9 Natural Supplements Women Can Take to Boost Their Sex Life (and Some to Avoid)

 Key takeaways:

  • Many supplements claim to boost libido and sexual pleasure in women. But most of these supplements don’t have a lot of evidence to support them.

  • There’s some evidence that L-arginine, chasteberry, maca, and DHEA could help to improve sex for some women. Ginseng and red clover may be especially helpful for women going through menopause.

  • Other supplements, like ginkgo biloba and puncturevine, don’t seem to work any better than placebo. And ashwagandha may be helpful for other things, like stress and anxiety — but its effect on women’s libido hasn’t been studied much yet.

  • Always talk with your healthcare provider before starting a supplement. Even though they’re “natural,” many supplements can cause side effects and interfere with other medications you take.

Many products on the market claim to support sexual health — and the options just keep growing. After all, problems with sex are common. In fact, about 4 in 10 women worldwide have challenges with sex at some point.

Common problems include:

  • A lack of interest in sex (low libido)

  • Trouble getting lubricated (wet) before and during sex

  • Pain or discomfort during sex

  • Difficulty having an orgasm

  • Muscle spasms that interfere with penetration

Even though many products claim to boost your sex drive and make sex more pleasurable, most of them do not deliver on their promises.

Some supplements may help support a healthy sex life — whatever that looks like for you. Here’s a list of those that probably work, some that probably don’t, and others to avoid.

What is low female libido?

Your libido is your sex drive. It’s your overall interest in sex, including your sexual thoughts, fantasies, and activities.

Libido is linked to feeling “turned on,” but it’s a separate thing. Your libido (or interest in sex) may lead to engaging in sexual stimulation (on your own or with a partner). And this can bring on arousal (your body’s physical and emotional response to sexual stimulation). And then you may experience an orgasm (the physical and emotional climax of sexual excitement).

When your sex drive is low (a low libido), you’re not thinking about or interested in sex. This can make it difficult to have satisfying sexual connections, including stimulation, arousal, and orgasm.

It’s normal for libido to go up and down. In fact, about 1 in 3 women in the U.S. will likely have a low libido at some point in their lifetime. Many different things can cause this, including:

  • Medications

  • Normal life events, like pregnancy or menopause

  • Stress at work, school, or home

  • Pain with intercourse

  • Pelvic floor problems

  • Psychological and mental health issues

  • Relationship dynamics

  • Sleep problems

Over-the-counter supplements are the first choice for many women who want to make a change in their sex life. But you may be wondering about how effective and safe they are.

Let’s take a closer look at what the research says about nine natural supplements that seem to have the most evidence to support them.

1. L-arginine

L-arginine is an amino acid. Amino acids are building blocks that your body uses to make proteins. Your body usually can make all the L-arginine it needs. But you can also get it by eating meat and fish, dairy, vegetables, and whole grains.

Foods that are especially rich in L-arginine include:

  • Peanuts

  • Sesame seeds

  • Soybeans

  • Chicken

  • Spirulina

  • Chickpeas

  • Lentils

  • Oats

L-arginine provides the raw material your body needs to make nitric oxide, a molecule that opens your blood vessels. Nitric oxide makes it easier for blood to flow to your genitals. Good blood flow is important for sexual arousal and orgasm, and it can help your vagina stay nourished and healthy.

Does it work?
Maybe. There’s some evidence that L-arginine can improve libido, decrease vaginal dryness, and increase clitoral sensation. But L-arginine has mostly been studied as a combination supplement that has more than one ingredient (like ArginMax). Because of this, it’s not clear whether the positive effects seen in research studies are because of L-arginine on its own, or whether L-arginine works only when combined with other ingredients.

Is it safe?
L-arginine is potentially safe for many people, and it doesn’t have a lot of side effects. Be aware: L-arginine may make herpes worse, and it can interact with many medications. And when some people take it as a supplement, it can cause:

  • Diarrhea

  • Changes in kidney function

  • Low blood pressure

  • Flushing

Worth a try?
Possibly, especially if you take it as part of a combination supplement. If you’re interested in increasing your L-arginine intake, you can also consider adding L-arginine-rich foods to your diet.

Health: Supplements and herbs: two people reviewing medication label 1060253386

Chasteberry is a Mediterranean plant traditionally used for skin conditions and reproductive health. It’s also called Vitex, chaste tree, or monk’s pepper.

There’s some evidence that chasteberry can have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. It may also affect hormone production and activity, including that of progesterone and estrogen — two hormones that are important for sexual health.

Does it work?
Maybe. In at least one study, chasteberry improved vaginal tone and lubrication — which could make it especially helpful for menopause-related pain and discomfort during sex. There’s also evidence that chasteberry can help with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), so it could be useful for women who have PMS-related sexual problems.

Is it safe?
Overall, chasteberry seems to be safe. But some people do have mild side effects, like an upset stomach, a headache, and itching. It’s also not clear whether it’s safe for people with hormone-sensitive conditions (like certain cancers). Be aware that chasteberry can interact with several medications, like birth control pills and antipsychotics.

Worth a try?
Possibly, especially if your sexual problems seem to be linked to menopause or PMS. But first check with your healthcare provider about whether chasteberry is safe for you to try.

3. Ginseng

Ginseng is a medicinal plant traditionally used to reduce stress, improve energy levels, and increase blood circulation. Just like L-arginine, ginseng may encourage blood flow to your genitals, which might improve arousal, orgasm, and vaginal health.

There are many different types of ginseng. Sexual-health studies often focus on Korean red ginseng, which is a preparation of Asian ginseng.

Does it work?
Yes, it works for women experiencing menopause. A 2016 meta-analysis showed that Korean red ginseng (KRG) improved sexual arousal in this group. In another study from 2019, menopausal women taking ginseng had better sexual function as well as improved menopause symptoms and quality of life.

In a 2015 study of premenopausal women, KRG did improve sexual function — but not any more than placebo treatment. More research is needed to understand whether ginseng is helpful for premenopausal women.

Is it safe?
Asian ginseng is generally safe for most people in the short term (up to 6 months), but its long-term safety is not clear, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Worth a try?
Yes, especially if you’re going through menopause. There’s good evidence that Korean red ginseng can potentially help with menopause symptoms — including sexual problems.

4. Maca

Maca is an edible South American plant. It’s traditionally used to help with infertility, boost libido, and balance hormone levels. Researchers don’t know exactly how it works. It may be an “adaptogen” (an herb that helps your body respond to stress) and could have mild estrogen-like effects in the body.

Maca can be prepared as a food: baked, roasted, or used as a cooking ingredient. It’s available as a powder that can be mixed into smoothies or recipes. In some cultures, it’s prepared as a fermented drink.

Does it work?
Maybe. But most of the published research on maca has been on its effects in men. Only a few studies have been done on maca and women’s sexual health.

So far, there’s some evidence that maca might be helpful for sexual function during menopause — even though the benefits seem to be small. There’s also evidence that maca may be helpful for the sexual side effects that antidepressant medications can cause.

Is it safe?
Maca seems to be safe when eaten as a food (up to 3 g daily). It may be slightly riskier if taken in larger quantities as a pill. Note that raw maca should be cooked before consuming. It’s wise to avoid taking maca at night because it can disrupt sleep.

Worth a try?
Possibly, especially if you’re going through menopause, or if an antidepressant causes you to have low libido. Keep in mind that it may be safer to add cooked maca to food, rather than taking it as a higher dose pill or capsule.

5. Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red clover is a plant that’s rich in phytoestrogens — plant chemicals that may act like estrogen in your body. Estrogen is a hormone that has many jobs, including keeping your vaginal tissues healthy. It also plays a role in libido and sexual arousal.

Does it work?
Yes, especially in middle-age and older women. There’s evidence that red clover can support vaginal health in menopausal women and reduce vaginal dryness and pain during sex. In a small study of women over age 40, taking red clover helped with vaginal dryness, low libido, and pain during sex.

It’s also possible that red clover can help with hot flashes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis. But the evidence to support these claims hasn’t been consistent.

Is it safe?
According to the NIH, people have taken red clover for up to 3 years in research studies without any safety concerns.

Worth a try?
Yes — especially if you’re in your 40s or older. Red clover seems to potentially help with vaginal health, libido, and sexual function.

6. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that your body naturally makes. It’s used to make other hormones that are important to your sex life, like testosterone and estrogen. Your DHEA levels are highest when you’re a young adult, then they slowly go down as you age.

Does it work?
Yes, especially in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women, as well as in women with sexual problems. In a 2017 literature review, DHEA seemed to help increase libido and arousal in women, and it also made sex less painful and more pleasurable. DHEA also seemed to be connected to more frequent sexual activities and orgasms.

Is it safe?
DHEA can interfere with many common medications, especially psychiatric medications. At high doses, it’s also been linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Worth a try?
Yes. DHEA seems to be helpful for women before, during, and after menopause. It may also be helpful for women who have sexual problems earlier in their life. But check with your healthcare provider to make sure DHEA is a safe option for you.

7. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an herb that’s used frequently in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s often used for reducing stress, anxiety, and inflammation. It seems to be helpful for some people with diabetes, too. It can be taken as a supplement or added to food and tea.

Does it work?
It’s not clear. According to the Nutritional Medicine Institute, there’s not much evidence on whether ashwagandha helps with sexual problems in women. But in some small studies, ashwagandha did improve lubrication, sexual arousal, and sexual satisfaction.

Is it safe?
It’s generally safe to use in food and tea. But keep in mind that ashwagandha can interfere with other medications and can cause side effects like nausea, fatigue, and headache.

Worth a try?
Possibly. There hasn’t been a lot of research on ashwagandha and sexual problems in women. But keep in mind: It does seem to help with stress and anxiety. So if these are affecting your sex life, ashwagandha could be a good choice for you — especially if you consume it in food or beverages.

8. Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a medicinal plant historically used to improve concentration and memory, increase blood flow, and decrease anxiety. It has also been used to enhance sexual wellness.

Does it work?
Probably not. There’s no evidence that ginkgo works for any health condition, including sexual problems. Despite its reputation of being good for your sex life, most research studies have found that it works no better than placebo treatment does. In one small study, sex therapy combined with ginkgo did increase sexual desire — but no more than did sex therapy on its own.

Is it safe?
Ginkgo is likely safe for most people and has relatively mild side effects.

Worth a try?
Probably not. At this point, there’s not a lot of evidence that ginkgo helps with sex or libido.

9. Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris)

Puncturevine is a Mediterranean plant historically used to improve sexual function in men. It may work by increasing blood levels of testosterone — a hormone that’s related to libido, arousal, and orgasm in both men and women.

Does it work?
It’s not clear. Overall, the evidence is too limited to say for sure whether puncturevine helps support sexual wellness in women — especially since there haven’t been many well-designed trials yet.

In one small study of 60 women, taking puncturevine for 1 month improved:

  • Libido

  • Physical arousal

  • Lubrication

  • Sexual satisfaction

But, in several other studies, it didn’t work better than placebo treatment.

Is it safe?
Puncturevine may have some risks, including unwanted hormonal changes. It can also potentially interact with many medications and cause stomach and gut upset.

Worth a try?
Probably not. There hasn’t been a lot of research on puncturevine and sexual health. And in most of the research, puncturevine didn’t seem to work very well.

Can changing your diet help your sex life?

Possibly. There’s evidence that eating a plant-rich, whole foods diet can help support your sex life. In particular, following a Mediterranean-style diet may have benefits. Try to focus on foods that are:

Eating a variety of nutritious foods can help you get the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that your body needs for a healthy sex life. In particular, cacao, soy, and fruits like watermelon may be especially helpful for sexual function.

And remember: Eating nutritious foods can support your mental and physical health in many other ways. And when your mental and physical health are both doing well, this has a positive effect on your sex life, too.

Natural supplements to avoid

There are many other supplements that claim to help your sex life. But most have little to no evidence to support them. And some can be harmful or toxic. A 2015 literature review of about 50 scientific articles suggests products to avoid, including:

  • Spanish fly

  • Mad honey

  • Yohimbe

  • Bufo toad

When it comes to these supplements, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits.

Is it safe to use over-the-counter products for sexual health?

It depends. Many supplements are safe to use and have minimal side effects. But just because a treatment is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s free of risk. In fact, many over-the-counter treatments can have powerful effects in your body — but not always in the way you intend.

If you decide to try an herb or supplement for sexual wellness, talk with your healthcare provider first. This is especially important if you have other health conditions, take prescription medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Other options to support a healthy sex life

If supplements aren’t working for you, keep in mind that there are many other things you can do to help make changes in your sex life. Here are some options:

  • Get educated. Taking an adult sex-education class can help you learn about your body, explore new techniques, and understand your sexuality.

  • Work with an expert. It can be helpful to work with a sexual-health professional, like a sex therapistpelvic floor physical therapist, or a sexological bodyworker.

  • Try medication. Some medications can also support a healthy sex life. For menopausal women, this could mean hormone replacement therapy to help with vaginal dryness and pain during sex. There are also several FDA-approved prescription medications used to treat low libido in premenopausal women.

There are options out there for everyone. If you try an approach that just doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, don’t give up. After all, sexual health is different for different people. You deserve to find what feels authentic, safe, and satisfying.

The bottom line

Many women will experience sexual problems at some point during their life. And there are many natural supplements that claim to help with everything from low libido and better orgasms to more pleasurable and frequent sex. But most products don’t have a lot of evidence to support their use. For some women, L-arginine, chasteberry, maca, and DHEA may have some benefits. And, if you’re going through menopause, ginseng and red clover might be especially helpful.

If you’re facing challenges in your sex life, talk with your healthcare provider. They can help guide you toward starting a supplement safely. They can also help you understand what other options are available to help you have an authentic, satisfying sex life — whatever that means for you personally.

References

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Chung, H. S., et al. (2015). The effect of Korean red ginseng on sexual function in premenopausal women: Placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover clinical trialEvidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Da Cruz, A. C., et al. (2017). The action of herbal medicine on the libido: Aspects of nutritional intervention in increasing sexual desireNutrire.

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