The Truth About Non-Prescription Erectile Dysfunction Treatments

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
man in drug store

Men coping with erectile dysfunction (ED) may be tempted to try all possible cures. You only have to walk the aisles of health food stores or do an internet search to find an array of over-the-counter products that promise results.

But these non-prescription options don’t always deliver on that promise, and can even be harmful to your health. Always talk to your doctor before using any alternative or complementary medicine, and take note of this important information about non-prescription ED treatments.

What to Know About Herbs and Supplements

For instance, a wide variety of herbs and supplements claim to help with ED and improve sexual performance. Some describe themselves as an “herbal Viagra" (a drug approved to treat ED). However, there's no scientific evidence any of them are effective.

These products do not fall under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation in the same way prescription products do. That means it's hard to know what's really in them or how they were made. The FDA has issued warnings about their safety, saying they could contain unknown substances and possible contaminants.

What’s more, a number of these products can cause dangerous reactions. In particular, quite a few can interact in a bad way with certain prescription drugs. This could be a problem for men taking certain medications for blood pressure, heart problems or other conditions.

One example is the aphrodisiac known as Spanish fly. This pill can irritate the urinary and genital tract and can cause burning and infections in the mouth and throat. It can even be life-threatening. Even supplements like ginkgo biloba or L-arginine can interact dangerously with medications or cause allergic reactions.

These are all reasons why you should talk to your doctor before trying unknown products--even if you can buy them right off a store shelf.

What to Know About Erection Devices

Another type of ED treatment you can get without a prescription is a vacuum device. Some call it a penis pump. These devices can be effective; however, it’s safer to use one that requires a doctor’s prescription.

Avoid purchasing one you might find at a sex shop. These tend to be novelty items. They weren't made with the same quality guidelines as a medical device your doctor can prescribe.

Specifically, a vacuum device should have a "limiter." It limits the amount of suction the device can deliver. This prevents injury to your penis.

What to Know About Lifestyle Changes

If you're looking for natural or drug-free options to treat ED, try some simple lifestyle changes. They can often help resolve problems with getting or maintaining an erection.

For instance, losing weight may make a difference. Healthy eating can help with that. So can regular exercise, which also reduces stress and improves blood flow--two other issues that contribute to erectile dysfunction.

Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol can also can play a role in reducing ED problems. Problems within a marriage or relationship could be at the heart of sexual difficulties, too. Consider talking with a counselor or therapist to help you work through any issues you're having.

The Bottom Line

Perhaps the most important step is to have an open discussion with your doctor about trustworthy options. There are tested and effective methods to resolve problems related to ED. If one isn't helpful, chances are good that a different one will work for you.

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  1. Erectile Dysfunction – Alternative Medicine. Mayo Clinic, 2016.
  2. Erectile Dysfunction, University of Maryland Medical Center. 2012.
  3. Treating Erectile Dysfunction – Without the Little Blue Pill.  AARP, 2012.
  4. The Management of Erectile Dysfunction: An Update. American Urological Association, 2007.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 24
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.