Over the last few years, the market for non-alcoholic beverages intended to be consumed like booze has blossomed. These drinks, priced and distributed much like an aperitif or liqueur, are meant to be sipped consciously, enjoyed for the purpose of relaxation or conviviality in the place of alcohol. Brands like Kin, Ghia and Three Spirit tout that their products won’t get you drunk, but will instead make you feel a variety of other things — “blissful,” “energetic” and “stimulated” are all words that appear in the copy of their sites.
But let’s get straight to the point here, shall we? I wanna know one thing and one thing only: Will these drinks make you horny?
To answer that question, I had to try one for myself. Before I get into that, though, we need to know exactly what these beverages contain. Many are loaded up with adaptogens, a sort of catch-all term for herbs and botanicals that are hypothetically capable of remedying a variety of ailments. Some examples of adaptogens used in these drinks include ginseng, lemon balm and lion’s mane mushrooms. The product I tried, Three Spirit’s “Social Elixir,” contained the latter, as well as damiana, cacao and yerba mate.
“Adaptogens are often used in products intended to calm us, energize us, focus us, etc.,” says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott. “There’s a lot of overlap between the possible effects on libido, relaxation and energy, depending on which ingredient is being used, its level of purity/potency and what it’s being combined with.”
As that mention of libido suggests, many adaptogens are also considered to be aphrodisiacs. Damiana in particular has a long history as a libido-enhancer, with some promising studies promoting its efficacy in rats (nothing yet concrete in humans, though).
But regardless of past studies, it’s hard to know exactly whether adaptogens in food-based products will work because we don’t know their exact formulation. “You can’t tell from the website or the label if any of their botanical ingredients are ‘standardized’ to specific active ingredients, so you’d have to cross your fingers that there’s ‘enough’ to result in a mood change,” says Talbott, speaking specifically about Three Spirit’s elixir.
Maybe that doesn’t matter when it comes to aphrodisiacs, though. “The main thing that aphrodisiacs successfully do (when they work) is trigger the placebo effect,” says Good Vibrations sexologist Carol Queen. “Now, that’s not nothing! If someone believes they’ll get turned on by eating an oyster or by consuming a cocktail or mocktail with ginseng or some other herb, and they get turned on, great!”
Basically, whether these non-alcoholic drinks can get you feeling frisky in the way a few boozy beverages might is a gamble.
For me, Three Spirit did kinda work. Per their recommendation, I poured two ounces of the elixir over ice with ginger ale. The elixir itself has a kombucha-like flavor, vinegar-y but still semi-sweet. After drinking half a glass, I found myself getting nervous about whether or not I was actually feeling anything. What if I had some rare condition that caused my brain to process damiana like DMT? I got over that fear, but ultimately, that nervousness, and that light, jittery excitement, was indeed a side effect of the drink.
Eventually, it subsided and I began to feel good, calm and like the knobs in my brain had been dialed back just a notch. I even poured a second glass, this time over seltzer. I had my partner take a sip, and he enjoyed the taste more than he expected. I told him it contained damiana, and that I was testing the drink for its aphrodisiac properties. I won’t go into detail, but just telling your partner you’re consuming aphrodisiacs is usually enough to make them effective.
Non-alcoholic aperitifs and the like may or may not make you horny — that much is really up to you to decide for yourself. Considering most people find alcohol to be sexually inhibiting physically (even if mentally, it makes them hornier), a non-alcoholic liqueur like Three Spirits does seem like a more practical choice in that regard. But there is indeed something sexy in the ritual of making a drink, of telling yourself you’re consuming something special and of sharing that with a partner.
Maybe these beverages won’t get you tipsy, but if you tell yourself that they’ll make you horny, you might very well be right.