Gas station sex pills: why you shouldn’t take them

Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD, 

Written by Kristin DeJohn 

Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD, 

Written by Kristin DeJohn 

last updated: May 13, 2022

5 min read

If you’re at a gas station counter, you can purchase gum, sodas, lottery tickets, and, in many cases, male sexual enhancement pills. 

Should you buy an over-the-counter supplement that claims it will boost an erection or enhance your libido? The short answer: no. It’s difficult to tell what’s actually in these products, and some can have dangerous side effects. 

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What are gas station sex pills?

‘Gas station sex pills’ has become a catch-all term for the many male sexual enhancement supplements often found at the check-out counter at your local gas station or convenience store. These supplements can also be found online and sometimes at larger retail stores. They generally claim to boost erections, sex drive, and stamina, and some even claim to increase penis size (FDA, 2022-a).

The claims can be enticing for men with erectile dysfunction (ED) or those just looking to enhance their sex lives. But gas station sex pills are not FDA-regulated, and some contain illegal ingredients in unsafe doses (Chiang, 2017). 

Types of gas station sex pills

There are dozens of brands of male enhancement products on store shelves. The names are usually sexually suggestive or vague, like Extenze. Many are promoted as herbal or natural Viagra. Since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements, it’s not clear exactly what’s in these products. Some of the top sellers usually contain one or more of the following herbs, nutraceuticals, or vitamins (Leisegang, 2021).

Common herbs in male enhancement pills

The following herbs are commonly found in gas station sex pills. Some of these herbs have minimal research on their effectiveness, while others have no evidence at all. 

Nutraceuticals

In addition to herbs, some male enhancement supplement manufacturers may include the following nutraceuticals (vitamins). Like the herbs often included in these pills, some of these vitamins have more research backing them than others. 

  • L-arginine

  • Aspartate

  • DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)

  • B-complex vitamins

  • Zinc and other trace minerals 

Herbal supplements and vitamins are sold legally and generally have mild side effects. What makes gas station sex pills so hard to navigate are the undeclared, illegal ingredients that show up in some products but are not listed on the labels (Chiang, 2017).

Hidden ingredients

It’s illegal to sell prescription drugs over the counter. Despite this, every year, the FDA warns consumers about male enhancement products that contain prescription-grade Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), Levitra (vardenafil), and other similar drugs. 

Among the big offenders: Rhino pills. The Rhino pills brand—with names like Krazzy Rhino, Gold Rhino, or Platinum Rhino—has been a repeat offender on the FDA’s tainted sexual enhancement products listing, but this brand is not the only one putting illegal products on store shelves (FDA, 2018; FDA, 2019). 

Male enhancement products are continually being confiscated for containing Viagra and other prescription-strength erectile dysfunction drugs. Those that appear on the tainted product list are also added to a larger FDA Health Fraud Product Database (FDA, 2022-b). It’s good to search both lists but keep in mind that potentially dangerous products may not yet have been identified and listed.

The FDA also warns to watch for counterfeit drugs, which are fueling the increase in tainted dietary supplements (FDA, 2021). It’s hard to figure out where these counterfeit drugs are manufactured, and there is no oversight. Some sexual enhancement products reportedly contain twice the normal dose of Viagra, which can be quite dangerous (Chiang, 2017; FDA, 2022-b). 

Viagra Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Cialis Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Do gas station sex pills work?

Because manufacturers don’t always list ingredients, and there’s no regulation on ingredient quantity, quality, and packaging, it can be hard to predict how each male enhancement product will work. 

Some of the ingredients these products do list may help with ED, namely Korean red ginseng and L-arginine (Borrelli, 2018; Rhim, 2019). Many of the studies are small, though, and don’t have large randomized controlled trials needed to confirm results. Plus, since these products have no regulation, it’s unclear what you can trust. 

The most promising natural supplements often help boost nitric oxide or increase blood circulation, which is needed for erections (Leisegang, 2021). None are shown to work as well as Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra. The over-the-counter male enhancement products that result in noticeable differences in erectile function are typically the ones containing illicit Viagra or a similar ED drug. Sometimes, these are at much higher doses than would normally be prescribed, making these a dangerous alternative to the real deal (Chiang, 2017).

Are gas station sex pills safe?

According to the FDA, male enhancement products you buy at gas stations are not safe. 

Not knowing exactly what’s in a product can lead to a lot of problems. There can be issues with quality, too much of an undeclared drug like Viagra, allergic or medical reactions, or interactions with other medications. Some male enhancement products have been found to contain heavy metals and other contaminants; others have dangerously high doses of Viagra, Cialis, or a similar drug (Chiang, 2017).

Often, they just don’t work, and you end up with a headache or stomach ache. At the other extreme, there have been cases of young men ending up in the emergency room after taking a gas station sex pill containing Viagra. 

In one case, a 25-year-old had an erection that required a shunt placed to drain the blood. Ultimately, it led to scar tissue in the penis, preventing him from getting an erection (Mittakanti, 2018). 

Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra can also interact with other medications like nitrates or negatively affect men with underlying health conditions, especially if the dose is not right. This can lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Other complaints: include stomach aches, headaches, chest pains, dizziness, nausea, and vision problems (Chiang, 2017).

And it’s not just hidden ingredients that can cause side effects. Herbs and vitamin supplements have various side effects. 

For instance, L-arginine can cause a drop in blood pressure; Horny goat weed and Ginkgo Biloba can affect blood clotting leading to a risk of bleeding; and both ginseng and yohimbine have been linked to insomnia. Some can be dangerous, even deadly, in high doses. The effects of each ingredient can be different depending on any underlying medical issues or sensitivities (MedlinePlus, 2022; Onder, 2016; Jeong Han, 2013; LiverTox, 2022).

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Safer treatments for erectile dysfunction

If you have ED, there’s no need to turn to potentially unsafe male enhancement drugs from the gas station. There are far better—and safer!—options. 

Most people respond very well to ED medications like Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra. These drugs are safe and effective, and it’s easier than ever to get the medication you need. It’s essential that you get ED medication from a licensed healthcare provider, as ED can be caused by other treatable medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or low testosterone. You also want to ensure it won’t interfere with another medication or affect an existing health condition (Chiang, 2017).

Some men skip medications altogether and use devices to help blood flow stay in the penis. These can include cock rings and penis pumps. Research also shows that a heart-healthy diet and exercise can improve blood flow and erections (Leisegang, 2021).

Ultimately, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider to explore the many safe ways to enhance your sex life and avoid the gas station sex pills. 

DISCLAIMER

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

May 13, 2022

Written by

Kristin DeJohn

Fact checked by

Chimene Richa, MD


About the medical reviewer

Dr. Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and medical writer for Ro.

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