Do they work? What’s in them? Are they safe? How do you distinguish between the myriad of products?
The short answer to all of these questions is that you can’t really know. At least, not without the help of a medical doctor and some serious lab work, and even then the answers remain murky at best.
But despite the vagaries of the herbal sexual enhancement market, a never-ending stream of manufacturers continues to pump out product for a large — and growing — population of men and women who are looking to take their sex lives to the next level, according to adult novelty retailer and owner of SexToy.com Dave Levine.
“We’ve got about 200 different herbal supplements on our site,” Levine told XBIZ. “That’s not a lot when you look at our total product count [about 100,000 items], but the supply is pretty much never ending — [so much so that] we turn away new producers daily.”
But why would a company that purports to want to sell everything in the adult space turn away a single piece of what the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication that reports on the vitamin and supplement industry, estimates to be a growing $400 million per year market?
There’s no good answer, but Levine said he doubts the legitimacy of many of the companies that knock on his door, and for good reason. Supplements, which can range from “herbal remedies” to vitamins, aren’t regulated by the Food And Drug Administration, and that means buyer beware.
But that’s not to cast doubt on the entire market. According to Levine, some products really do work. “I took one product a few years back, and I just couldn’t keep it down,” Levine laughed, adding that it was “definitely a fun night.”
And it’s that kind of endorsement that often sets one product apart from the rest, according to adult performer and Mercenary Pictures owner Lexington Steele, who has lent his name to four of HealthRight, LLC’s Male Valor supplements — Lex Steele Power Pill, Lex Steele Extreme Power Pill, Lex Steele Volumizer and Liquid Lex Steele.
Steele likens an endorsement from an adult performer to Nike putting Michael Jordan’s name on its shoes. “The customer wants to know if it works,” Steele told XBIZ. “I can say that it does work because I actually use the program, and the customer knows who I am and can see that it’s for real.”
Steele, who describes himself as a “fitness freak,” said that he’s very concerned about what he puts in his body, and stressed the all-natural ingredients in the program’s products. But, he said, the program won’t do what the prescription pills do.
“Those products give you a very short window to have fun because they rely on chemicals; this is a program, and if you use it, you will see, that over time, you will have firmer erections, a lot more volume [in your ejaculate], and you’ll be ready for sex when you want.”
Though the ingredients may vary, performer Kelly Divine, who promotes and owns a stake in the Endurnz herbal supplement, told XBIZ that she’s seen similar results when her partners use an enhancer. Like Steele, Divine maintains that the all-natural ingredients in her product make it both safe and effective.
“It isn’t like Viagra,” Divine said. “It stays in you for four days and it doesn’t force an erection on you, but it definitely helps stamina a lot by increasing blood flow.”
Blood flow, it seems, is a big selling point for all of these products. Consider Mr. Magic Pill from Glow Industries.
Eric “Mike” Sessoms, Glow’s product manager, told XBIZ that Mr. Magic Pill’s ingredients (a proprietary formula of herbs and vitamins that includes YiziQiang Extract, Aakg, B6, Eurycoma, Gota Kola) “go straight to work on blood flow to the penis.”
Will that increased blood flow make a difference?
Yes, according to Dr. FrankSpinelli, who specializes in internal medicine in New York City.
Spinelli told XBIZ that products that work on blood flow, many of which contain an ingredient known as Yohimbine, do in fact increase blood flow to the penis, which may in turn lead to more frequent and powerful erections.
But while Dr. Spinelli seemed confident that enhancers could work, Dr. Eric Jacoby, an OB/GYN in Plano, Texas, told XBIZ that many men who see good results may be the beneficiaries of positive thinking and little else.
“It is hard to say how effective these products truly are because of the placebo effect,” Jacoby explained. “Many patients state they feel more aroused and are more orgasmic when taking these products. I have other patients who complain of feeling flushed or feeling no effects.”
But where there is spirited debate about enhancers that increase the frequency and quality of an erection, all doctors XBIZ spoke with uniformly agreed that supplements could not do anything to increase the size of a man’s penis. And to be fair, none of the products profiled in this article claim to increase size.
As for safety, the debate rages on. A Connecticut-based urologist, who wished to remain anonymous, told XBIZ that the absence of FDA oversight should be a huge red flag to consumers.
“The FDA does not oversee these medications so they are not really safe,” the urologist explained. “There is a huge variability with what is in the pills. Some of the pills to improve sexual function have been shown to have illegal Viagra, Cialis or Levitra in them [drugs that are only safe when administered under medical supervision].”
doctors aren’t willing to write-off the entire market so quickly. Dr. Spinelli points to inappropriate use as the primary culprit in cases where the supplements have had adverse effects. “The problem with over the counter medications is that men take these drugs without consulting a doctor first,” he said.
Another problem could be the manufacturing process itself. According to Dr. Jacoby, most supplements are safe if you go by the ingredients listed on the box. The trouble, he said, is that not all manufacturers make their products to the same standards, and, in some cases, products can be tainted with prescription drugs or other contaminants.
Earlier this year, doctors in Singapore blamed contamination of herbal sexual enhancers for the deaths of four men in that country. The supplements in question contained glyburide, a prescription drug used to treat diabetes. And last year, the FDA went so far as to issue a warning about the possibility of contamination in some of the herbal sexual enhancers on the market.
So do sexual enhancers work and are they safe?
Well, it depends on whom you ask and whom you believe. But one thing is certain: demand for effective, over-the-counter sexual enhancers will continue to grow. Still, Levine of SexToy.com cautions, “this isn’t a get-rich-quick market … those days are long gone. There’s just too much competition out there.”