Aphrodisiacs: What they are, examples, natural sources and more

Some people are referred to as ‘men’ not just because they possess the male genitals, but their ability to satisfy their female partners in bed. It is not surprising to see that our social context attaches prestige to men who are good in bed. 

Also, women generally prefer men who are muscular (not the too big muscles) because it is presumed they are energetic and fit in the daily life routines including love making. It is therefore somewhat embarrassing to men to fail to satisfy their partners in bed.

Individuals with problems of getting erection, loss of sexual desire, who ejaculates faster than expected, who have difficulty getting aroused sexually, who do not attain orgasm and the like would tend to explore all means possible to ensure that they are ‘men’ when it comes to sexuality. 

On the other hand women also encounter sexual challenges which may include loss of libido, difficulty becoming aroused sexually and inability to attain orgasm during sexual intercourse. Therefore, both men and women resort to the use of both proven and unproven substances to make them enjoy sex as much as possible.  

What is an aphrodisiac?

An aphrodisiac is the substance which is ingested, applied topically, smoked, snorted or otherwise delivered into the body for improving sexual ability. Simply put, aphrodisiac is a substance that stimulates sexual desire and sexual activity. It could be a medicine, food or a drink. 

Aphrodisiacs have been sought after in the history of man as a way of enhancing one’s sexual health and many herbs  have been consumed to enhance sexual desire as well as to last longer in bed. Food is considered an aphrodisiac in ayurveda because it nourishes the body as well as stimulates sperm production and enhances vigor. 

Also Ayurveda (the ancient Indian traditional system of medicine) considers medicines that improve sperm count and quality as aphrodisiacs.  The word aphrodisiac is from the Greek Goddess of beauty, fertility and love  called “Aphrodite”. Aphrodisiacs generally can be grouped into three depending on their mode of action. 

  1. Substances that increase libido (sexual desire or arousal)
  2. Substances that increases sexual potency (effectiveness of erection)
  3. Substances that increases sexual pleasure

Going further, aphrodisiacs are of two main types; the psychophysiological stimuli (visual, tactile, olfactory and aural) preparations which stimulates sexual arousal by  sight, touch, smell or sound  respectively and internal preparations (food, alcoholic drinks and love portion) which triggers sexual desire when consumed.

What makes one seek for aphrodisiacs?

  1. Old age: aging is usually associated with declining energy levels and ill health. Thus, older men tend to use sex enhancing substances to make them feel useful in bed through increasing libido, sustaining erection and increasing energy levels.
  2. Infertility: Men who suffer erectile dysfunction or who are unable to make a woman conceive use aphrodisiacs to enhance their fertility as well as sexual performance.
  3. Disease (diabetes, heart failure, and hypertension) can cause erectile dysfunction.
  4. Medications. Medications that impair sexual ability especially in men may include some blood pressure lowering medicines and medicines used to treat heart failure such as the water pills, beta-blockers. Also medications used to treat mental illnesses may affect sexual performance.
  5. Misconception about sex. Most men expect sexual intercourse to last for about 7 to 25 minutes but sex therapists say it should last for 3 to 7 minutes. So, the expectation of having sex for longer hours pushes people into taking aphrodisiacs.
  6. Curiosity
  7. To impress sexual partner
  8. Advertisement of sex enhancing agents as well as positive feedback from friends and families.
  9. Multiple sexual partners
  10. Psychological factors. Some men perform poorly in bed due to fear, anxiety and depression. 

Risks factors for infertility

The factors below contribute to reduced sperm count or their viability. 

  1. Cigarette smoking: smokers have about 13% – 17% reduction in sperm concentration than non-smokers
  2. Pesticides: persons exposed to pesticides have low sperm count and more abnormal sperms. An article published by Harvard university reported that about men who consume fruits and vegetables with higher pesticide residue have 49% lower sperm count than men who consumed very minimal quantities.
  3. Air pollution: men living in clean unpolluted environments have more viable sperms as compared to their counterparts living in industrial and polluted towns who have 6 times more abnormal sperms.
  4. Chemicals: men exposed to Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), dioximes and some petroleum by-products have low sperm count.
  5. Food additives: several studies have revealed the deleterious effects of monosodium glutamate such as infertility.
  6. Anesthesia:  in a study animals exposed to enflurane experienced a 50% drop in sperm count.
  7. Occupational exposure: men who work in the aircrafts industry, plastics, textiles, welding, chemical solvent or antibiotic industry are more at risk of having abnormal sperm count.
  8. Zinc deficiency: zinc aid in testosterone production, sperm formation and sperm motility. Its deficiency is associated with low sperm count as well as low testosterone.

What are some natural sources of aphrodisiacs?

Aphrodisiacs are obtained from plants, animals and minerals. Some are synthetic compounds that have been proven beneficial in enhancing sexual behavior of people.  Some substances or foods are considered aphrodisiacs just because they resemble the sexual organs and in most instances these substances actually contain nutrients and other chemicals that trigger arousal.

Foods considered aphrodisiacs are loaded with vitamins and minerals that enhance; blood circulation to the sex organs, production of testosterone, delays ejaculation and promotes tissue metabolism to release energy. These foods also contribute to the general wellbeing of the individual.  Some of them have stimulant effects on the central nervous system. 

Others aid sperm production. To obtain the full benefits of their aphrodisiac properties you may need to frequently eat some of them for days to weeks.

Examples of foods considered aphrodisiacs are;


The phallic shape (penis looking shape) of banana makes it sexually stimulating. Also, it has been shown to contain a chemical called bromelain that increases testosterone levels. Also minerals like potassium, manganese and vitamins such as vitamin B and C increase energy release.

Phallic Shape of a banana

Avocado pear: 

Avocado by its appearance resembles a testis and the tree was referred to as the testicle tree by the Aztecs who used it as a sexual stimulant.  The nutrient contents of avocado are vitamin E which enhances desire, mood and attraction by increasing levels of the sex hormone.  It’s also rich in magnesium and beta-carotenes which are good for your health.


Garlic enhances sex derive in both men and women. However its benefits are not reaped overnight but take time to manifest at least a month. Thus daily intake of garlic with time would improve sexual desire. Garlic contains a chemical called allicin which enhances blood flow to the genitals. It is also loaded with vitamins and minerals that contribute to good blood circulation, increase sperm survival and energy release. Garlic is also a source of estrogen which increases libido in women.

Onions :

Onions increase sexual drive in men by enhancing testosterone levels as well as  stamina. 

Pumpkin seeds :

In addition to its anthelmintic properties, the seeds of pumpkin are also known to be aphrodisiacs especially in women. They are packed with vitamins and minerals such as zinc, vitamin E, vitamin B, potassium, iron, fibre, pantothenic acid and oils which are all required for health and vitality.


The caffeine in coffee makes one high thus increasing one’s sense of wellbeing.


Chocolate contains the chemical L-arginine that increases the flow of blood to the penis. It also contains phenylethylamine and tyramine which are stimulants that keeps one excited and enjoys a sense of wellbeing. The caffeine in chocolate too increases dopamine levels which also elevates mood. The fatty nature of it has been reported to stimulate the brain to cause release of a chemical called serotonin that causes pleasurable sensation. 


At moderate amounts alcohol increases desire and lowers inhibition to initiating sexual relationships. Large amounts of alcohol give the opposite effect. It lowers sexual desire. Beware that too much alcohol is dangerous to your health. Alcohol increases your risk of falls, aspiration, alcohol dependence and it causes damage to your liver.


Sexual stimulation through mood enhancement is another benefit of wine in addition to its benefits on the heart and blood circulation. 

Chilies (pepper):

The hot feeling chilies produce usually enhances blood circulation and passion. Also the chemical capsaicin increases libido.


Salmond and sardines:

These fishes are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are required to improve blood circulation and also to increase levels of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone which are the chemicals that enhance libido in both men and women.

Kola nut:

Traditionally kola nuts have been used as an aphrodisiac to treat erectile dysfunction. In a study conducted by Ralebona N et al (2012) using male Wistar rats, it was observed that they exhibited an increased libido and potency (observed as increased chasing, noising, sniffing and ejaculation) after they were giving Kola extracts (ethanolic) for 28 days.

There was also increased testosterone levels and increased weight of testes. This showed that Kola actually have aphrodisiac properties. 

Kola nuts

Ginger :

A study by Tawfeq A. Alhowiriny et al (2013), showed that the extracts of ginger (chloroform/hexane) increases sexual behavior , increased dihydrotestosterone level which enhances libido and enhances blood flow to the penis of rats. This effect in ginger is due to the antioxidants zingerone and zingerol as well as glycoside such as zingerdil  which act as vasodilators.

They also have calcium blocking properties  as well as inherent cholinergic (M2-receptor blockade) which all enhances relaxation of the corpora cavernosa with consequent erection. In humans all these beneficial effects are realized (eatsomethingsexy.com).

Other foods considered aphrodisiacs are  nutmeg, clove, carrots,  coconut etc.

What are examples of herbs used as aphrodisiacs?


The sexual stimulating and potency enhancing properties of ginseng (red ginseng and Panax ginseng), which it is commonly used for, has been supported by research conducted in rats by Mosaad A.A. et al (2014). Rats that were givien the ginseng showed increased frequency of mounting and increased erection.

This effect has been attributed to the chemical ginsenosides which stimulates the brain and other parts of the body as well as raises levels of the sex hormones.  Ginseng also reduces stress and improves wellbeing and immune functions. 


Ginkgo biloba:

Long term treatment with ginkgo biloba in addition to sex therapy improves sexual dysfunction in women. 

Yohimbe bark:

The bark extract or supplements of yohimbe bark has been shown to treat erectile dysfunction in men and low libido in women though the results are usually mixed. Taking yohimbe also treats the untoward adverse effects of some antidepressant drugs which includes low libido.

The extract promotes blood flow to the genitals. One of the chemicals found in the back is yohimbine which is responsible for its aphrodisiac properties.

Bitter kola bark:

It shows an increased testosterone levels and sexual behavior in rats which supports its traditional use as aphrodisiac (Ralebona et al, 2012). It is rich in flavonoids, vitamins, carbohydrates and other minerals.

Tribulus terrestris (Akans called it Afurum or Akwamfunu):

It is regarded as a potent herbal aphrodisiac. It is used to treat sexual dysfunction in men. Its mechanism of action has been suggested to be through male sex hormone increment and nitric oxide release from nerve endings of the spongy tissue of the male sex organ which promotes blood flow into it hence facilitating erection.

What are some examples of orthodox aphrodisiacs?

They are sildenafil (viagra), tadalafil and vardenafil.  However these medications are prescription only medicines and should be prescribed by a medical practitioner. These agents also act by increasing blood flow to the penis. They are mainly prescribed for men who have problems with erection.

Yohimbine hydrochloride is also prescribed for the same purposes. Lidocaine topical sprays delay ejaculation.

Lifestyle factors that improves sexual dysfunction

  1. Exercise
  2. Maintaining BMI (body mass index) below 28 Kg/m2.
  3. Avoidance of smoking
  4. Avoidance of stress
  5. Consumption of foods rich in vegetables, intake of balanced diets and avoidance of cholesterol-rich and fat-rich  diets.
  6. Seeking psychological counseling 


  1. Alvaro Morales (2000), Yohimbine in erectile dysfunction: The facts, International journal of impotence Research.
  2. Cindy Meston, Michael J Telch and Alessandra (2008), Short-term and Long-term Effects of Gingko Biloba extract on sexual dysfunction in women, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin,  One University Station, A8000, USA , NIH public access
  3. Kassir SM and Veldman FJ (2013), When Science meets culture: the prevention and management of erectile dysfunction in the 21st centuryS Afr I Clin Nutr (2014).
  4. Mohammad Sharrif Moghaddasi and Haddad Kashani (2012), Ginger (Zingiber officinale): A review, Journal of Medicinal Plant Research. Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/JMPR.
  5. Mosaad A. A.  et al (2014), Aphrodisiac effects of Panax ginseng extract standardized withginsenoside Rg3 in male rats, TI journals General Health and medical Sciences.
  6. Nosa Terry Omorodian et a l (2018), Zingiber officinale and Piper nigrum  consumption as aphrodisiacs on viscerals and testis of male Wistar Rats, Annals of digestive and liver disease, Remedy Publications LLC, vol 1/ issue 2/ Article 1008.
  7. Ralebona n., Sewani-Rusike C.R and Nkeh.-Chungag (2012), Effects of ethanolic extract of Garcinia kola on sexual behavior and sperm parameters in male Wistar Rats,  Department of physiology, faculty of Health Sciences, Walter Sisulu University, P. bag X1, Mthatha 5117, African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology Vol 6(14) pp.1077-1082.
  8. Tawfeq A. Alhowiriny et al (2013), Molecular mechanisms that underlie the sexual stimulant actions of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosocoe) and garden rocket (Eruca sativa L.), Departments of pharmacognosy and pharmacology, college of pharmacy, King Saud University, Riyadh,  Journal of Medicinal Plants Research.
  9. Tuhin Kanti Biswas, Srikanta Pandit and Utpalendu Jana (2015), Insearch of spermatogenetic and virility potential drugs of ayurvedic leads: A review, Andrology – Open Access, Los Angel.


Chief Editor at Wapomu.com

MPSGH, MRPharmS, MPhil.

Isaiah Amoo is a practicing community pharmacist in good standing with the Pharmacy Council of Ghana who has meaningful experience in academia and industrial pharmacy. He is a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, England, UK and currently pursuing his overseas pharmacy assessment programme (MSc) at Aston University, UK. He had his MPhil degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He has about 5 years’ experience as a community Pharmacist and has also taught in academic institutions like KNUST, Kumasi Technical University, Royal Ann College of Health, and G-Health Consult. He likes to spend time reading medical research articles and loves sharing his knowledge with others.

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