An aphrodisiac is a near-mystical concept that aims to either A) make you fall madly in love or B) stimulate your arousal so you’re molten hot and primed for pleasure. I don’t know about the former, but as someone who explores various avenues of self-pleasure as part of her job, I can safely say this about the latter: Arousal products are an incredible way to amplify a sexual experience.
But, before exploring any and all of them, some basic rules to know: First is that arousal oils are applied topically and only externally to the clitoris or vulva in order to stimulate arousal for sexual play, but they’re distinctly not the same as lube. Rather, personal lubricants simulate wetness while arousal products tend to stimulate wetness by increasing blood flow to the genitals, catalyzing a sexual response. So while these types of products serve similar purposes, arousal products use different means (read: ingredients) to get you there.
“Some arousal products aim to increase arousal with ingredients, like cinnamon or mint, that can feel tingly on the skin,”says Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of Bloomi. “Others have botanical aphrodisiacs that promote circulation to help the pelvic area naturally ‘heat up,’ which then helps you produce your own lubrication.” And, again, don’t put an arousal oil inside your vagina unless it’s labeled a personal lubricant, which means it’s “been cleared for internal use by the FDA,” she says. So before you buy an arousal product, it helps to know what might be best for your body.
What to look for in an arousal product
Story advises that you always check for ingredients that are vulva-friendly, as vulva skin is more sensitive than other skin on the body. Avoid any ingredients your know you’re allergic to (if eating almonds gives you hives, for example, putting almond oil on your vulva is a very bad idea). And definitely do a patch test to sample any product before you use it in action. “It’s important to try things out on your palm or other less tender parts of the body first,” says Gigi Engle, a sexologist and intimacy expert with SKYN.
In order to to make sure your arousal products feature body-safe ingredients, both Story and Engle suggest avoiding potentially harmful ingredients, like glycerin, sugar, or artificial fragrances. Furthermore, just because something is labeled as “clean” does not mean it’s safe, because, as Story says, the term is not regulated and is used so frequently that it ends up meaning nothing. That’s why Story suggests you look for arousal products without “parabens, phthalates, or other vulvar allergens.”
A final word before you select your go-to arousal buddy: Know the difference between products that are oil-based and water-based. Oil-based products don’t require synthetic preservatives, so they may be a better option if you have sensitive skin. Plus, “they can be a great choice for solo play in the shower, for example, because they provide a nice slip,” says Story. But if you plan to use latex condoms or silicone-based toys with, or after, you apply your arousal product, she suggests choosing a water-based formula.
With all this in mind, we rounded up our most beloved bottles of arousal serum, so you have options for your nightstand aphrodisiac of choice.
5 aphrodisiac arousal serums to get you in the mood
1. Bloomi Arousal Oil, $58
I’m a personal fan of Bloomi arousal oil, which is a botanical blend that features damiana for better orgasms, angelica root, which supports the arousal process, and wolfberry to enhance overall sexual stamina, as well as pumpkin seed oil, black currant oil, and evening primrose oil, among others. Bloomi gives off a floral-yet-peppery scent and a moisturizing touch. While all arousal products mentioned offer perks, in my experience, Bloomi is particularly adept at getting your juices flowing, so to speak.
Shop Now: Bloomi Arousal Oil, $58
2. Rosebud Woman Arouse Serum, $75
Arouse’s ingredients were crowd-sourced based on wisdom from and consultations of South American shamans, and Ayurvedic, Polynesian, Northern European, and North American herbalists, and the finished formula works on multiple levels: It leads to lubrication, triggers arousal, and catalyzes plumping and tingling of the vulva. “The plumping and tingling come from two plants: spilanthes acmella, aka ‘buzz buttons,’ and a particular variety of pepper,” says Christine Marie Mason, founder of Rosebud Woman. “In the South Pacific, buzz buttons are used for sexual arousal and oral hygiene, because of the salivation response inside the mouth.”
I’ve been using this for a while and can confirm that the tingling sensation comes on after about a minute and lasts for about five. The plumping, Mason tells me, is supposed to last an hour. And the pleasure? Well, that lasts as long as you do. Bonus: the food-grade ingredients make it safe for oral sex!
Shop Now: Rosebud Woman Arouse Stimulating Serum, $75
What makes WLDKAT’s Sex Serum different than many other arousal products is that it’s water-based: arousal oils are fabulous, but oil degrades the integrity of condoms. (Friendly reminder: stop using coconut oil as lube.)
“The blend of the water-based ingredients like aloe vera juice [makes it] safe for use with condoms, and the CBD does wonders for relaxation and getting you and your bits in the mood,” says WLDKAT founder and CEO Amy Zunzunegui. I can confirm that’s true: While this serum did indeed get me in the mood, it was in a more chillaxed way than I’m used to.
Shop Now: WLDKAT Prebiotic + pH Balanced Sex Serum, $39, available for pre-order
This arousal oil was a godsend during quarantine, when living in my parents’ house made me feel, um, not very sexual. If you love the chill factor CBD offers but an oil might be more up your alley, I highly recommend this version. Her Highness’s Highly Orgasmic Pleasure Oil has an olive oil base that’ll make you feel like a Mediterranean goddess, giving off serious Aphrodite vibes.
Shop Now: Her Highness Highly Orgasmic Oil, $60
5. Unbound Clitoral Jolt Gel, $30
Do you tend to pay a lot of attention to one specific area during sex play? Perhaps the area that helps vulva-owners reach orgasm the fastest? Then, getting some packets of Unbound’s Clitoral Jolt Gel might be the best move for you. The water-based formula is infused with peppermint oil and you only need to put the tiniest dollop directly on your sweet spot. Pair it with your best vibrator, and enjoy every sensation that follows.
Shop Now: Unbound Clitoral Jolt Gel, $30
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