Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is an unassuming—and controversial—Asian groundcover whose medicinal root has been revered for centuries in China, Korea, and Japan. For almost as long, Western medicine has dismissed it as largely worthless. But that view is changing. Several studies, many by South Korean scientists, show that among older adults, ginseng significantly improves sexual function.
Ginseng Improves Sex for Post-Menopausal Women
Some women sail through menopause with few if any complaints. But most experience some discomforts: hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, libido loss, and sexual difficulties. Ginseng helps:
• South Korean investigators gave 28 menopausal women either a placebo or Korean red ginseng (KRG, 1,000 mg three times/day, 3,000 mg/day total). KRG is a form of the herb popular in Korea prepared by steaming the root and then drying it. After a month of treatment, participants took two weeks off from treatment (a washout period), and then switched treatments—the placebo group took the herb and vice versa (a crossover trial). While taking the placebo, participants reported a slight increase in standard measures of women’s sexual function. But while using the KRG, they reported substantially improved sexual function (p = 0.006): more desire, easier arousal, more self-lubrication, more reliable orgasms, and greater sexual satisfaction.
• Iranian researchers recruited 62 healthy women, aged 45 to 60, who reported menopausal symptoms and partner sex at least twice a month. Half took a placebo. The other half took ginseng (500 mg twice a day, 1,000 mg/day total). After four weeks, the ginseng group showed significant decreases in the frequency and severity of hot flashes, and significantly improved sexual function (p < 0.001).
• University of Hawaii scientists gave 77 women either a placebo or the sex supplement ArginMax, one of whose main ingredients is ginseng (other ingredients include the herbs ginkgo and damiana, the amino acid L-arginine, and several vitamins and minerals). After four weeks, one-third of the placebo group reported increased desire, self-lubrication, clitoral sensitivity, and orgasms. But in the ArginMax group, more than twice that proportion, 74 percent, reported sexual improvements (p < 0.01).
• Finally, South Korean researchers reviewed 10 trials of raw ginseng and KRG for menopausal women’s sexual and other discomforts. “Our review provided evidence of ginseng’s benefits for sexual function and KRG for hot flashes and sexual arousal.”
Ginseng Improves Sex for Older Men
• South Korean researchers gave 119 older men with mild-to-moderate erectile dysfunction either a placebo or ginseng (1,400 mg/day of the berry, which contains the same medicinal constituents as the root). After eight weeks, the herb “improved all domains of sexual function,” particularly erection firmness.
• Brazilian investigators gave 60 older men with mild-to-moderate ED either a placebo or Korean red ginseng (1,000 mg three times/day, total 3,000 mg). After 12 weeks, the placebo group showed no erection changes, but the men taking the KRG reported significantly improved firmness and better overall sexual functioning (p < 0.001).
• Another South Korean research team gave 863 older men suffering erectile dysfunction (ED) either a placebo or ginseng (1,000 mg twice daily, total 2,000 mg/day). The placebo group showed no improvement in sexual function, but those who took the herb showed significantly firmer erections and reported greater sexual satisfaction (p < 0.05).
• A third South Korean team gave 45 men with ED either a placebo or KRG (900 mg three times/day, total 2,700 mg). After eight weeks of treatment and a two-week washout period, the groups crossed over for another eight weeks. Compared with the period when they took the placebo, during treatment with ginseng, the men reported significantly firmer erections.
How Ginseng Works
The pharmacologically active constituents in ginseng are called ginsenosides. They enhance sexual function largely by opening (dilating) the arteries. This increases blood flow into the genitals, which improves erections in men and lubrication and clitoral sensitivity in women. Ginsenosides also stimulate the release of nitric oxide, as compound crucial to sexual function.
While ginseng has mostly been studied for older adults’ sex problems, it also shows benefits for younger people, for example, those taking methadone to treat opioid addiction. Both opioids and methadone wreak havoc on sexual function. Swiss researchers gave 74 methadone uses (26 women, 48 men, average age 40) either a placebo or ginseng. The herb counteracted the sexual harm of the methadone and improved sexual function.
Why Ginseng is Controversial
For centuries, traditional Asian physicians have called ginseng a “tonic,” their term for therapies that exert subtle but significant health-enhancing effects on many body systems. The more current scientific term is “adaptogen,” a plant that helps the body cope with a wide range of challenges. However, Western physicians and medical researchers generally believe in “one pill for one ill,” and have long felt skeptical of claims that ginseng benefits many systems simultaneously. In fact, studies show that in addition to its sexual value, ginseng also boosts immunity, helps prevent many cancers, reduces blood pressure, and helps treat diabetes, emphysema, and male infertility. These findings support the Asian perspective and suggest that ginseng root is, indeed, a tonic/adaptogen.
Ginseng contains no caffeine but has stimulant action. People taking the doses used in the studies above sometimes report effects similar to those caused by caffeine: restlessness, nervousness, and irritability. If you try ginseng for its sexual benefits and feel over-stimulated, reduce your dose.
In discussions of sexual enhancement, sexologists rarely mention ginseng. They should. The evidence shows that it delivers sexual benefits, especially for older adults.
Choi, Y.D. et al. “Effects of Korean Ginseng Berry Extract on Sexual Function in Men with Erectile Dysfunction: A Multicenter, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Clinical Study,” International Journal of Impotence Research (2013) 25:45.
DeAndrade, E. et al. “Study of the Efficacy of Korean Red Ginseng in the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction,” Asian Journal of Andrology (2007) 9:241.
Ghorbani, Z. et al. “The Effect of Ginseng on Sexual Dysfunction in Menopausal Women: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2019) 45:57.
Oh, K.J. et al. “Effects of Korean Red Ginseng on Sexual Arousal in Menopausal Women: Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Clinical Crossover Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2010) 7:1469.