Instant erection pills: are they safe and effective?

Patricia Weiser, PharmD - Contributor Avatar

Written by Amelia Willson 

Patricia Weiser, PharmD - Contributor Avatar

Written by Amelia Willson 

last updated: Jul 01, 2024

8 min read

Instant erection pills are herbal supplements that claim to boost sexual performance and relieve erectile dysfunction (ED) or premature ejaculation (PE) in a matter of minutes. But can these over-the-counter male enhancement pills really give you a seemingly instantaneous hard-on? Or is it just a bunch of marketing fluff?

You know what they say: When it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But there are legit treatment options out there that do work pretty dang fast and well when it comes to sexual dysfunction. Below, we dive into what instant erection pills claim to offer along with their (spoiler alert: lack of) safety and effectiveness. Then, we review several proven and evidence-based treatments that can actually improve sexual performance and erections in a timely manner.

Erectile dysfunction

Always be ready when the mood is right. Consult a healthcare provider about Cialis®

What are instant erection pills? 

Instant erection pills—also advertised as fast-acting male enhancement pills—are over-the-counter (OTC) supplements that claim to enhance your sex life. They might promise to give you harder erections, help you last longer in bed, make your penis bigger, boost your sexual confidence, or some combination of these effects. 

Their marketing can often contribute to  confusion between these products and the proven treatments approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as Viagra (sildenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil). So, it can be easy to assume that they’re all equally effective. There’s only one problem: They’re not. 

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

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

Like any other medication, FDA-approved treatments such as Viagra come with a list of side effects and potential interactions. But they’re regulated, proven to be safe, and evidence-based. Plus, they require an Rx from a healthcare provider, which can allow for an informed conversation about the drug. Instant erection pills, on the other hand, are associated with several potential risks. 

Because they’re dietary supplements, instant erection pills are not regulated by the FDA. They don’t have to go through the same safety and testing processes as prescription drugs. The thrill-seekers out there may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, so there’s some risk, who cares if it works?” Well, currently, no herbal approaches have been found to be completely effective in treating ED. There’s only a small amount of research on them and it’s usually focused on individual ingredients rather than a combination of them and on animals rather than humans. 

Many OTC erection pills are marketed as “all-natural” and contain herbal ingredients, such as horny goat weed, ginseng, L-arginine, and maca. But as a dietary supplement, they don’t have to list all their ingredients—and many often don’t, according to a 2018 study. In fact, another study found that six male enhancement products advertised as 100% natural all contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. While sildenafil can be safe for many people, it may not be for those with certain conditions or taking certain medications. Additionally, sildenafil can be dangerous when combined with nitrates, which can be found in some instant erection pills. Point being: The lack of transparency among these supplements can lead to potentially dangerous interactions. 

Meanwhile, part of what makes instant erection pills (and male enhancement pills overall) so attractive is that they’re available OTC. You can find them at your local vitamin shop, online via Amazon and other sites, or even at the gas station. This level of accessibility can be enticing to some people, as it allows you to sidestep any potential awkwardness of talking to your healthcare provider about your sex life. Once you get over any initial discomfort, though, there are plenty of reasons to go the prescription route, starting with safety (more on that later). 

Prescription ED treatments

Instant erection pills

Rx required

Yes

No

FDA-regulated for safety and efficacy

Yes

No

Hidden ingredients

No

Possibly

Proven in clinical trials

Yes

No

Do instant erection pills work?

It’s hard to say—in large part because male erection pills are not regulated by the FDA. 

As mentioned above, instant erection pills are sold as dietary supplements, so they’re not subject to the same rigorous review, safety, and approval process that prescription medications are. Meaning, they can go to market without being tested for safety and they’re not required to back up their marketing claims with scientific evidence or clinical trials.

In theory, it may be possible for male enhancement products, such as instant erection pills, to work. But there’s no way to know for sure without published clinical trials to back them up. And when you try instant erection pills, you’re taking a gamble not just on whether it will work for you, but also on whether it will be safe for you to take. That’s because the FDA relies on consumer reports to issue warnings about any products, but reports can only happen after a product is already on the market.

Considering the variety of proven, research-backed treatments that are currently available for ED and PE, the risk may not be worth it.

Are instant erection pills safe?

Whenever you try a new medication or supplement, there’s a risk it may not work for you or cause side effects you weren't expecting. With instant erection pills over-the-counter, that risk may be significantly higher, according to the research

Sexual enhancement products are one of the most common OTC products to be adulterated, meaning they often contain hidden ingredients not listed on their labels—some of which may be unapproved or even banned. In the aforementioned 2018 study, researchers combed through FDA-issued supplement warnings from 2007 to 2016. They found that over 350 male enhancement products contained at least one unapproved ingredient. Worse, some of these products continued to add new, unapproved ingredients after receiving a warning (or multiple warnings) from the FDA. 

Among these adulterated products, nearly half (47%) contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Other unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients included tadalafil (the active ingredient in Cialis), dapoxetine (an antidepressant that’s not approved by the FDA), and sibutramine (an ingredient in weight loss supplements that’s banned in the US due to its cardiovascular risks).

Another researcher continued the work of the previous study and looked through the FDA’s database up through 2021. Sexual enhancement products continued to include active pharmaceutical ingredients, with some supplements including as many as five active ingredients. (You can view the current list of FDA warnings on the organization’s database of Tainted Sexual Enhancement and Energy Products here.)

Even if the FDA issues warnings and recalls these products, they may still remain on the market. One study found that a “natural” male enhancement pill called “Rock Hard for Men” combined tadalafil with glyburide, an ingredient that lowers blood sugar levels. Sadly, this combination appeared in other instant erection pills and led to more than a dozen deaths, the researchers noted. 

Clearly, it’s not uncommon for instant erection pills to fail to list all of their included ingredients or to contain hidden pharmaceutical ingredients despite claiming to be all-natural. The problem is, if you don’t know what’s included in a supplement, you don’t know whether it’s safe for you to take. Many of the ingredients found in fast-acting male enhancement products have the potential to interact with other medications or supplements you might be taking, and some of them can be unsafe if you have certain underlying health conditions. 

Despite what the product labels on instant erection pills may claim, a magic fix to treat ED just doesn’t exist. However, there are a number of relatively fast-acting treatments for ED and PE that come close—plus, they contain safe and FDA-approved ingredients. Let’s take a look.

Fast-acting treatments for erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) describes a persistent difficulty getting or maintaining an erection that’s strong enough to have enjoyable sex. ED is common, affecting at least 30–50 million men in the US. There are a number of proven treatments for ED, and while they don’t work within seconds, they can work within minutes to hours

PDE5 inhibitors are the first-line treatment for ED, and they're fairly fastest-acting. They work by relaxing the muscle tissue and blood vessels around your penis, enabling blood to rush in when you’re aroused, so you can enjoy a harder, longer-lasting erection. Here’s a quick overview of PDE5 inhibitors, in order of how quickly they start to work: 

  • Avanafil is the active ingredient in Stendra (there's no generic version just yet). It typically starts working within 15–30 minutes, although some studies have found it can kick in as soon as 10 minutes after taking a dose. It lasts around 5 hours. 

  • Sildenafil is the active ingredient in and generic name for Viagra. It usually starts working within 30 minutes to 2 hours, with 1 hour being most common. Effects last for about 4 hours. Sildenafil is available as a generic or brand-name oral tablet.

  • Vardenafil is the active ingredient in and generic name for Levitra. Like sildenafil, it starts working within 30 minutes to 2 hours, with 1 hour being most common. The effects last for 4–5 hours.

  • Tadalafil is the active ingredient in and generic name for Cialis. It usually starts working within 2 hours, though it can take longer. At 36 hours, Cialis boasts the longest half-life of traditional ED medications, giving it the spicy nickname of the “weekend pill.” 

While all of these drugs are often available as oral tablets, certain PDE5 inhibitors can be found in other formulations as well. For example, tadalafil is the active ingredient in Ro’s Daily Rise Gummies. These chewable gummies feature 7 mg of tadalafil and are designed to be taken daily, so you can be ready for sex whenever the occasion should arise. And then there are 

And then there are PDE5 inhibitor-containing lozenges, such as Ro Sparks. This 2-in-1 treatment contains both sildenafil and tadalafil in a sublingual form, which starts working in about 15 minutes on average.  

Brand Name

Stendra

Viagra

Levitra

Cialis

Ro Sparks

Ro Daily Rise Gummies

Active ingredients

Avanafil

Sildenafil

Vardenafil

Tadalafil

Sildenafil and tadalafil

Tadalafil

Average length of onset

15–30 minutes

30–120 minutes

30–120 minutes

120 minutes

15 minutes

N/A (taken daily)

Duration of effects

5 hours

4 hours

4–5 hours

36 hours

36 hours

24/7

Fast-acting treatments for premature ejaculation

Fast-acting male enhancement pills often claim to boost sexual stamina and help you last longer in bed before you ejaculate. This can be a particularly attractive prospect for people with premature ejaculation (PE), who may come sooner than they’d like (the technical definition is within 1–3 minutes or less). PE is the most common sexual dysfunction issue men face, affecting anywhere between 30–75% of men between the ages of 18 and 59 years. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of proven treatments for PE  that can help you last longer in bed:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be best-known for treating depression, but they can also help with PE and may be prescribed off-label to do just that. Their active ingredients include fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and citalopram, escitalopram, although you may recognize them by their brand names, like Zoloft and Lexapro. Delayed ejaculation is the most common sexual side effect of these medications and thus why they can be helpful for PE. It may take a few weeks for your body to fully respond to the medication.

  • Topical lidocaine sprays or creams contain lidocaine as their active ingredient. These topical anesthetics can have a numbing effect on your penis, so you’re less sensitive  and have more control over when you orgasm. You simply apply the medicated cream to the tip and shaft of your penis around 10–20 minutes before you plan on having sex. In clinical studies, men who used a lidocaine 5% spray reported that it took them significantly longer to ejaculate, and that they had more sex as well. 

  • Benzocaine wipes (such as Roman Swipes) are another topical option for treating PE. You just give your penis a solid wipe about 5 minutes before you plan to have sex. According to one study, men who used benzocaine wipes were no longer considered to have PE after two months. At the first month check-in, they were able to increase their time to orgasm from 1.25 minutes to nearly 3 minutes. A month later, they were having sex for 5.5 minutes, on average—a 4x increase from where they started.

Treatment option

SSRIs

Topical lidocaine sprays or creams

Topical benzocaine wipes

Time to experience full effects

2–3 weeks

10–20 minutes

5 minutes

Fast-acting options for boosting testosterone

You may see ads for instant erection pills that claim to rev up your sex drive and testosterone levels—even though testosterone may not be the problem. While low levels of testosterone can contribute to ED, other causes of ED are far likelier, including diabetes, obesity, and depression. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms—e.g. low libido, fewer spontaneous hard-ons (including morning wood), and unexplained fatigue—low T might be to blame. You’ll want to talk to your healthcare provider to find out: Testing tends to be fairly straightforward, involving getting bloodwork done.

Some herbal ingredients, including fenugreek seed and ashwagandha root extracts, can have a positive effect on testosterone levels. But these ingredients are not fast-acting; increasing testosterone levels takes time. For example, it can take 8–12 weeks to start seeing results from ashwagandha or fenugreek supplementation. 

If your healthcare provider does, in fact, diagnose you with low T, they might pose testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). This treatment supplements your body with a pharmaceutical form of testosterone via pills, patches, creams, gels, or injections. You might start to see improvements in your libido and erections in as little as 3 weeks, although it can take up to 6 months to enjoy the maximum effects on erections and ejaculation.

Treatment option

TRT

Fenugreek extract

Ashwagandha

Time to experience full effects

3 weeks–6 months

8–12 weeks

8 weeks

Bottom line on instant erection pills

When it comes to instant erection pills, they’re simply not a great option for improving your sex life. It’s tough to know whether they work, and more importantly, whether they’re safe. Fortunately, there are plenty of safe and effective treatments for improving your erections, whether you want to get hard faster, stay hard longer, or maybe a bit of both. As always, it’s a good idea to talk  to your healthcare provider about your options.

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

July 01, 2024

Written by

Amelia Willson

Fact checked by

Patricia Weiser, PharmD


About the medical reviewer

Patricia Weiser, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist, health content writer, and medical reviewer with more than a decade of clinical experience in community and hospital pharmacy.