Sexual enhancers are drugs which enhance (normal/abnormal) erectile function and aphrodisiacs which increase sexual arousal and desire.

Erectile dysfunction has been a condition affecting men since ancient times. All early attempts to treat erectile dysfunction (e.g. inflatable penis implants and vacuum pumps) failed and it was not until the early 1990s that the treatment of this condition was revolutionized with the discovery of sildenafil (Viagra). This drug was first approved in 1998 and was the first effective oral therapy to treat erectile dysfunction. Due to its popularity two other drugs were approved that work in a similar fashion as sildenafil: Tadalafil and Vardenafil. Together these drugs are referred to as phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i). However, as these drugs do not work as aphrodisiacs, and require sexual stimulation, a number of untested drugs have been sold on the illicit market with suggested effects on sexual behaviors. These drugs, such as Melanotan II, supposedly cause spontaneous erections as well as increase sexual desire and arousal.

While little prevalence studies exist, it appears that there is a growing interest in this type of drugs. For instance, this study found that 3% of around 12.000 men (United Kingdom, Italy and Germany) had used sexual enhancers (e.g. Viagra) in the last six months without a prescription. Some even suggest that the consumption of illicit sexual enhancers might ‘dwarf consumption’ of legitimate versions. While sexual enhancers are frequently associated with male users, it has become evident that female users are increasingly interested in this type of drugs to treat low sexual desire.

Studies also indicate that people often use these drugs to increase sexual confidence, prevent premature ejaculation, erection quality and for better sexual performance, amongst other things. Others simply use them to reverse temporary erectile dysfunction caused by, for example, alcohol or other recreational drugs.

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