For other uses, see Aphrodisiac (disambiguation).

An aphrodisiac is a substance that increases libido when consumed. Aphrodisiacs are distinct from substances that address fertility issues such as impotence or secondary sexual (dys)function such as erectile dysfunction (ED).

The name comes from the Greek ἀφροδισιακόν, aphrodisiakon, i.e. "sexual, aphrodisiac", from aphrodisios, i.e. "pertaining to Aphrodite",[1][2] the Greek goddess of love.

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, many medicines are reported to affect libido in inconsistent or idiopathic ways: enhancing or diminishing overall sexual desire depending on the situation of subject. This further complicates the assessment process. For example, Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is known as an antidepressant 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.



Libido is clearly linked to levels of sex hormones, particularly testosterone.[3] When a reduced sex drive occurs in individuals with relatively low levels of testosterone[4] (e.g., post-menopausal women or men over age 60[5]), testosterone supplements will often increase libido. Approaches using a number of precursors intended to raise testosterone levels have been effective in older males,[6] but have not fared well when tested on other groups.[7]


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,[8] however development was suspended[9] 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.[10] Palatin is concurrently developing a related compound they call PL-6983.

Melanotan II

Melanotan II, bremelanotide's precursor, has been demonstrated to have aphrodisiac properties.[11][12][13]


As per a new study, crocin has demonstrated the properties of an aphrodisiac in rats.[14]


Phenethylamine (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 are phenethylamine derivatives which are known to increase libido and cause frequent or prolonged erections as potential side effects, particularly at high supratherapeutic doses where sexual hyperexcitability and hypersexuality can occur.[15][16][17][18] Methamphetamine markedly enhances sexual desire in some individuals,[19] and an entire sub-culture known as party and play is based around sex and methamphetamine use.[18]

Other drugs

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.[17][20] 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 dopamine dysregulation syndrome which can include mood swings and problem gambling; hence, these drugs are not prescribed for improving libido.

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.[21]

Some antimuscarinic drugs, including dicycloverine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, are known to cause sexual arousal and aphrodisiac side effects, especially in the case of an overdose.[22]

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, Love Potion No. 9 and A Serbian Film. 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.[23]

See also


<a class='CategoryTreeLabel CategoryTreeLabelNs14 CategoryTreeLabelCategory' href='/wiki/Category:Sex_and_drugs'>Sex and drugs</a>
<a class='CategoryTreeLabel CategoryTreeLabelNs14 CategoryTreeLabelCategory' href='/wiki/Category:Aphrodisiacs'>Aphrodisiacs</a>
<a class='CategoryTreeLabel CategoryTreeLabelNs14 CategoryTreeLabelCategory' href='/wiki/Category:Drug_classes_defined_by_psychological_effects'>Drug classes defined by psychological effects</a>
<a class='CategoryTreeLabel CategoryTreeLabelNs14 CategoryTreeLabelCategory' href='/wiki/Category:Drugs_by_psychological_effects'>Drugs by psychological effects</a>
<a class='CategoryTreeLabel CategoryTreeLabelNs14 CategoryTreeLabelCategory' href='/wiki/Category:Psychoactive_drugs'>Psychoactive drugs</a>


  1. ἀφροδισιακόν. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. "aphrodisiac". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:10.1024/0300-9831.71.5.293. PMID 11725694.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. doi:10.2174/1568026610707011111. PMC 2694735Freely accessible. PMID 17584130.
  9. "Palatin Technologies Announces New Strategic Objectives". Retrieved 13 May 2008.
  11. 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.
  12. "Tanning drug may find new life as Viagra alternative". CNN. 1999. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  13. Jaroff, Leon (20 June 1999). "Tanning Bonus". Time. Retrieved 17 September 2008.
  14. "The effect of saffron, Crocus sativus stigma, extract and its constituents, safranal and crocin on sexual behaviors in normal male rats". Phytomedicine. 15 (6-7): 491–5. June 2008. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2007.09.020. PMID 17962007.
  15. Gunne LM (2013). "Effects of Amphetamines in Humans". Drug Addiction II: Amphetamine, Psychotogen, and Marihuana Dependence. Berlin, Germany; Heidelberg, Germany: Springer. pp. 247–260. ISBN 9783642667091. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  16. "Adderall XR Prescribing Information" (PDF). United States Food and Drug Administration. December 2013. pp. 48. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  17. 1 2 Montgomery KA (June 2008). "Sexual desire disorders". Psychiatry (Edgmont). 5 (6): 5055. PMC 2695750Freely accessible. PMID 19727285.
  18. 1 2 San Francisco Meth Zombies (TV documentary). National Geographic Channel. August 2013. ASIN B00EHAOBAO.
  19. "Desoxyn Prescribing Information" (PDF). United States Food and Drug Administration. December 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2014. ADVERSE REACTIONS ... changes in libido; frequent or prolonged erections. [emphasis added]
  20. 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 3139704Freely accessible. 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., 2006). ... 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).
  21. Brioni, JD; Moreland, RB (2006). "Dopamine D4 receptors and the regulation of penile erection". Drug Discovery Today: Therapeutic Strategies. 3 (4): 599–604. doi:10.1016/j.ddstr.2006.10.006.
  22. Kapoor, AK; Raju, SM (2013). Illustrated Medical Pharmacology. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers (P) Ltd. p. 130. ISBN 978-93-5090-655-2.
  23. Oehler, John (2012). Aphrodesia: A novel of Suspense. CreateSpace. ISBN 1477680306


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