Yay or Nay? Top 7 Love Helpers

Experts sound off on old and new ideas meant to spice up romance.

ByABC News
February 11, 2010, 2:30 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- People who feel fed up with advertisements for chocolates and flowers this week may find comfort looking back to the long and often disgusting history of marketing romance.

Long before Valentine's Day came into being, purported love potions and aphrodisiacs -- everything from shellfish to toads -- were bought and sold to a captive market.

ABC News turned to sexual health experts to see if any of the past and present secrets to romance had any merit.

The following is the top seven innovative and classic love-inspiring products, old and new, and -- before you run out to try them -- our experts' opinions.

New for Valentine's Day 2010, someone has finally invented what they call male "enhancement" in gum form.

Sold as a "supplement," and ,therefore, not tested for efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Sexlets Gum is supposed to be chewed three times a day as a libido booster.

"It promotes the blood flow. It may help with more endurance, more stamina," said Tommy Babil, partner of Future Lifestyles, LLC, maker of Sexlets Gum.

"We don't want to make any claims, it's not meant to cure or treat. If there is a problem, go to a doctor," said Babil.

Babil said his company filled the berry-flavored gum with so many herbal supplements that they had to change the consistency of the gum. Rather than being instantly chewy, the gum breaks into a powder and then reforms into gum as you keep chewing.

But experts in sexual health and male function were not impressed by most of the nine herbs and supplements, including vitamin E and orchic powder, which is made from ground up animal testicles.

"I don't know how good they would taste, but it's probably safe and it's probably a big placebo effect," said Dr. Karen Boyle, of Chesapeake Urology Associates at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC).

Boyle pointed to two ingredients that may have some minor effect for some men: ginseng and yohimbe tree bark.

"We do know that yohimbe does improve blood flow to the genitals," said Boyle. "Vitamin E can help with overall circulatory health, but not necessarily genital health."

"There is a lot of zinc in oysters and zinc, as a supplement, has been discussed as to improve testosterone production," said Boyle. "But the other reason why is the texture and the quality of the oyster -- people have thought it suggests the vagina."

But for a long-term libido boosting strategy, oysters fall short both in price and practicality, experts say.

More often, people may turn to spicy food and hot peppers, which Boyle says, could increase endorphins because of a chemical in chili peppers called capsaicin.

"Capsaicin can stimulate nerve endings to release chemicals … it can increase the heart rate, and there's a question that it can release endorphins and give you a natural high," said Boyle.

But Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, has only one food suggestion for couples: the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet includes mostly fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains according to the Mayo Clinic.

Goldstein said the so-called Western diet, which is full of highly-processed grains and meat, leads to a series of health problems that can affect one's sex life: metabolic syndrome, obesity, high cholesterol and even erectile dysfunction.

On the other hand, Goldstein said the Mediterranean diet helps the body's circulation, and therefore, the person's love life.

"The best Valentine's gift would be an evening dinner that is constructed of Mediterranean diet components," said Goldstein.

"Research has shown that women who exercise regularly have a more active sex life and are easily aroused," said Boyle. "Why is that? Is that because they feel better about their bodies? Is it because of the endorphins, is it because they have more energy?"

Boyle didn't know the answer. But however it works, doctors say trips to the gym pay off, and not just for women.

"Sedentary lifestyles are associated with erectile dysfunction," said Goldstein.

Goldstein recommended most kinds of exercise to help you next Valentine's Day, except for one: biking.

"Running, jogging, tennis, racquetball and swimming are all pro-sexual and beneficial," said Goldstein. "Against that trend, bicycle riding, is very deleterious to male and female sexual health because it's very harsh on the [groin area]."

"A lot of my patients don't want to go to the doctor. They don't want to think there's something wrong with them," said Boyle.

Instead, Boyle said they used to turn to something called Extenze -- an herbal supplement that ran afoul with the Better Business Bureau and the FDA after making what critics said were false claims.

A separate supplement, called Enzyte, does not promise an increase in length, like Extenze. However, the company has paid for TV spots promoting male "enhancement."

The ingredients in Enzyte are fairly similar to the Sexlets Gum, containing some minerals or herbs known to have a very minor effect -- such as zinc and ginseng -- and some that doctors say do nothing at all for your sex life like L-Arginine and animal testicle tissue.

"While natural supplements work differently for everyone, over 5 million men have tried Enzyte, and we have utmost confidence in the potency of Enzyte's formulation," Enzyte spokeswoman Cheryl Childers wrote in an e-mail. "We worked with a pharmacognosist to develop the Enzyte proprietary blend, which includes ingredients such as Korean Red Ginseng, Pine extract, and Ginkgo Biloba. These and other ingredients work in tandem to support natural male enhancement and firmer, fuller-feeling erections."

Aside from Enzyte, L-Arginine is another supplement widely sold alone as supplement for erectile dysfunction.

L-Arginine changes into nitric oxide in the body and Boyle's mentor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Arthur Burnett, was one of the first to discover that nitric oxide was crucial to starting and continuing an erection.

That discovery lead to drugs such as Viagra, but Boyle warned eating extra L-Arginine does not translate to a natural erection, nor does it mimic FDA approve drugs.

"I don't think simply taking L-Arginine is going to change anything [but] Viagra, Cialias and Levitra do," she said.

"In animals, it was demonstrated that it does improve sexual response. Is there any evidence that it's going to have an effect in humans? Probably not," said Boyle.

"There's a very strong placebo effect to these therapies, to interventions," said Goldstein, who guessed that the placebo effect may explain some of the "natural" pills' popularity.

"It might make positions more interesting, but not as an aphrodisiac. It may enhance sex if you can be more creative," said Boyle.

But sexual health experts also point out that there is a large psychological component to sex. Here, some think yoga may be especially beneficial for some people.

"Yoga is wonderful," said Goldstein. "We have lots of data on Yoga and effective therapies."

Goldstein said the "mindfulness promoted by yoga" can put people in the right mood in the bedroom and help keep out the worries of the world. He also pointed out that the brain controls neurochemicals involved in sex.

"It's another word for getting rid of multitasking and focusing and allowing you to be relaxed while focusing," he said.

"I've heard mixed reviews on it… the lubricant for men is supposed to give a cooling effect to men, and for women, it's supposed to be a warming effect," said Boyle. "But some women have found it very irritating, especially the next day."

K-Y responded to the sensitivity problems in a prepared statement: "Using Yours and Mine is a very unique and personal experience, as different couples feel different sensations depending on the individuals, how sensitive they are and how much product is used," wrote Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Teresa Panas.

Goldstein appreciated the fact the company tested its product and is not another snake oil.

"If you put it on a woman, there is a sense of more blood flow to the region and some sense of improved arousal," said Goldstein. "At least it has some data and it has some basis for it."

However, K-Y would not explain exactly how the lubricants worked.

"It's important to note that K-Y Brand Yours and Mine does not increase blood flow. Yours and Mine contains sensate ingredients, which are used in many consumer products to produce warming, cooling and tingling sensations when used as directed," said Panas. "The proprietary blend of sensate ingredients in K-Y Yours and Mine has been developed and tested to optimize the sensations couples experience."

But for all the things you could buy, your Valentine this weekend, Goldstein said none of his top recommendations cost a dime.

"I have five basic messages to get across that are essentially tips for a better sex life," said Goldstein, who included good diet and exercise, seeing a doctor for hormone problems, keeping up good circulation, keeping up good mental and partner relationship health and finally, stay in practice with frequent sexual activity.