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12 Natural Aphrodisiacs to Increase Libido

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Ognjen Milicevic
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Ognjen Milicevic, MD, PhD, Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

Great sex can do wonders for your relationship and overall health. But stress, low sex drive, hormonal imbalances, and erectile dysfunction can all put a damper on your sex life. Read on to discover how to have better sex by revving up your libido with food and supplements.

What Feeds Your Sex Drive?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that what you eat can impact your performance in the bedroom. For millennia, people have used certain foods and plants to enhance sexual vitality, desire, and pleasure. The best part? Many of these are backed by science.

Pills that Don’t Work

Beware of unfounded marketing claims and unproven pills. Some companies claim that their products will help you last longer in bed. Others promise you’ll instantaneously have the “best sex ever” after trying them out. The truth is that there is no magic sex pill.

Lifestyle & Psychological Factors

Sometimes, losing a few pounds if you’re overweight may do more wonders than any drug or supplement – especially if you have ED [1, 2].

You have also probably felt the shattering effects of stress on your sexual performance at some point in your life. It’s no secret that stress disrupts your sex drive and general wellness. If you lead a stressful lifestyle, don’t think a couple of supplements will do the trick [3].

How you view your sexuality is another big one. Do you have a strong “sexual personality”? Is your partner supportive of your desires? Does your family or environment restrict your sexuality? These are all aspects that will feed or starve your libido. They can have a huge impact on your sexual health [4].

Certain foods and supplements can increase your sex drive and enjoyment. But they can only work along with your overall lifestyle and emotional wellbeing.

With this in mind, let’s jump to proven foods and supplements that do work to support your sexual health. You can try them out alone or in combination.

And remember: speak with your doctor before taking any supplement to rule out interactions with the medications you’ve been prescribed.

Aphrodisiac Foods to Boost Your Sex Drive

The following foods may help increase your libido and sexual performance based on the existing evidence. Discuss with your doctor how they might help you and never use them as a replacement for what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

1) Oysters

Oysters certainly earn their reputation as an aphrodisiac due to their high zinc content. Per serving, oysters contain more zinc than any other food. Just one ounce of oysters provides more than twice the RDA for zinc [5].

Zinc is an important mineral for testosterone production and libido in both men and women [6, 7, 8].

The thing is, our bodies don’t have a way of storing zinc so we require it daily in our diet. Eating high-zinc foods like oysters can help ensure that you always have enough zinc to feel and perform your best [6].

If you can’t stand oysters, crab and lobster are fairly good sources of zinc as well [5].

2) Beets

Beets are an exceptional food when it comes to boosting your sex life.

That’s because they are one of the highest dietary sources of nitrates. In the past, nitrates have been unfairly maligned for their potential to form cancer-causing compounds. While the nitrates found in processed meats are the same ones found in beets, their health effects are completely different [9, 10, 11].

Nitrates found in processed meats are more easily turned into cancer-causing compounds due to the presence of heme iron (the type of iron found only in meat) [11].

Antioxidants found in vegetables, such as vitamin C, prevent nitrate from forming these compounds. Instead, they turn into a molecule called nitric oxide that is incredibly beneficial for your health and may be one of the reasons why vegetables are so good for you [11, 12].

Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow throughout the body, including sex organs. In fact, it’s crucial to getting an erection and maintaining proper vaginal blood flow [13, 14].

Better blood flow means stronger erections and more pleasurable sex. It’s that simple.

Let’s dive into the details of what the body does with the nitrates you eat.

Nitrates from food are absorbed into the bloodstream and eventually make their way to the salivary glands, where they are released into saliva [15, 16].

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Bacteria on the tongue turn nitrates into nitrites, which you swallow. Nitrites then turn into nitric oxide in the stomach and are absorbed [15, 16].

If you use an antibacterial mouthwash within a couple of hours of eating beets, you’ll interrupt this process and won’t get the benefits of nitrates [17, 16].

Bottom line? Save the mouthwash for later.

3) Dark Chocolate (Cocoa)

Another food that helps with blood flow down low is dark chocolate. Compounds in dark chocolate and cocoa called flavanols improve blood vessel health and boost circulation [18].

In one clinical trial, people who ate 30 g of dark chocolate every day for 15 days had more than 50% higher nitric oxide levels than those who were avoiding chocolate [19].

It’s no wonder that dark chocolate is considered an aphrodisiac [20, 21].

If you want to ensure good blood flow down there, eat some dark chocolate (aim for at least 85% cocoa). Or try adding some cocoa powder to your smoothies.

4) Salmon

Salmon is an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. And heart health may be one of the keys to performing well in the sheets [22, 23, 24].

For men, healthy erections start with a healthy heart. As we age, our arteries become stiffer (atherosclerosis) and blood doesn’t flow as well. Poor blood flow can eventually lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, atherosclerosis is the most common cause of ED and not being able to get it up can be an early sign of heart disease [25, 24, 26].

ED is common in older men and can kill any chance at having great sex. More than half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 years have mild to moderate ED [27].

Omega-3s can help protect your arteries and heart to ensure you’re getting proper blood flow to your sexual organs.

5) Garlic

Garlic is usually something you want to avoid in intimate situations. But despite the common advice, adding garlic to your diet can enhance your sex life. Like beets and dark chocolate, garlic is a powerful nitric oxide booster that improves blood flow [28].

It’s also helpful for preventing the arteries from hardening due to plaques – going back to how important a healthy heart is for having great sex [29].

People claim that the active compounds from garlic can reach the semen and vaginal mucus. This would enhance garlic’s aphrodisiac effects – but studies are lacking to back up the anecdotes.

If you’re self-conscious about garlic breath, munch on some apples or lettuce. Both foods can neutralize the compounds responsible for the pungent garlic odors [30].

6) Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds stand out for their high concentrations of zinc and magnesium [31].

Like zinc, magnesium is critical for healthy testosterone levels [32, 33].

It’s also important for heart health and preventing heart disease [34].

According to recent estimates, half the population in the US doesn’t meet their daily magnesium requirements [35].

Couple this with the fact that magnesium is depleted by stress, alcohol, and caffeine and it’s easy to see how one can become deficient in this important mineral [36, 37, 38].

Supplements to Improve Your Libido & Sexual Performance

Below, we will discuss some supplements that may improve libido and sexual performance based on the existing evidence. Remember that none of them is approved by the FDA for this purpose due to the lack of solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Importantly, keep in mind that there is no official dose either. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Discuss with your doctor if these supplements may be useful as a complementary approach in your case and which dose you should take.

7) Maca Root

Maca is a plant found high up in the Andes mountains of Peru. Locals tout the powerful libido-enhancing benefits of its roots. Inca warriors even consumed the root for strength before going off to battles [39, 40].

Although it doesn’t boost testosterone, multiple studies revealed that maca may increase libido in both men and women [41, 42, 43].

Maca extract improved erectile function and sexual well-being in a trial on 50 men with mild erectile dysfunction. It also improved sexual dysfunction and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in another trial on 14 postmenopausal women [44, 45].

Recommended dose: Use between 1.5 and 3 g of maca powder daily. Make sure to get the gelatinized version, as raw maca can cause gut distress.

8) L-Citrulline

L-citrulline is an amino acid found in food that the body uses to make nitric oxide. Supplementing with it can greatly boost nitric oxide levels [46].

Given nitric oxide’s key role in getting and maintaining erections, it’s not surprising that L-citrulline levels are lower in people with erectile dysfunction [47].

In a study of 24 older men with mild ED, L-citrulline increased the hardness of erections and restored normal erectile function in 12 of them. The men also reported having more sex and were satisfied enough to continue taking L-citrulline instead of getting a prescription for Viagra [48].

If beets and dark chocolate aren’t enough, L-citrulline might get the job done.

Recommended dose: Take between 3 g and 6 g of L-citrulline an hour before sex.

9) Tribulus

Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris) is a plant traditionally used to boost libido. And science suggests its very effective at this [49].

In multiple trials of both women and men with low sex drive, tribulus significantly improved libido, orgasm, and satisfaction from sex [50, 51, 52, 53].

It’s also effective in improving erections and sexual satisfaction in men with ED caused by low testosterone [54, 55].

If a lack of interest is killing your sex life, you might want to give tribulus a try.

Recommended dose: Take 750 mg of tribulus extract daily. Look for one that contains at least 45% total saponins and 6% protodioscin.

10) Ginseng

Ginseng (Panax ginseng, or Korean ginseng) has long been valued in Chinese traditional medicine for its ability to enhance virility, stimulate desire, and improve sexual dysfunction [56].

According to clinical trials, ginseng substantially improves symptoms of erectile dysfunction in men [57, 58, 59, 60].

Ginseng may also be helpful for postmenopausal women.

The dramatic decrease in estrogen during menopause can cause symptoms such as vaginal dryness and low sex drive, which leads to painful and less enjoyable sex [61].

In several studies on postmenopausal women, ginseng relieved symptoms of sexual dysfunction and increased libido and sexual satisfaction. It can also boost mood, which is key to sexual health [62, 63, 64].

Recommended dose: Take 1,000 mg of Korean Ginseng 3x daily.

11) Horny Goat Weed

Horny goat weed (Epimedium) is another herb with a long history of use as an aphrodisiac in Chinese traditional medicine that’s backed by science [65].

Legend has it that its name comes from a Chinese goat herder who observed his goats became more sexually active after grazing on the plant [66].

Icariin, the active component of horny goat weed, improved erectile function in old, diabetic, and castrated rats. These effects may be linked to its ability to promote blood flow throughout the body [67, 68, 69].

Cell-based studies hint that icariin may work similarly to Viagra, helping dilate blood vessels in the penis [70].

Icariin also increased testosterone in rats. Although this effect has not been studied in humans, it suggests that horny goat weed’s aphrodisiac properties may be due to its ability to stimulate testosterone production [71, 72].

In a study of 22 people with chronic kidney disease, an extract of horny goat weed improved sex drive and quality of life [73].

Icariin also reduced symptoms of depression, a major libido-killer, in a small trial on 10 people with bipolar disorder [74].

Recommended dose: You can supplement horny goat weed extract in liquid or pill form. Make sure to get an extract that contains a specified amount of icariin. Horny goat weed may interact with a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications, so be sure to consult your doctor before supplementing.

12) Tongkat Ali

Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is renowned for its ability to enhance libido and sexual performance, earning it the name “Malaysia’s home-grown Viagra” [75].

In clinical trials, Tongkat ali greatly increased hardness and duration of erections and boosted libido in men. Unsurprisingly, the men also reported increases in well-being and happiness [76, 77].

It also reduced the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increased testosterone levels by 37% in a clinical trial on 63 stressed adults [78].

Next time you’re not in the mood because you’re too stressed, see if Tongkat ali can switch things up for you.

Recommended dose: Take between 200 mg and 400 mg daily of Tongkat ali extract. It may reduce the absorption of beta blockers drug, so speak with a doctor before supplementing.


If you want to have better sex, add more aphrodisiac foods to your diet. Oysters, beets, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and salmon may all increase your sex drive. Don’t skip garlic – unless your partner hates its aroma – as it can increase blood flow to your sexual organs.

Plenty of supplements may also enhance your sexual performance and satisfaction, although the science is still limited. Maca is great for increasing libido in both men and women, while Tongkat ali is hailed for its Viagra-like effects in men. Other potential sex-drive boosters include L-citrulline, tribulus, ginseng, and horny goat weed.

Lastly, keep in mind that these will only help if you also address the lifestyle and psychological factors affecting your libido and sexual satisfaction.

About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.


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