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Underpants-Ripper and Boner-Maker: An Introduction to Peruvian Erection Tonics

Medicine Alley in Iquitos, Peru, is packed with all types of herbs, powders, tonics, and witchcraft supplies—including the infamous sex tonic SVSS, or, Siete Veces Sin Sacar.

by Aaron Kase
Nov 12 2015, 9:00pm

The Belen market in Iquitos, Peru, offers something for everyone: tobacco, coca leaves, endangered game meat, and, of course, erection tonics. Deep in the market, past endless displays of chicken carcasses and exotic fish, lies Medicine Alley, packed with all types of herbs, powders, tonics, and witchcraft supplies. A stall near the end of the alley displays dozens of dark bottles, among them the infamous SVSS, or, Siete Veces Sin Sacar.

"That means seven times for sex!" Lito, the vendor, confided in English with a leering grin. To be literal, it translates to seven times without withdrawal, a dubious and unhygienic prospect for one accustomed to wearing condoms, but the sentiment was appreciated—at least until Lito started eying up my partner and making blowjob motions. We quickly moved on.

That was just the start of our investigation into the Peruvian dick-hardener market. Iquitos—a noisy, dirty city with over half a million residents—can only be reached by airplane or boat, but fortunately for the sexual aspirations of its population, components for a diverse selection of aphrodisiacs are found growing in the surrounding Amazon rainforest.

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The vendor promised this drink would provide "seven times for sex!" All photos by Ada Kulesza.

"There are a lot of useful plants in the jungle," said Marta, a vendor at the Anaconda artisan market, just below the malecon. She offered me a sample of SVSS, rattling off a list of herbal ingredients: chuchuwasi, clavohuasca, sangre de grado, and uña de gato, which are mashed into caña, the local moonshine, and left to brew for a month.

"If you take this, you'll be ready to go in an hour," she promised. It tasted like cheap booze spiced with honey and herbs.

"What happens if I drink the whole bottle?" I asked.

"You'll be drunk!" Marta answered.

"What about just a little?"

"Then, maybe just three or four times," she said, straight-faced.

Marta claimed that the tonic was made by her 80-year-old husband, which invoked an image of Grandpa Simpson mixing up his home remedy that'll put the dowsers back in your trousers. "I'm only 34, so you know it works," she added. She looked to be at least in her mid-40s.

If SVSS doesn't get the job done, there are plenty of other options, like Rompe Calzon (underpants ripper), Para-Para (boner-maker), and 7 Raices (seven roots). The latter, Marta promised, would treat cough and fever in addition to impotence.

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Ciro, manager of the Green Go smoothie shop, saw the recipe for his aphrodisiac drink in an ayahuasca vision.

If hawking explicitly named products seems more forward than television commercials featuring elderly people sitting in bathtubs, it fits in well in a South American culture that can be joyfully and unapologetically filthy.

There are endless creative ways to refer to male genitalia; to cite a few, cabeza de gato, brazo de bebe, dedo sin uña, pavo con dos pechos. (That's "cat head," "baby arm," "finger with no nail," and "two-breasted turkey.") Then there are all the thinly veiled sexy lyrics on the radio, like the song about a guy who has a leak in his pipes and a leak in his gas line. "Quieres ver gotas, o quieres ver gas?" he sings. Literally, it means, "Do you want to see drips, or want to see gas?"

Marta didn't even bother with innuendo. She held up a phallic wooden bottle opener, complete with a bulging red glans on the end. "The tree grows like this naturally," she said. "It looks like the penis of a man."

Peru, of course, is far from the only country where men are concerned about the integrity of their tumescence. Globally, the market for erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals like Viagra and Cialis reached $4.3 billion in 2012, and that doesn't include the plethora of home remedies traded outside the formal economy. Our desperation for hard-ons is exacerbating the plight of endangered species like tigers, rhinoceroses, and sea turtles, whose penises, horns, and eggs, respectively, are rumored to give men a libidinous boost. SVSS, at least, doesn't require the slaughter of animals in danger of extinction.

For visitors hesitant to indulge in anonymous tonics sold on the street, there are plenty of other options in more formal establishments tailored toward tourists. One was the Six Shooter drink at the Green Go Organic Farmacy, a smoothie shop on the main boulevard. "It's my own invention," Ciro, the store manager, told us. "I saw the ingredients in an ayahuasca vision."

He listed off the components, starting with the more familiar ones: "Cacao is a good stimulant for sex. Banana, for sweetness. Avocado for the fat."

He also includes açai, the palm fruit that has exploded on the world market in recent years. "It gives you more relaxation, so you sleep better and desire your partner," Ciro explained.

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The Six Shooter smoothie, made with cacao and Amazonian herbs.

There's also maca, a natural Viagra that can "give you more energy for your brain." And the real key to the whole enterprise, murapuama, a prized aphrodisiac herb, which he imports from Brazil. "It works for men and women," he said. "It gives you a stronger heartbeat, and more blood in your erection."

One time, he told us, he had his girlfriend try some murapuama in a capsule. "Within 15 minutes, her ears turned red. She got very animated and said, 'Let's go!'" he recalled.

The Six Shooter was definitely the most delicious of the aphrodisiacs I tried, tasting mostly of sweetened, somewhat gritty chocolate. At 16 Peruvian soles, or around $5, a single smoothie costs more than an entire bottle of S.V.S.S., but at least it tasted good. As to its effectiveness, it would be an utter betrayal of the boundaries of good taste to confirm or deny any results, so it's best to remain silent. Some things, you just need to find out for yourself.