Studies show that a number of herbs can help to improve libido, sexual performance, and erotic pleasure.

Several years ago I teamed up with sex expert Annie Sprinkle to teach a series of workshops about combining sex and drugs. The workshops were extremely popular, as mixing these two ancient forms of pleasure can lead to ecstatic experiences that defy description.

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Teaching these workshops made me aware of a vast array of drugs, herbs, and nutritional supplements that can assist in increasing libido, enhancing sexual performance, and amplifying the subjective experience of erotic pleasure. In this column, I’ll be discussing some of the most useful herbs for sexual enhancement, and will be covering how drugs and nutrients can be used to enhance sexuality in future columns.

I’m going to profile four herbs in this column that one can use to help improve their sexual  experience:  damiana, yohimbe, maca, and cannabis.

Damiana (turnera diffusa) is a small shrub that is native to parts of North and Central America, where it has been used for centuries as an aphrodisiac–primarily by women, who drink damiana tea prior to lovemaking. Dried damiana leaves, and extracts of the plant, are available in most health food stores.

Many people–both men and women–say that damiana makes them feel sexually aroused, but women are said to be especially responsive to the plant. Some couples in my sex and drug workshops would simply rave about the sexual benefits of drinking damiana tea. Also, more than a few people told me that they experience a mild sense of  euphoria for several hours after using damiana, and that it can have sensory-enhancing effects that are similar to a low dose of cannabis.

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A chemical analysis of damiana shows that it contains alkaloids similar to caffeine that can have physiologically-stimulating effects. These alkaloids can stimulate blood flow to the genital area, and they are sometimes reputed to increase sensitivity in the region. In addition to these caffeine-like alkaloids, damiana also contains a mildly irritating oil that some people believe stimulates the genitourinary tract.

Some herbalists recommend damiana as a general tonic for the reproductive system, and say that, in addition to being an aphrodisiac, it can also be used to help treat depression and anxiety.  My own personal experimentation with damiana has only lead to mild stimulation, but I’ve found another herb, yohimbe, to be extraordinarily effective at raising libido, enhancing erections, and increasing the intensity of sexual sensations.

Yohimbe is an herb that is derived from the inner bark of a tree  (Corynanthe yohimbe), which is indigenous to West Africa. Brews distilled from yohimbe bark have been used for centuries by natives in this region in order to fuel their unusually impressive tribal sex ceremonies, which are reported to sometimes last as long as two weeks.

Yohimbe is available in most health food stores. Yohimbine, the most active chemical compound in the yohimbe bark, is actually available as a prescription drug in the United States for treating impotence. It is prescribed as an alternative to Viagra, due to the fact that it can also help facilitate erections in men. Research studies with yohimbine have shown it to be effective in helping men with impotence problems around 33 to 46 percent of the time. Some men that I’ve spoken with report that yohimbe actually gives them spontaneous erections, and that it also increases the amount of semen when they ejaculate.

However, unlike Viagra, many men (and some women) report that yohimbine also increases sexual desire. Yohimbine was the very first drug to ever be listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) as having “aphrodisiac” properties, although the PDR states that “this drug is not proposed for use in females.” There is little scientific data on the effects of yohimbe and yohimbine on women, although I’ve heard more than a few anecdotal reports that it can also increase sexual desire in women.

Some people report that higher doses of yohimbe can have what are described as mild psychedelic effects that last for several hours. This includes feelings of euphoria, heightened physical and emotional feelings, “warm spinal shivers,” and mild perceptual shifts.

However, higher doses of yohimbe also cause some people to report that they feel anxious, and, according to the PDR, people sometimes experience other mild side-effects with yohimbine, such as dizziness, nausea, tremors, increased blood pressure, and elevated heart rate. The PDR also cautions against yohimbine’s use in conjunction with antidepressant medications and other mood-modifying drugs.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is an herbaceous plant native to the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia, where it is used as a root vegetable, and as a medicinal herb that is reputed to have powerful aphrodisiac properties in both men and women.

Maca’s reported beneficial effects for sexual function are likely due to its high concentration of proteins and vital nutrients, as well as a chemical called “p-methoxybenzyl isothiocyanate,” which is thought to have sexually-arousing properties. Maca is also available in most health food stores. I’ve personally never felt much from maca, but have friends who rave about it’s sexually-arousing effects.

Clinical trials performed in men showed that maca extracts can heighten sexual arousal and improve the quality of semen. Maca can help to improve sperm production, sperm motility, and semen volume. Another study showed that Maca root may alleviate the sexual dysfunction that can occur from taking SSRI antidepressant drugs. Additionally, maca has been shown to increase mating behavior in male rodents.

Finally, there is the cannabis or marijuana plant, the forbidden herb–which many people insist is so popular largely due to its remarkable ability to heighten sexual arousal and enhance erotic pleasure. The primary psychoactive chemical component of the plant–THC–stimulates dopamine release in the brain, which is known to increase sexual arousal, and subjectively, cannabis heightens all of the senses, to an extraordinary degree of sensitivity. This is why many people have smoked or eaten the herb prior to having sex for, it seems, at least thousands of years.

The relationship between cannabis and Tantra, an Indian spiritual path that incorporates sacred sexuality practices, is at least three thousand years old. There hasn’t been any scientific research yet on how cannabis effects sexuality, as I would imagine that it would be rather challenging to ever get the National Institute of Drug Abuse to approve such a study. Nonetheless, a large number of people report that cannabis can dramatically heighten libido and enhance sexual pleasure.

Several books and numerous articles have been written on the subject of combining cannabis with sex, and I can personally attest to it’s sexually-arousing and pleasure-enhancing properties. The sense of time dilation, which many cannabis users experience, allows people to more blissfully savor every tactile sensation. Sex often becomes so pleasurable with cannabis that reaching orgasm no longer remains the goal–although when it does arrive, it happens in slow-motion, and the whole  universe trembles along in waves of ecstasy.

Some of the other herbs worth exploring for their sexually-enhancing properties include horny goat weed, tribulus terrestris, muira puama, ginseng, and tongkat ali.

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