The sex health market has been heating up, with new ingredients and deeper research into the mechanisms behind established ingredients making this space an attractive one for brands. Sex health ingredients are also getting smarter, with cognition-enhancing adaptogens suddenly stepping into the sex health space and proving that smart is the new sexy. Stressed out and aging consumers are turning to sex health supplements in greater numbers, with changing societal norms and more evocative packaging driving a 9% yearly increase in global sales, according to Technavio (London, UK).1
As sex health supplements gain popularity, advanced clinical studies and new product developments could generate further interest among consumers. Here are some of the hottest new developments in sex health supplements.
New Fenugreek Patents
Gencor Pacific (Irvine, CA) recently received a new patent for its branded fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) extract for men, Testofen. This new patent was issued in May 2020 and was granted for enhancing sex hormones in aging men via administration of fenugreek seeds or extract.
Testofen’s effects actually address a wide age range. R.V. Venkatesh, managing director and CEO of Gencor, says the company recently published clinical studies in support of this patent demonstrating that Testofen increased testosterone levels in both young, active men and in aging men. Other recent clinical trials published by Gencor show that Testofen enhances sexual performance in middle-aged males with low libido. Venkatesh says Gencor has also received a new patent for its branded Libifem ingredient, a fenugreek extract for female sexual health.
“We’ve done extensive work in this area,” he says. “We were the first to have a peer-reviewed and published randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical study showing that our Libifem-brand fenugreek extract powder enhances female sexual function. This study was done on young adult women with low libido. At the time we had completed our study, to the best of our knowledge there had been no other successful clinical studies done on this segment.”
Tongkat Ali Backed by Science
Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) has a long history as a folk remedy for male sexual dysfunction. Now, modern clinical studies are demonstrating its efficacy and revealing the mechanisms of action behind its effects. Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), says recent studies are showing positive effects on sex health for men. Eng cites the results of a study on HP Ingredients’ branded tongkat ali supplement, LJ100.
“A new, not-yet-published study has shown that both 100-mg and 200-mg doses of LJ100 daily had a significant improvement in total and free testosterone, a significant reduction in fatigue from two weeks onward at 100 mg, and a significant reduction in Aging Male Syndrome from two weeks onward at 100 mg,” Eng says. “Recent clinical evidence continues to show health benefits, including testosterone production, libido, desire, and satisfaction.”
Eng says tongkat ali’s fraught history makes consumer education and transparency essential. She notes that industry groups like the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the American Botanical Council can help marketers teach consumers how to understand the importance of testing protocols, certifications, and other important information when making the purchasing decision.
Education can also help consumers differentiate between the pharmaceuticals and the natural products in this space—and to be vigilant if what they are searching for is a natural product. “Many companies knowingly sell adulterated coffee laced with compounds similar to tadalafil,” Eng notes. “It’s cheaper [to use pharmaceuticals] than it is to educate consumers on the long-term benefits of tongkat ali. We vehemently condemn this immoral practice.”
Adaptogens Trend in Sex Health
One class of natural products rapidly gaining popularity as sexual experience enhancers is adaptogens. Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter Inc. (Boston, MA) and a brand ambassador for Ixoreal Biomed (Hyderabad, India), says adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), and ginseng (Panax ginseng) all play diverse and multifaceted roles in sexual health.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the apex of interest in adaptogens for sex health,” Kilham says. “Over the last 20 years or so, the media has been anywhere from somewhat to lavishly favorable toward this category. Much of that is due to the avalanche of science that has come out about herbs.”
Kilham says Ixoreal has published clinical trials examining the effects of ashwagandha on both male and female sexual function. For women in particular, he says, KSM-66 appears to be highly effective.
“For the past 15 years, I’ve watched pharmaceutical companies go on a vain quest to find the female Viagra, which is kind of a ludicrous proposition. But what they wanted to find is essentially what you find in ashwagandha. The KSM-66 study rang every bell for women: greater number of successful sexual encounters, higher sexual satisfaction, better orgasm. Anything you could hope for in a female sexual enhancement solution, KSM-66 delivered.”
Kilham notes KSM-66 also has a new clinical study examining the effects of ashwagandha on male sexual function. This yet-to-be-published study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, found that men who received KSM-66 experienced increases in overall sexual satisfaction, sexual behavior, and quality of orgasm.
Maca Root for Men
Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is another compound with a demonstrated effect on sex health. One 2019 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial examined the effects of maca root on strength, stamina, body composition, mood, and sexual function in 22 men and 25 women between the ages of 18 and 53. Participants were randomly assigned, at a 1:1 ratio, to receive either three 700-mg doses of the branded maca blend Lepidamax (n=25), or a matching placebo (n=22), per day for 28 days. Participants were assessed for body composition, dominant hand grip strength, mood (via the Profile of Mood States scale), and sexual functioning (via the Derogatis Interview for Sexual Functioning Self-Report, or DISF-SR, questionnaire) at baseline and at the study’s conclusion.
After 28 days, the male subjects taking Lepidamax saw their average DISF-SR score increase by 3.83 points, relative to a 0.71-point increase in the placebo group. The study authors concluded that maca improves sexual functioning in men and has less severe side effects than pharmaceuticals like Viagra.2
Aimee Masterson, marketing director for Lepidamax manufacturer Nutrition 21 (Purchase, NY), says changing consumer attitudes are driving growth in the sexual health market. Consumers, Masterson says, are more accepting of natural health products and are looking for a way to achieve their desired results without pharmaceuticals. Much of this change, Masterson notes, is the result of growing online trends.
“With the rise in popularity of social media, consumers have access to the opinions and reviews of their peers and those they admire, like influencers. Consumers can do research from the comfort of their own homes and find a multitude of alternative methods they might not get in a physician’s office,” she notes.
The early successes of more prominent sex health brands are prompting new players to enter the sex health market. More ingredients are adding sex health functional claims, and more consumers are seeking out supplements to improve their sex lives. As the sex health market grows, expect the best-performing ingredients to be those that are clinically validated and have a transparent supply chain.
Sidebar: Is CBD the Next Big Thing in Sex Health?
Consumers certainly think so. Despite a lack of clinical trials examining whether CBD plays a role in sex health, consumers are reporting that CBD makes for better bedroom encounters. According to one consumer self-report survey of over 1,000 people by Remedy Review (Raleigh, NC), 67% of respondents who have used CBD for sexual purposes say CBD is “very” or “extremely” effective at increasing their level of sexual satisfaction.3
Sidebar: Kava Could Soon See a Resurgence
Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter Inc. (Boston, MA) and a brand ambassador for Ixoreal Biomed (Hyderabad, India), says he expects interest in sex health botanicals to increase. One botanical ingredient he’s keeping an eye on is kava (Piper methysticum).
“About four days before COVID-19 hit, I was in Vanuatu, and I was pleased to see the kava market there is in good shape,” he says. “The native people were making money, the industry was more sophisticated, and the quality controls were much better. There’s some percolating that has to happen if kava is going to become vastly popular again, but if there ever was a time for it to come back in a big way, that time is now.”
- Technavio report. “Global Sexual Enhancement Supplements Market, 2019-2023.” Published online July 2019. Accessed at: https://www.technavio.com/report/sexual-enhancement-supplements-market-industry-analysis?tnplus
- Jiannine LM et al. “The effects of Lepidium meyenii on grip strength, fatigue, and sexual behavior.” The Journal of Exercise and Nutrition, vol. 2, no. 1 (2019): 6
- Gurganus M. “Survey: 68% of people say CBD improves sex.” Remedy Review. Published online April 20, 2020. Accessed at: https://cbdhealthandwellness.net/2019/04/16/survey-68-of-people-say-cbd-improves-sex/