When Groucho Marx was 81, he reflected on the popularity he continued to enjoy.
"I'm going to Iowa - the students are going to honour me there," he said. "Then I'm appearing at Carnegie Hall - it's sold out.
"Then I'm sailing to France to be honoured by the French government.” The legendary comedian paused and gave a rueful smile.
“I'd give it all up for one erection."
The remark was spoken with Marx’s trademark irreverence. But it highlights the sheer desperation of any man struggling with erectile dysfunction. As it turns out, that’s an awful lot of people.
A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that almost two thirds of men aged 45 have experienced the problem. Not that younger men will necessarily escape - another study found that about one in four under 40 will also encounter some form of ED.
Given the prevalence of the affliction it’s not surprising that throughout history, men have been willing to try some spectacularly deranged cures in a bid to restore their former glory.
Baby crocodile hearts
The Ancient Egyptians achieved many great things, playing a defining role in the evolution of mathematics and modern construction. But they also harboured some mighty strange ideas about voodoo penises.
Inhabitants of the land of the Pharaohs believed that ED was invariably caused by an evil curse. The best way to exorcise it, they insisted, was to rub a mixture of baby crocodiles’ hearts and wood oil onto your genitals.
The logic behind this bewildering approach is hard to fathom. But in Bestiality and Zoophilia - an academic study of the animal-bothering topic – there lurks a possible explanation.
The book reports the Egyptians were somehow convinced that having sex with crocodiles could “restore the potency of men”.
Admittedly, this sounds like a somewhat fraught business but, as the book’s authors Andrea Beetz and Anthony Podberscek explain, where there’s a will, there’s a way:. “The Egyptians are reported to have mastered the art of sexual congress with the crocodile,” they write.
“This was accomplished by turning the animal on its back, rendering it incapable of resisting penetration.”
Regrettably, that’s not the only time that animals have been gravely abused in man’s urgent quest to stick some lead in his pencil. The American Journal of Health reports that the Romans figured it was a good idea to consume the genitalia of animals with high libidos (like rabbits).
To wash it down they turned to birds of prey, drinking the semen of eagles and hawks.
A similar proposal of targeting supposedly virile creatures was later mooted by the 13th century German friar Albertus Magnus, who was later canonised as a Catholic saint. “If a wolf’s penis is roasted in an oven, cut into small pieces and a small portion of this is chewed, the consumer will experience an immediate yen for sexual intercourse,” he wrote in his book, Questions Concerning Aristotle's On Animals.
In desperate cases, St Albertus prescribed eating starfish as an aphrodisiac, but warned this could lead to the rather startling inconvenience of ejaculating blood.
Transference of animalistic properties soon began to take off in different forms that were equally hare-brained (not literally). In 1913, Russian doctor, Serge Voronoff transplanted slithers of tissue from a baboon’s testicles into a 74-year-old man. Claiming the operation yielded a “rejuvenating” effect on the old fellow, the popularity of Voronoff’s transplantations quickly grew due to the bogus promise of a range of benefits including sex drive, memory function and energy.
The same idea was later adopted by the American doctor, John Brinkley. As late as 1939, patients were checked into his private hospital and then asked to select the goat of their choice from a neighbouring paddock. The unfortunate animal was then castrated and its testicles tipped into a slit cut in the man's scrotum.
This self-taught surgeon became a multimillionaire on the back of his quackery before belatedly losing his medical licence much to the relief of billy-goats everywhere.
We won't spend ages talking about this peculiar "cure" here. After all, we wrote a whole article about it already. But it's still worth saying: tiger's penis does not an effective cure for erectile dysfunction make.
And the fact that there's still an illegal market for it is not only absurd, it's also quite cruel (and, let's be honest, kinda gross).
Yet there is renewed hope the animal kingdom could still redeem itself in helping men to re-hoist the mainsail. A bite from the highly aggressive Brazilian Wandering Spider puts a new spin on the phrase “Die Hard” by causing painful four-hour erections followed by death.
Several studies are currently looking at incorporating tiny amounts of the venom into drugs for treating erectile dysfunction (while trying to ensure they avoid the pesky death bit).
In fact, poisonous materials seem to hold a baffling allure for men desperate to regain the magic in their underpants. When radium was discovered in 1898, its dangerous radioactive properties were not initially picked up.
Subsequently, it was trumpeted as a miracle cure-all and added to everything from pillows to toothpaste.
With tragic inevitability, radium was soon introduced into the treatment of impotence in a variety of hair-raising forms. There were “Vita Radium Suppositories” that promised to help you “perform the duties of a REAL MAN”.
Alternatively, you could try the Radioendocrinator that required you to stick radium-coated cards into your undergarments each night (the inventor died of bladder cancer). Most eye-watering of all was a particularly intrusive option that involved the insertion of radioactive wax rods into your urethra.
Or you could talk to your GP
These mind-boggling cures may offer a certain WTF amusement. But what they ultimately point to is man’s willingness to try literally anything to regain a functional sex life.
Suffice to say, if you are experiencing any problems downstairs then your first point of call is always to speak to your GP. There are a variety of potential causes for erectile dysfunction ranging from hormonal to psychological.
But a doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and make a swift diagnosis in order to get you back firing on all cylinders (so to speak).
Not only is this the best solution, it's also the most convenient—baby crocodile hearts are notoriously hard to come by these days.