Men have long been searching for the ‘holy grail’ of penile prowess. Charlatans, healers, and quacks have exploited male insecurities about sexual performance for over 2000 years. Lamar Odom’s recent abuse of so-called ‘herbal Viagra’ has the country talking about the lengths to which men will go to ensure potency.

In fact, men are so invested in their erections that they will sometimes risk heart attacks and strokes to avoid erection problems. In essence, some men value their penis over their life. I’ve treated dozens of men who stopped their blood pressure medication because it caused erectile dysfunction. When I explain the medical risks of discontinuing the medication, they say, “I’d rather risk being dead than impotent.” This pressure to perform sexually is extraordinarily burdensome for men. It is the most basic measure of their self esteem and masculinity.

First off, it was likely the mixture of cocaine and alcohol (and probably other pills), NOT herbal Viagra, that landed Lamar in intensive care. Regardless, people want to know what’s in these supplements, how dangerous they are, and whether or not they actually work.

The supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA so quality control is highly compromised. Yes, supplements like ‘Reload’ (the brand that Odon abused), can be dangerous (especially if recommended dosing is not followed), and virtually none of them do what they claim to do. Beware of similar supplements claiming increased sexual performance, including ‘Weekend Warrior,’ ‘King of Romance,’ ‘Libimax,’ and ‘Black Panther.’

Odom allegedly took 10 Reload pills over the course of 3 days before he became unconscious, according to witnesses at the Love Ranch brothel near Las Vegas. The FDA says the pills are so dangerous they’ve advised consumers to throw them away immediately. Reload contains sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Disturbingly, the label does not reveal the presence of that ingredient, (which is normally restricted to prescriptions monitored by a doctor). Sildenafil can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

I’m not an expert on the sex enhancement supplement industry, but I am an expert when it comes to talking to men about their own expectations, cultural expectations, fears, and insecurities when it comes to sex. I’ve treated men in their 20’s who seriously considered suicide because the shame of impotence is so ‘humiliating.’ I treat men who avoid dating for years (sometimes decades) due to worry over ED.

This obsession with erection (and penis size) as a measure of masculinity dates back thousands of years. In ancient Greece and Rome, snake oil was ingested to cure impotency because snakes were believed to ‘regenerate’ themselves. The genitals of roosters, goats, wolves, and sparrows were cooked up in stew or eaten raw. Elixirs, salves, balms, and other concoctions have been rubbed on, inhaled, and ingested by hundreds of millions of men with the same goal—to achieve the hardest and long-lasting erection possible.

And still now, vacuum pumps, injections, suppositories, implants, revascularization surgery, supplements, mechanical contraptions, and pharmaceuticals abound. One company even manufactures chewing gum purported to provide larger and longer lasting erections!

Many of the options to treat ED are legitimate and medically sound.

Penile implants and revascularization surgery are highly effective (when indicated) and most patients report high satisfaction rates. FDA-approved pumps, injections, and suppositories also work quite well. Drugs like Viagra, although they work for many, do not work for all and have side effects of their own.   And even when they work, they don’t cure the interpersonal dynamics that undermine sexual desire. If you hate your husband, all the Viagra in the world isn’t going to make a difference.

Our culture perpetuates messages that a man’s worth is tied to his penis. This is so long-standing and deeply ingrained in modern society that entrepreneurs (legit and non-legit alike) will forever benefit from it. When it comes to their penis, men are the most exploitable group on earth. Always have been, always will be. Bottom line—Sex sells.

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