Viagra and Similar Drugs
All these drugs act by blocking the enzyme PDE-5, which relaxes the blood vessels that supply the penis and increases blood flow and engorgement during sexual stimulation. They are helpful for many men, although the reported side-effects, including headache and indigestion, are a problem for some, and deaths have been reported, especially when Viagra is combined with nitrates.
The success of these drugs, paradoxically, has given the old folk remedies a new lease of life. Once dismissed as fantasy, the science behind Viagra has shown us that there are indeed switches in the male metabolism which can be activated biochemically to improve erection quality. This leads to a very obvious question: do any of the traditional herbal remedies actually work?
The Female Perspective
There is no exact equivalent to erectile dysfunction in women but impaired sexuality is often reported by women as well as by men. Local vascular engorgement is a part of the female sexual response, which led Pfizer to test Viagra in women, but the only effect was an increased number of headaches. This was fairly predictable — there is obviously a lot more to female sexuality than changes in local blood flow — and in any case the problem (from the woman’s point of view) is generally not vascular at all, but a lack of sexual desire.
Sexuality is a complex and sensitive thing, and the lack of desire may have a number of different causes. Partnership difficulties often manifest themselves in bed. There could be psycho-sexual problems, but where a relationship is otherwise working well, the problem may be rooted in the body rather than the mind.
Some cases of reduced libido have medical causes. Thyroid insufficiency, for example, can reduce the libido to almost nothing. Treat the underlying medical malfunction and the symptoms, including the sexual ones, disappear.
Hormonal changes associated with the menopause are a more common cause of low libido, and are often reversed by HRT or, reportedly, the isoflavones from plant sources such as soy. But its not just oestrogen; other libido-determining hormones in women, as well as in men, include testosterone, noradrenalin and dopamine.
The Romans knew (empirically) about testosterone. It is said that they served meat dishes made of bulls’ testicles at the start of their orgies, and today, both men and women with flagging libidos are sometimes treated with testosterone patches.
Various herbal equivalents are available on the net; it is unclear whether they are effective, as information about them is scarce or non-existent at the time of writing.