Last month, I was hanging out with a friend on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CA. After dining at the Rainbow, we decided to go clothes shopping at the Hustler Hollywood store. Each time either of us were in a certain vicinity, an employee came up to us and touted the supposed effects of the herbal pills they sell there for sexual enhancement.
If you’ve set foot inside a gas station convenience store in the United States, you may have seen packets and bottles of herbal pills similar to the ones in the above photos. At first, we looked at the packaging just to see what they were claiming. Neither of us felt the need for these products, and we wouldn’t buy them without first looking up their effectiveness from reliable sources if we did. We’re both skeptics and sexual claims aren’t excluded from our fact checking. But before we had the chance to do that, a store employee walked over and started talking about how good the product we were looking at was, or how we should buy another concoction instead of the one we had in our hands.
Out of the dozens of pills on display, I only saw two that were supposed to be taken by women. The rest were for men. I asked about the Kangaroo pill in the women’s version. The employee we were talking to called another employee over who said that his girlfriend used them and they worked well. He made vague claims about how her overall arousal was improved and how she was more enthusiastic during sex when she took them. We said we weren’t interested and continued shopping.
I later came back to the general area of the pills while my friend was trying on a corset. I wasn’t actually looking at the pills this time. I was holding a completely unrelated product, but was in the vicinity, when a different employee saw me. She walked over from the other side of the store and told me to try the Kangaroo pills. She said that she used it herself and that it was the best of all the similar pills she had tried.
I wasn’t interested in buying them, but I used the opportunity to see what was in these pills. When I see similar products at convenience stores, they are often placed in such a way that I can’t pick them up and read the label. So I checked the ingredients in the Kangaroo pills. All of the packets I saw had the price sticker over the ingredients list. I asked the employee if there was a way to uncover it because I didn’t want to buy them without knowing what was in them. She pulled back the sticker for me.
Here are the active ingredients in Kangaroo – For Her Ultimate Pleasure:
- Ashwagandha root
- Tribulus Terrestris
- Horny goat weed
- Maca root
- Panax ginseng
Each active ingredient is supposed to have sexual benefits, or is claimed to help athletic ability or mood, which would then supposedly have a positive effect during sex. For the sex-related claims, all of the ingredients fit under: Possibly effective but need further research, likely ineffective, or insufficient evidence.
I had very briefly considered buying a packet just to see if they worked. But personal experience isn’t the best test. There may be other factors, including the placebo effect, that could make me think they were effective. I also hesitated to give money to what might be a sham product. I wondered if any of these were harmful and about interactions with any medications I’m taking. And it’s a good thing I checked because some of the herbs can create issues if taken with some of my medications. This is something many people might not think about when getting something from an adult store and when they’re not in a medical setting.
I’ll admit that I was momentarily intrigued when the woman described certain personal claims, such as increased sexual pleasure. Hustler has some great employees that can make you feel at ease when talking about products that some people might be embarrassed about. But I quickly remembered that it didn’t mean I shouldn’t be skeptical and look up these products. I don’t know if the employees were told to focus on selling the pills and they made up stories, or if they actually took them and believed they worked. Even if they were being honest, the placebo effect or other factors could be why they thought highly of the pills. It’s possible that some of the products actually do provide some benefit, but there’s risks when taking products that haven’t been properly tested.
There’s also the problem that many pills of this type provide results because they contain hidden ingredients, not because of the herbs. For example, the FDA warned in 2013 that the Alpha Male pill contained ingredients that are similar to Cialis and Viagra, which are real medications. Some people might think this is a good thing, but this can be dangerous. The unlisted ingredients may be in amounts that differ from the approved medications. And since they are not listed, someone may take this who otherwise shouldn’t, such as those with certain conditions or those who take medications that are contraindicated with the ingredients. The FDA has a long list of tainted sexual enhancement products. But if a pill you’re planning to take isn’t on the list, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe.
Remember, FDA cannot test all products on the market that contain potentially harmful hidden ingredients. Enforcement actions and consumer advisories for tainted products only cover a small fraction of the tainted over-the-counter products on the market.
Some sexual herbal pills are labeled as enhancing sex, while others claim to fix health problems. I’d rather go to a doctor if I were having certain problems. Some sexual issues can be treated with science-based medicine that has been thoroughly tested. And some problems may be a sign of an underlying cause or multiple causes that need to be diagnosed and treated. There’s no shame in needing help just because they’re sexual issues. Some people may buy these products because they’re embarrassed to go to the doctor about it. But the potential harm of taking these pills isn’t worth avoiding an appointment with your doctor and could result in far more visits in the long run.