This article originally appeared in the March 19, 1985 issue of the Boston Phoenix
I'm a concerned consumer. I brush with Crest, I choose Jif, if I smoke I smoke Carltons. I'm skittish around saccharine, maraschino cherries, and blow dryers. The feds have made me this way; they publish their studies and I read them. It's for my own good.
But like that of any doting relative, the government's tone can slip from avuncular to tyrannical. When it cast the fisheye over aphrodisiacs a few weeks ago, it sent the hopes of countless philophiles into the deep freeze. Well, I've read the summary report of the US Food and Drug Administration denouncing over-the-counter love drugs as unsafe and ineffective and, frankly, I'm suspicious.
After all, the FDA is bucking thousands of years of tradition: ancient Roman sexpert Ovidius Naso suggested Megarian onions, colewort, eggs, honey, and pine nuts as a guarantee of bliss between the sheets. Horace favored dried marrow and liver. Some Elizabethans got off on the lowly potato; others swore by prunes – indeed prunes were thought so sexy they were served free in brothels (whether for hotter orgasms or quicker turnover, we're not sure).
But to ginseng, sarsaparilla, Spanish fly, yohimbine, estrogen, testosterone, nux vomica, pega palo, licorice, and other blood-pumping potions of the chemical age, the FDA says nay, and nay again. I say agency killjoys rigged the test.
Take Spanish fly (cantharides). The FDA denies that the dried love bug increases sexual desire or performance, then brazenly concedes that it sometimes causes "congestion of the tissue of the clitoris or penis." Well, hell, isn't that what we're all after? A little well-placed congestion goes a long way on a bear rug.
And how about yohimbine? Last August, the New York Times reported a Stanford University laboratory experiment in which the chemical (drawn from the bark of the West African yohimbe tree) was injected into rats, resulting in the randiest rodents west of the San Andreas fault. They felt "intense sexual arousal," and "sought sexual encounters twice as often" as their unmedicated siblings. "The data suggest that yohimbine may be a true aphrodisiac," says Dr. Julian N. Davidson, professor of physiology at Stanford Medical School.
But nooooo, says the FDA, despite a later experiment with humans, which reported results equally spectacular. When a potion of methyltestosterone, yohimbine hydrochloride, and nux vomica (five milligrams each) was administered to 41 impotent males, 31 came up smiling. Forget it, says the FDA. The patients didn't know whether they were getting the drug or the placebo, though they did know whether they were getting drug A or drug B. Such a code "could have been deciphered," say our federally subsidized Mrs. Grundys, "thus destroying the blindness of the study."
The same goes for pega palo (an alcoholic extract from the pega palo plant). Admittedly, the study was not very well controlled – placebo results were not recorded, and the investigators knew which drugs the test subjects were given – but who cares? When 41 our of 50 impotent males ware standing tall after years of flaccidity, you play the national anthem, not a Bronx cheer.