Maria Pease
Article by: Maria Pease
Estimated 7 minutes read
Quick summary
Spanish fly is known as a powerful aphrodisiac but technically refers to a type of blister beetle that produces a toxic substance called cantharidin. Cantharidin is a poisonous substance from blister beetles. Mistakenly believed to be an aphrodisiac, it irritates the genitals, causing health risks such as painful urination and even death. Its use is illegal and dangerous, with no genuine aphrodisiac effects.

Spanish fly is a term that refers to a group of insects with a subspecies called Spanish flies, also known as meloid or blister beetles. The interesting thing about Spanish fly is that people have used it as an aphrodisiac for boosting sex drive and desire since ancient times. 

It may have been put under the spotlight when Bill Cosby talked about using it to drug women to entice them into having sex during his stand-up routine. Cosby had an entire stand-up routine about drugging women's drinks with 'Spanish fly' back in 1969. It's incredible to think about it in the context of later accusations. 

Spanish fly has the reputation of getting women in the mood and enhancing male libido. Since it's still on sale today, we'll explore Spanish fly and answer the question: Is the Spanish fly a mythical aphrodisiac or a real sensation? (1)

What is Spanish Fly?

While not actually a fly, the Spanish fly is part of a species of beetles called blister beetles. This particular beetle secretes a milky fluid from the joints in their legs as a defense mechanism called cantharidin. 

While cantharidin is the active ingredient isolated from blister beetles as a medical formulation used to remove warts, moles and tattoos, it is mainly known as an aphrodisiac. It had been popular with ancient Romans to encourage orgies and other sexual behaviors, and legend says it was a tool for sexual blackmail. 

When ingested, it's supposed to ignite sexual desire and promote feelings of warmth in the body and genitals, but that may be due to irritation and not desire because if the dose is too high, it can cause some uncomfortable symptoms that include(2): 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody urine
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory issues
  • Heart failure
  • Painful erections
  • Kidney failure 
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Death

Although men may see Spanish fly as an aphrodisiac that can help them to increase their sexual stamina, not everyone who ingests it is a willing participant. Legend says dried beetles were sometimes crushed, mixed into a drink or dessert, and consumed without the receiver's knowledge or consent.

The Myth vs. Reality

Spanish fly and its active ingredient, cantharidin, has a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac from ancient times. Some of the stories include accounts from Livia, the wife of Augustus Caesar, who allegedly ground the beatles and put them into food to entice men into sexually compromising situations so she could blackmail them.

Another account involved Louis XIV's use of cantharidin to increase his performance with women he lusted after. Marquis de Sade reportedly gave cantharidin-laced lozenges to prostitutes, who ended up dying. He was later sentenced to death for murder.

The reality of Spanish fly is that it contains cantharidin, which can be deadly, causing severe toxicity, which leads to painful symptoms that include nausea, burning of the mouth, inability to swallow, vomiting up blood, painful urination, and blood in the urine, among other things. (3)

Due to the myths of the aphrodisiac effects of Spanish fly, various products are available to buy online and in some shops. While they are usually made with multiple herbs and may include cayenne pepper to produce a burning sensation in the mouth, they don't contain cantharidin, which is obviously a good thing since it can be deadly, even in small amounts.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Authentic Spanish fly containing cantharidin poses serious health risks and death (4) and is deemed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information as a dangerous toxic substance and irritant. The Hazardous Substance Data Bank also lists it as a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer. 

If you ingest it and don't actually die, you may experience some effects that include:

  • Priapism. A painful and long-lasting erection that requires immediate medical attention.
  • Blisters. When in contact with the skin, it causes burning, itching and blistering of the skin.
  • Blood in your urine, vomit and saliva.

The thing to look out for is that products labeled Spanish fly by do not carry Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and may not list all the ingredients on the bottle, which means you don't know what's in them. Some of the ingredients can be potentially dangerous.

Simply put, Spanish fly-labeled products pose a considerable risk to men's health and may not offer the desired male enhancement. While many Spanish fly supplements don't contain cantharidin, you wouldn't know if they did and how much was in it. Why take the risk since it only takes a small amount to kill you? 

Safe and Effective Alternatives for Sexual Enhancement

If you want to improve sexual function, you're not alone, but probably also want to do it safely. Studies show several factors can significantly impact sexual function, including

Lifestyle Factors

  • Being more active. Erectile dysfunction is primarily due to arterial dysfunction, which correlates with cardiovascular risk factors such as physical inactivity. According to research, (5) weekly exercise of 160 minutes can help improve sexual function.
  • Nutrition. Eating a diet of whole foods and eliminating processed foods has been shown to reduce the risks of ED. (6)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. According to studies (7), being overweight or obese can increase the chances of developing ED or other sexual dysfunction by 30 to 60% than maintaining a normal BMI.
  • Quit smoking. Besides the deadly medical issues of tobacco, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and lung disease, research (8) has shown smoking is also linked to the development of sexual health problems such as ED.
  • Sleep. According to studies (9), less than 8 hours of sleep may negatively affect sexual function and lower testosterone levels. 

Lifestyle factors are natural alternatives to non-FDA-approved male enhancement supplements such as Spanish fly. They can significantly impact performance and overall health and don't have any adverse side effects.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Medications

  • ED medications. If you're thinking about Spanish fly to help with ED, there are better and safer choices approved by the FDA. While Viagra and others are more costly branded ED medications, there are generic drugs that are less costly and just as effective; they include sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. (10)

According to studies (11), about 30 million men in the US have ED, so it's pretty common. Generic ED prescription medications are taken under the supervision of your healthcare provider and are very effective in improving sexual performance.

While the promise of the dietary supplement Spanish fly is to improve sexual satisfaction, the truth is it's not an effective aphrodisiac and may pose some real health dangers. When taking supplements or medication, getting a medical consultation is essential.


When looking to boost sexual health, Spanish fly isn't the answer. While authentic Spanish fly can be deadly, the Spanish fly you can buy today is a mixture of various herbal ingredients that are ineffective and even possibly dangerous.

If you are experiencing issues that interfere with your sexual wellness, it's important to discuss your symptoms with your medical practitioner, who can evaluate them and offer possible treatment options such as testosterone replacement therapy.

Man undoing a woman's bra. Red panties.

Don't get duped by fake meds.


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