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Do natural aphrodisiacs actually work?

We decided to look in to some of the more common ones and see which ones work.

Written by
Kate Iselin
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 29, 2024
min read
Do natural aphrodisiacs actually work?
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No matter how competent we like to imagine ourselves in the bedroom, we've all occasionally fantasised about what it would be like to have Casanova-level moves.

You know: irresistible magnetism, addictive pheromones, and the superhuman ability to go all night.

Turns out, there are a few lotions, potions, and tonics out there that promise to give you just that.

We decided to look in to some of the more common ones and see which ones work—and which ones don't. (Spoiler alert: most of them don't.)

Spanish Fly

What is Spanish Fly, anyway? Turns out it's an actual insect that lives in Europe; an emerald-green beetle that secretes a substance called cantharidin.

In the past, cantharidin has been rumoured to have an aphrodisiac effect on people, but let's get serious for a second: this stuff can kill you.

Along with causing severe gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney dysfunction, and organ failure, cantharidin was also an ingredient in the world's first stink bomb.

Decidedly not sexy. Avoid at all costs.


They might be a great appetiser at dinner, but can oysters enhance your appetite in the bedroom?

It's a long bow to draw, but we think the most likely explanation for "oysters as an aphrodisiac" was that years and years ago people's diets lacked zinc and amino acids: two things in which oysters are high.

Eating oysters didn't make folks better in bed so much as it made them healthier in general, which meant they had more stamina and energy for the bedroom.

These days, we can source heaps of foods that are high in zinc and amino acids, so oysters can be considered a special treat for the sole reason that they are delicious.


Ginseng is said to resemble the naked human body, and has also been nicknamed "man root", which may well be what you're trying to do by using ginseng as an aphrodisiac.

Ginseng has a number of uses within traditional Chinese medicine, but as an aphrodisiac it's probably not much chop given that some of the side effects of taking ginseng can include diarrhoea and, for the ladies, vaginal bleeding.

We'd recommend giving this one a miss.

Pheromone spray

There are heaps of sprays and perfumes that proclaim the ability to make people flock to you and fawn at your feet, but we're sorry to tell you that it's all false advertising.

Human pheromones probably do exist, and may help create strong bonds between humans (between mother and baby, for example) but the stuff you can buy in a spray bottle online (or in a sachet in the pub pisser) isn't capable of reproducing that effect between you and a potential partner.

In fact, some pheromone sprays have been shown to attract pigs rather than people.

Unless you want to be the most popular person at the petting zoo, we'd suggest you skip the sprays.

Bull testicles

For many of us, the thought of crunching down on a testicle of any kind might be enough to turn us off sex for a month.

But in some parts of Europe and Asia, bull testicles are considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

We will admit that we couldn't find a lot of scientific research on this one, so the jury is still out on whether or not a dish of "Rocky Mountain Oysters" will set you up for a wild night between the sheets.

We're going to take a guess, however, and say that it just might be a no.


Chocolate can be a nice gift that might score you some brownie points with a love interest, but is it going to make them measurably more turned on by you?

Science says no.

That said, some studies have suggested that regularly eating a small amount of chocolate can potentially reduce cardiovascular disease and mood disorders, so it's not a total loss.

We certainly won't warn you away from having a bit of choccy now and again—go on, treat yourself.

Endangered animal products

Pangolin scales, rhinoceros horn, and tiger penis.

You won't be able to find it at your local supermarket, but in some parts of the world these animals are killed by poachers so that people can consume parts of their bodies to, supposedly, increase their sexual prowess.

It's not even remotely true that consuming part of one of these animals can make you better in the bedroom, but even if it was, it wouldn't be worth it to see these endangered species hunted almost to extinction.

Spicy food

Spicy foods almost always contain chilli of some kind, and the active element of chilli is capsaicin. Capsaicin is what makes chilli hot (and fun fact, it's also what pepper spray is made of).

But is it an aphrodisiac? No.

It can produce physical responses that are similar to those we experience during sex, like increased heart rate, sweating, and a flushed face, but it won't make you suddenly more desirable or better in bed.

In fact, capsaicin can cause irritation to the skin: so if you're chopping up chilli for a romantic home-cooked meal with your partner, just make sure you wash your hands before you pull them in for a smooch.

Essential oils

Dab a few drops on your jacket or pour some in to an aromatherapy diffuser and you're in business, right?

Look, having a nice-smelling house will probably make a good impression on any dates you bring home, which in turn might help you get a bit luckier in the bedroom.

But we couldn't find any studies to say that essential oils conclusively increase arousal or improve sexual performance.


Honey has been considered an aphrodisiac for hundreds of years.

It tastes sweet, it looks luscious and golden, and if you're going to drizzle something on to your partner during foreplay, honey is probably a better choice than whipped cream.

Sadly, it doesn't have any proven scientific potential as an aphrodisiac, but you certainly can't go wrong by popping some on your crumpets in the morning.

"Those pills" you can buy in adult stores

You know: under the counter, next to the suspicious-looking pipes. What are those pills even made of?

While some might claim to give you an erection that will last all through the night and in to the next day, we would suggest you steer clear of taking any pills or tablets that aren't prescribed to you.

There's absolutely no shame in talking to your healthcare provider about sex, though: so if you're worried about something that's been happening in the bedroom, by all means reach out, as proved and effective treatments for erectile dysfunction do exist (though these still don't have the magic "aphrodisiac" quality that others claim).

Just skip the dodgy $24.99 performance enhancers.

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