The Risks of Erection Pills

Here at Good Vibrations, we regularly have people ask us about the “herbal” pills, creams and other products available at most sex stores. I’m proud to say that we’ve never carried them because we’ve never had confidence that they were effective and safe. I think it’s worth unpacking this a bit more, especially in light of the fact that the Food & Drug Administration has issued a warning about Stiff Nights, one of many such products.

There are a couple of risks that you take when you start looking for pills that haven’t been tested. First, there’s the question of effectiveness. Some products don’t contain anything that actually does any good. Others contain so little of it that there’s no real effect. That can be hard to prove, given that the placebo effect can make it seem like you’re getting some benefit. That’s why drug companies perform double-blind testing.

The placebo effect is especially interesting when it comes to erection pills. Since anxiety is known to cause erection difficulties, taking a pill can make a guy feel more confident, which often has the desired effect even if the pill’s ingredients don’t do any good. But even so, GV doesn’t carry products that make medical claims, in part because we can’t guarantee that you’re getting anything out of them.

On the other hand, there’s also no guarantee of safety. Erection pills can contain all sorts of stuff that isn’t safe to use. It may be that some of the ingredients are unsafe to use at all. More commonly, an ingredient may be safe if properly manufactured, but not all makers of these “herbal supplements” take the time to do so. And just because something is “herbal” or “natural” doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily safe. Curare and cyanide are natural products, too.

The pills can also contain stuff that’s not listed on the label. According to the FDA, more than 1/3 of the erection products tested contained sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) or an ingredient similar to either sildenafil or vardenafil (the active ingredient in Levitra). You might be thinking, “Great! That means it works.” But the bottles didn’t actually list those among the ingredients and taking a medication without knowing what’s in it is a great way to have unfortunate consequences. Doctors and pharmacists are supposed to make sure that a new prescription isn’t going to combine with other meds, but if you’re just popping a pill from your local porn store, there isn’t anyone looking out for you.

One of the warning signs, at least in my opinion, is when the label says “100% safe” or “no side effects.” There’s nothing in the world that is 100% safe- there are people who are allergic or sensitive to ingredients that most people have no trouble with. That’s why prescription and over-the-counter medications have allergy info on the packaging.

There’s also no such thing as “no side effects” when it comes to pills. There may be unwanted effects that only affect a few people, but people’s reactions to drugs vary widely and there’s nothing that we all have the same experience with. If a product claims to have no side effects, that should be setting off your waning lights. In general, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

So for all of these reasons, you won’t see erection pills on our shelves. We can’t guarantee that they’re both effective and safe, so we’re not willing to sell them. And anyway, one of the best ways to deal with erection difficulties is to do your PC muscle exercises. While it’s not as fast as popping a pill, it’s much safer and the effects are longer lasting.

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Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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