By John Galt
NB: The author of this article is not a medical doctor and this article is not intended to be used as medical advice. Much of the information contained herein is theoretical and based on educated extrapolation from published research and may or may not work in vivo. Copyright 2005, all rights to this article are reserved by the author, no reproduction permitted without permission.
We are a world awash in pills, potions and lotions to improve male sexual performance. Several of the last decade’s blockbuster pharmaceutical drugs have been erectogenic PDE-5 inhibitors like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. There is no shortage of clinical research on these and similar drugs and in our last installment, we took a look at what supplements might play a role in enhancing male sexual performance.
This is only half of the equation though. If you are the neanderthalithic sort, perhaps you don’t care about anything other than your sildenafil engorged self in the bedroom. If that is the case, you can stop reading now. If your approach to sex is a little more enlightened and you understand that the whole game is a lot more fun if both teams are enjoying themselves or even if you are simply shrewd enough to understand that satisfied customers are repeat customers, read on.
Unfortunately, the whole concept of female sexual enhancement is still in its infancy. For much of recorded history, scant attention has been paid to how much women were enjoying sex and what, if anything, could be done to improve things. While it seems like every substance from tuna fish to motor oil has been evaluated for male erectogenic activity, there has been little published on what substances improve things for women. Although the medical community is now catching on and studies are starting to appear, the body of research is still pretty lean. This leaves us little to go on in the search for effective supplements.
Fortunately, in many important aspects, the female physiological response to sexual stimulus is not altogether dissimilar from that of the male. To illustrate, a little nether-region anatomy refresher may be in order. Female external genital anatomy includes the clitoris, the small erectile organ located just above the vaginal opening, and the labia or vaginal lips. The vaginal opening, with its abundance of nerves can also be included. The clitoris is highly reminiscent of the male penis. The extremely sensitive head of the clitoris is normally covered by a small hood of skin very similar to the uncircumcised penis and, just like its larger male counterpart, the clitoris becomes engorged with blood during sexual arousal. Interestingly, the clitoris is the only human organ that appears to have no function other than to provide sexual pleasure. In addition to the clitoris, the external genitalia also include the labia major (outer lips) and labia minor (inner lips) running up and down either side of the vagina that also contain some erectile tissue. Although not technically external, just inside the vagina behind the clitoris is the famous Grafenburg or G-spot, also comprised of erectile tissue and highly enervated.
As we can see, much of the external female sexual anatomy is composed of erectile tissue not unlike the corpus cavernosum of the male penis. It would seem reasonable, therefore, that some of the same chemicals that enhance the male erection might also prove beneficial for women. Arginase inhibitors like norvaline and PDE-5 inhibitors like sildenafil and Epimedium extract are all likely to enhance female genital engorgement and therefore sensitivity to stimulation.
The few published studies on the subject do seem to support the hypothesis that some of the same substances that improve male erectile response do indeed generally improve female sexual satisfaction. Studies using sildenafil, and a commercial arginine-based sexual enhancer, for example, both revealed improved sexual response in women over placebo. 1,2
As with males, female sexual satisfaction also seems positively influenced by manipulation of the brain’s dopamine system. Apomorphine, a dopamine agonist marketed as Uprima for male erectile dysfunction, also improves female sexual satisfaction. 3 It’s certainly possible, therefore, that the extract of Mucuna prurienswhich contains high levels of L-dopa may work in a similar manner. As we saw earlier, l-dopa is a powerful chemical with some unpleasant side effects and should be used with caution.
In light of the fact that many of the same substances that enhance male sexual response also seem to work in women, it is particularly interesting that one of the more effective pro-sexual supplements for women may be ephedrine. In men, ephedrine has a well-deserved reputation as a sexual inhibitor and can even cause temporary impotence. In women however, ephedrine’s adregenic agonist activity appears to potently facilitate arousal and has even been tried with some success as a solution to SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. 4,5 Although it has an impressive record of safety and has been used in herbal and contemporary medicine for many years, ephedrine is also not without side effects and some people are particularly sensitive to its stimulant effects. Given the mechanism of action, it is possible that other less stimulating adregenic agonists like pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine may have a similar effect, but this remains to be tested.
A synergistic effect might be obtainable with a combination of yohimbine and ephedrine. In addition to its own demonstrated pro-sexual effects, on paper, yohimbine should inhibit negative feedback mechanisms and potentiate the effects of ephedrine. Like ephedrine, yohimbine is generally safe but does have its own set of undesirable side effects, especially in sensitive individuals.
Beyond the difference in the reaction to ephedrine, there are other differences in the sexual response of men and women that we might exploit. In men, orgasm is closely tied to ejaculation. For most men, the two are inseparable and the inevitable response to physical stimulation of the penis. The female orgasm is less predictable and appears more closely tied to psychological state. Some recent findings reported in the mainstream media indicate that during orgasm, the portions of the woman’s brain linked to feelings of fear and anxiety are temporarily disabled while these areas remain active in men. This lead the researchers to conclude that orgasm would be all but impossible if a woman were anxious or fearful despite adequate physical stimulation.6 Supplements that have an anxyolitic effect like high-dose niacinamide or phenibut may help facilitate things if stress or anxiety levels are high. Vitamin C may also be useful in this regard. In two recent controlled studies, high-dose (3g time-release formulation) ascorbic acid not only reduced both the objective and subjective responses to stress but also improved mood and increased intercourse frequency in both males and females. 7,8
While it appears that some level of the “male” hormone testosterone is required for female sexual health, the prohormone DHEA has shown mixed results in terms of improving female sexual response. Women with low androgen levels are likely to suffer from lack of libido, and may benefit from DHEA, although acute supplementation has only been shown to consistently improve sexual response in postmenopausal women. A similar dose (300mg) did not measurably improve the sexual response of women who had not yet reached menopause. 9,10,11 Anecdotal evidence indicates that long-term DHEA supplementation at lower doses may provide some pro-sexual and other benefits but this has yet to be corroborated by research.
Given the potential size of the market, it is highly likely that American pharmaceutical companies will drive new research in the area of female sexual enhancement and this research will no doubt provide us with more promising substances in the future. In the meantime, using what we know now, it would appear that the most promising routes for supplementing her sex life are enhancing genital blood flow, reducing anxiety and stress and activation of the andregenic system through stimulants like ephedrine.
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6. . CNN Online, Health, 20 June 2005
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