med Rev. 9 (1): 4–16. PMID 15005641.
- Cohen, A.J.; Bartlik B. (1998). "Ginkgo biloba for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction.". J Sex Marital Ther. 24 (2): 139–43. doi:10.1080/00926239808404927. PMID 9611693.
- Sandroni, P. (October 2001). "Aphrodisiacs past and present: a historical review.". Clin Auton Res. 11 (5): 303–7. doi:10.1007/BF02332975. PMID 11758796.
- Murphy, L.L.; Lee TJ. (2002). "Ginseng, sex behavior, and nitric oxide.". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 962 (1): 372–7. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb04081.x. PMID 12076988.
- "Single Plant Activity Query". ars-grin.gov. Retrieved 17 March 2008.
- Gonzales, G.F.; Córdova A; Vega K; Chung A; Villena A; Góñez C. (2003). "Effect of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a root with aphrodisiac and fertility-enhancing properties, on serum reproductive hormone levels in adult healthy men.". J Endocrinol. 176 (1): 163–8. doi:10.1677/joe.0.1760163. PMID 12525260.
- Gonzales, G.F.; Córdova A; Vega K; Chung A; Villena A; Góñez C; Castillo S. (2002). "Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men.". Andrologia. 34 (6): 367–72. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0272.2002.00519.x. PMID 12472620.
- Amin KMY, Khan MN, Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman, et al. (1996) "Sexual function improving effect of Mucuna pruriens in sexually normal male rats". Fitoterapia, jrg.67 (nr.1): pp. 53–58. Quote: The seeds of M. pruriens are widely used for treating male sexual dysfunction in Tibb-e-Unani (Unani Medicine)
- Miha Kozorog (2003). "SALAMANDER BRANDY: "A PSYCHEDELIC DRINK" BETWEEN MEDIA MYTH AND PRACTICE OF HOME ALCOHOL DISTILLATION IN SLOVENIA".
- "Socratea exorrhiza (Cashapona) « Rainforest Conservation Fund". Retrieved 12 April 2011. "The inner part of the stilt roots is used as a male aphrodisiac."
- Karras, D.J.; Farrell SE; Harrigan RA; Henretig FM; Gealt L. (1996). "Poisoning from "Spanish fly" (cantharidin).". Am J Emerg Med. 14 (5): 478–83. doi:10.1016/S0735-6757(96)90158-8. PMID 8765116.
- Gauthaman, K.; A.P. Ganesan, R.N. Prasad. (2003). "Sexual effects of puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) extract (protodioscin): an evaluation using a rat model.". J Altern Complement Med. 9 (2): 257–65. doi:10.1089/10755530360623374. PMID 12804079.
- Gauthaman, K.; P.G. Adaikan, R.N. Prasad. (2002). "Aphrodisiac properties of Tribulus Terrestris extract (Protodioscin) in normal and castrated rats.". Life Sci. 71 (12): 1385–96. doi:10.1016/S0024-3205(02)01858-1. PMID 12127159.
- Neychev, V.K.; V.I. Mitev (2005). "The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence androgen production in young men.". J Ethnopharmacol. 101 (1–3): 319–23. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.05.017. PMID 15994038.
- Szewczyk, K; Zidorn, C (2014). "Ethnobotany, phytochemistry, and bioactivity of the genus Turnera (Passifloraceae) with a focus on damiana – Turnera diffusa". Journal of Ethobotany 152 (3): 424–443. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.01.019. ISSN 0378-8741. PMID 24468305.
- "Watermelon May Have Viagra-effect". Science Daily. 1 July 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2009.
- Oehler, John (2012). Aphrodesia: A novel of Suspense. CreateSpace. ISBN 1477680306
- Gabriele Froböse, Rolf Froböse, Michael Gross (Translator): Lust and Love: Is it more than Chemistry? Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry, ISBN 0-85404-867-7, (2006).