Gas station sex pills have been behind the counter forever, but do they really work?

Rhino 2500, PowerZen, Black Mamba, Super Panther, Yohimbe, Extenze…

If you recognize any of these phrases, you might have picked up one of these products at your local Chevron on the way to a hookup, for some last minute P.O.M.G. (“peace of mind guarantee”) on your way home from the bar. Or, maybe you’ve just glanced at that section of strange elixirs dubbed “male enhancement pills” while paying for your gas and couldn’t resist letting your curious eyes linger.

Usually packed between the 5-hour Energy shots, jerky sticks, and rolling papers, these mysterious yet alluring virility supplements have been stocking gas station shelves for decades. But what exactly are they, and do they really work?

First, let’s examine what they claim.

Usually, these supplements promise hours of crazy sex, better stamina, harder erections, and even claim to make you… bigger. A gay man’s dream, right? The manufacturers of these frisky products are betting on it.

Unfortunately, when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Supplements like this aren’t approved by the FDA, nor do they require a prescription. Because they’re cheap, widely available, and don’t require a visit to the doctor’s office, they’re often perceived as an over-the-counter alternative to drugs like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®).

Dubbed as having “all natural ingredients”, these products usually claim to contain things like Korean red ginseng, horny goat weed, maca root, Yohimbe, amino acids like L-arginine, and sometimes B vitamins. While they may have sexy packaging, and intriguing claims to relieve that all-too-pesky performance anxiety, they aren’t backed by any type of scientific research.

Supplement manufacturers are largely unregulated, unlike pharmaceutical companies that are heavily scrutinized. That means they can make a lot of claims that are largely unchallenged. In fact, in 2018, the FDA went so far as to warn consumers to avoid Rhino male enhancement products found at retailers because of “undeclared and potentially dangerous drug ingredients”.

Okay, but let’s be real. We know some of you are still thinking, “I just want to know if they actually work!”

Based on how fast these sexual “short-cuts” fly off the shelves, you might think so. Sales of herbal dietary supplements in the United States topped $12.35 billion in 2021, up 9.7 percent from the previous year, according to the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit herbal supplement industry watchdog. 

This TikToker certainly sees the…benefits…in his gas station purchase.

However, when it comes to things that might sexually excite us, sales and efficacy are two separate things. (Anyone remember the Shake Weight?)

Studies suggest some of the ingredients these products list might help with ED, namely Korean red ginseng and L-arginine. However, many of the studies are small, and don’t have large randomized controlled trials needed to confirm results.

The most promising natural supplements often help boost nitric oxide or increase blood circulation, which is needed for erections. Some guys say they’ve noticed an assist from the supplements, although none are shown to work as well as prescription drugs like Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra.

This TikToker tells us he takes the supplements to “pump” at the gym…but are they safe?

According to one man who says he took ExtenZe, the answer about effectiveness is a resounding no. The reviewer said he felt an unpleasant sensitivity in his penis before getting “disturbingly hyperactive.” Later that night, when it was time for sex, his “bedroom performance didn’t seem much different at all.”

The second pill he says he took, on a different day, was Vigor-A, and he claims he experienced, “a strange buzz…combined with the urge to projectile vomit.” That night, he says he experienced “zero boner effect” and “a soft and soggy penis.”

According to a urologist and men’s health specialist with the Memorial Healthcare System in South Florida, the problem is that results are simply too inconsistent to be worth the risk of putting strange things into your system.

“I have a lot of patients come in and talk about gas station sex pills,” he said. “Guys tell me sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and they don’t know why. It’s inconsistent, but it works sometimes.”

This TikToker gives an alternative that he says is essentially a “penis pump.”

Let’s see, do we really want to risk our health, or even our life, on a “maybe?”

If you’re struggling with sexual performance issues, we suggest just talking to your doctor. They may be able to help you with your erection problems and identify an underlying issue and address it.

“What’s written on the package, you can’t really guarantee that’s what’s actually in there,” says urologist Katherine Rotker with Yale Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, who specializes in male infertility and reproductive health.

Rotker continues, “But we have a lot of good treatments and medications, like PDE5 inhibitors, and they have really good safety profiles. We know how they interact with most medications and health conditions, and even if those don’t work, we have other options available, like injections and devices that can help.”

Call us crazy, but we’d rather trust someone like her with our health rather than the attendant peddling Funyuns and low-octane fuel. We’ll leave them in charge of the gas “pump” instead.

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