Sex for women: it's all in the mind
Attention ladies. Are you looking for the perfect aphrodisiac to add spark to your love life? Well, forget about chocolates, oysters and champagne. You're better off chewing an ancient root or exploring your most erogenous zone - the brain.
That was the overwhelming evidence after I went looking for the ultimate female aphrodisiac from three sources: the pharmacist, the psychologist and the adult shop.
If all pharmacists are as honest as those I spoke to, you will probably be told: "They're all useless. Just vitamins and ginseng used purely to give you more energy."
Producing a small purple box of tablets labelled "Impotex", which boasted "heightened sexuality, desire and stamina", a pharmacist said many aphrodisiacs were nothing but cons. "The truth is these things don't work."
None of the ingredients stands out as a sexual catalyst. Dried yeast, St John's Wort, Avena Sativa and Saw Palmetto are marketed as the perfect love drug that will turn the user into the buxom nymph in the throes of carnal pleasure portrayed in the Impotex advertisement.
At the Sextopia adult shop, the range is broader. Shoppers can choose from pills like Hot Sex Girl and Renshen-Pseudo, the liquid Spanish Fly. An assistant, versed in the effects of the sex potions, says he always advises healthy living to supercharge sexual desire and performance. "Stress messes you up and you can't always perform, so you have to sort that out if you want a healthy sex life."
Some products are devious in their approach - like Cantharis D6, which targets the female bladder. A popular brand, it causes hypersensitivity to any contact in the abdominal region leading the user to believe she is aroused. Others are less bold, like Love Drops, which relies on the active ingredients found in traditional aphrodisiacs like oysters and chocolates.
But, as humorous as the names and packaging seem, there is a dangerous side to the aphrodisiacs. Love Drops Aphrodisiac, the British version, is the most potent of all over-the-counter aphrodisiacs. It produces the same effect as consuming too much alcohol, the shop assistant explains. "It wastes you totally. It's like calling wine an aphrodisiac."
He says the tablets have even been equated with the date-rape drug Rohypnol, although it is not as debilitating. He also dismisses the concept of a perfect aphrodisiac. "No tablet is going to make your partner fall at your feet with desire."
Echoing that sentiment is clinical psychologist Dr Dorianne Weil, better known by her pseudonym, Dr D. "Everything is an aphrodisiac if you're with the right person," Dr Weil says. She says male partners often fail to stimulate their lover's most erotic zone: the brain.
"Ninety-eight percent of women I've consulted experiencing a lack of desire do not have a physiological problem." She believes aphrodisiacs are no substitute for patience, romance and intimacy.
The different attitudes of men and women to sex are responsible for the lack of arousal women often experience and blame themselves for.
"For males sex is associated with relaxation, but women need a build-up of intimacy and recognition before lovemaking."
A muti shop owner said he had heard of special herbs to "help women", but he always advised them to seek professional help. "I send them to the gynae. It's the safest thing to do."
But there are natural alternatives like the Damiana Revive for Women. Naturopathic Dr Heiner Lotze developed the product after realising sexual function in women depended on desire, effective arousal and orgasm.
Damiana is a combination of plant extracts that revitalise the hormone-producing areas of the female body. The ingredients, which include hops, liquorice root and the sarsaparilla root, stimulate blood flow to parts of the body vital to sexual arousal.
Damiana corrects hormonal imbalances and restores small amounts of testosterone, which elicits a powerful sexual response.
The damiana root was first used in South America and eastern Europe by couples just before bedtime to pep up sexual appetites. Now scientists have discovered why: certain oils in the root stimulate the urinary tract and enhance sexual pleasure.
That would be a viable alternative if your problem is a physiological. But the bottom line seems to be: get to know your partner's special desires and needs before embarking on a sexual voyage or your ship could sink before leaving port.