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Numb Nuts: Why I Don't Recommend Desensitizers & Other ‘Enhancers’

Oct. 29, 2009
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I recently received a question via Facebook about whether or not I could recommend a libido enhancer for men. I’m not reprinting the exact question because it wasn’t submitted specifically for this column, but I do want to address it here since I am frequently asked at the Tool Shed about libido enhancers, pills that are supposed to improve sexual performance, and products that can delay ejaculation.

My first job out of college was working for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that focused on consumer advocacy issues. One of their big campaigns while I was there involved pushing for federal regulations of dietary supplements such as vitamins. At the time, I was astonished to learn that these weren't already regulated. They contain potent ingredients that are supposed to have a significant impact on your health, right? And all the information on the bottles looks so "official." There are some regulations about what claims a company can make about the effects of a dietary supplement, but for the most part no one is monitoring what actually goes into those pills.

The "adult" supplement industry is the same. There are no external regulations or standards that manufacturers of pills, gels or liquids have to meet. They can pretty much put whatever they want into their products and make whatever claims they want about them without having to prove that they actually work. For the most part, these supplements are high-profit-margin items that prey on people's sexual insecurities and play on the American belief that all of our problems can be quickly fixed with a drug of some kind. I have customers that swear a particular brand of pill works wonders for them, and that certainly may be true, but because I cannot point to any kind of independent research that says these supplements do what they claim to, I choose not to sell or recommend them.

If someone is having trouble with a low or changing libido, difficulty maintaining erections, or not lasting as long as they'd like during sex, there are techniques that can help, such as mental health counseling, evaluation by a medical professional and physical exercises that can help retrain the body's erotic responses. But these take, you know, work over an extended period of time. As with weight loss, our other national obsession, many people would rather try a variety of quick-fix, unproven pills than the tried-and-true regular exercise and permanent dietary changes. Truly substantial changes in your physical, emotional and sexual well-being, however, do require introspection and serious effort, which is well worth it.

The other products that I frequently get questions about are desensitizers. Typically, people are asking for desensitizers to either delay ejaculation or make anal penetration less painful. I would never, ever recommend desensitizers for either of these issues. The purpose of sex for most of us is to feel good, and since desensitizers take away feeling, they seem to me to be antithetical to the very reason we engage in sex in the first place. Also, if you are putting desensitizing products on your penis or anus, these products can rub off on your partner's genitals, creating a situation where everyone is numb and frustrated.

For men who are ejaculating sooner than they would like to, I would recommend going with safe physical barriers and techniques rather than chemical ones. Extra-strength condoms, without desensitizers, can sometimes help decrease sensation. The real issue here is often retraining yourself to recognize when ejaculation is imminent and how to back down from that point, and whole books have been written with physical exercises that can assist with this.

Anal desensitizers can lead to serious injury. Pain is usually a sign from our bodies that something is wrong and that we should stop what we're doing. Safe anal play requires warm-up, lots of lube, careful communication and slow progress. Anal desensitizers take away our ability to respond to our body's cues and communicate with our partners, and they also take away any pleasure that we might feel in addition to taking away the pain.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.


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