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How Did The Romans Treat Erectile Dysfunction?

How Did The Romans Treat Erectile Dysfunction?
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

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Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 8 min read

When it comes to treatments for erectile dysfunction, most people first think about ED drugs, like Viagra and Cialis. But did you know that ED treatments date all the way back to Roman times?   

According to research, people in today’s age are not the only ones to resort to ED treatments. Studies reveal that Roman men who lived in the fourth century, had developed their own unique strategies to treat erectile dysfunction. Medical men, such as Theodorus Priscianus, recommended that men tell stories of love. He also advised that men should surround themselves with beautiful men and women. 

Roman experts also recommended that men read books that stimulated them sexually. These books were said to allude to scenarios that induced lust. These stories were not blatantly sexual, but instead hinted at situations that heightened sexual desire, thus tapping into a man’s sexual urges. In an effort to keep himself from developing erectile dysfunction (ED), a Roman man would wear an amulet or stone talisman. 

An amulet is a “small piece of jewelry” or ornament that is thought to provide protection against danger, disease, or evil. Amulets were also believed to be good luck charms that protect you from harm. A talisman, on the other hand, is an item that is believed to heal or protect individuals. They were also believed to cause harm. Talismans were often filled with texts. They were also believed to be connected to religious, astrological, and scientific rituals. 

Theories surrounding talismans have changed over time, but talismans have long been a symbol of protection; they have also been a sign of fertility and crop production. Those who wear talismans believe that they provide protection for their belongings and families. 

ED treatments have evolved over the ages. In the Victorian era, masturbation was forbidden. To treat ED in that era, men would stimulate their scrotums electrically. They inflicted pain on themselves through leather straps and flagellation. 

So, in what other ways did the Romans treat ED? Romans believed that the right molar of a crocodile guaranteed an erection in men. Many Roman men possessed an item called an evil eye. The evil eye resembled the form of a penis. The evil eye was called a fascinum, which is derived from the word, “bewitch.” Men would make a plea to the Gods, asking the gods to grant them an erection. 

Some Roman men would use the following line when speaking to their higher power. “While you’re alive I’m hopeful rustic guard / Come. Bless me, stiff Priapus: make me hard.”

According to PubMed, ED has been a problem for men since the beginning of time. For many men, ED has led to humiliation and psychological stress. The treatment of ED has evolved over the past two centuries. Historical treatments of ED have involved the use of prosthesis and surgery. In the eighth century, men of Ancient Rome would wear “talismans of goat and rooster genitalia.” 

They believed that these items would promote sexual function and act as an aphrodisiac. However, this method was later found ineffective. Many cultures have resorted to rituals to treat ED. The Roman God, Priapus, was believed to offer protection. However, the wrath of Priapus was said to cause ED or a state of constant arousal. Renowned men in ancient Roman times documented their own struggles with ED. The emperor Tiberius and the poet Ovid were open about their struggles with ED. They blamed their inability to get an erection on “unattractive partners” and witchcraft. 

Tiberius and Ovid refused to acknowledge that their own bodies were responsible for their ED. However, they came up with other creative ways to treat their condition. Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher, author, and commander of the early Roman empire, recommended placing a mule’s penis in hot oil seven times. He then suggested rubbing that oil on the penis of a man with ED. 

Another individual believed that attaching the right lobe of a vulture’s lungs to the skin of a crane would help a man become sexually aroused. If a vulture was unavailable, Romans said attaching an item that looked like a rooster’s testicle to the skin of a ram would aid in sexual function. Experts are not sure if this method has an effect on a woman’s libido and her desire to have sex with a partner wearing bird testicles. 

While Pliny’s suggestions were disturbing, his least extreme remedy for ED was to mix chicken egg yolks with hog lard. The Romans tactics for treating ED were creative at best. However, some methods for treating ED were outright painful. Another Roman treatment for ED was to pull out body hair. To do this, men would visit the pluckers and were placed in bathtubs. Patients screamed in pain while having individual hairs plucked from their bodies. 

The Romans were also known to apply hot walnut shells to an area on the body and pull a single hair from a follicle. Hair was also singed off the body using this method. They would also use resins as an alternative to hot wax. Hair was then ripped from the root. Romans found women without hair unattractive, so hairless women were dubbed undesirable. For this reason, women were discouraged from shaving their pubic hair. 

However, having too much body hair was deemed unattractive as well. In fact, hairy men were called goats for this reason. Many considered removing body hair a “feminine practice,” and therefore may indicate that a man was too preoccupied with his appearance, instead of politics, duty, and public life. 

Sexual dynamics and erect phalluses were key symbols of sexuality in ancient Roman societies. Prostitutes, she-wolves, and the god, Mars, had sexual connotations in Roman societies. Nicholas Culpepper and Jane Sharp, a midwife, said that if a man could not successfully penetrate his wife, he should urinate through her wedding ring. 

These unusual practices were not unique to only the Romans. In Ancient China, they would use acupuncture and ancient medicine as remedies for ED. The Romans were known for unusual sexual practices. However, they are partially responsible for the influence on condoms. Additionally, the Romans believed that eating roasted wolf penis would successfully treat ED. Romans also believed that eating the genitals of “of animals with high libidos”, such as rabbits,” would help treat ED. 

Members of this ancient society also believed that drinking eagle and hawk semen would successfully treat ED. Ancient Rome and Greece were known for their creative cures for ED. The Romans utilized animals that were associated with sexual potency to treat ED. For this reason, they used snakes in particular, because they were able to “rejuvenate themselves.” 

Newborn foals are believed to have a growth called hippomanes. Aristotle believed that hippomanes were a natural aphrodisiac. Hippomanes were consumed for this reason. The penis was often compared to a lizard, because of its shape. Pliny wrote an excerpt illustrating this. It reads as follows: 

“Its muzzle and feet, taken in white wine, are an aphrodisiac, especially with the addition of satyrion and rocket seed. One drachma lozenge of the compound should be taken in a drink.” 

Friars of the thirteenth century believed they had it right as well, with their exotic remedies for ED. Friars believed that a wolf’s penis should be roasted in an oven and cut into small pieces. Consumption of this was believed to result in immediate bliss for intercourse.

Romans also believed that eating hot and dry sparrow meat would promote sexual desire. However, it was also believed to cause constipation. Albertus Magnus, a friar of the thirteenth century, said that starfish was a strong aphrodisiac. However, starfish could lead one to ejaculate blood, Magnus said. Magnus believed that cooling plants, such as lettuce, can solve this. Scholars in the 1700s said that complete ED was uncommon. 

Instead, they believed that men could only be slightly impaired in their ability to get an erection. The Greeks believed that lettuce was an anti-aphrodisiac that causes an erection to immediately fade. 

During the eighteenth century, Samuel Solomon concocted his balm of gilead. During that time, people believed that ED was caused by chronic masturbation, which drained men of semen reserves. Romans also believed that consuming certain vegetables would help restore sexual vitality. When salads were in short supply, the Romans would turn to olive oil to help with erotic activities. They believed that vegetables gave their bodies energy, filling them with vitality. They also believed that eating romaine lettuce would boost their fertility. Romaine was served at festivals for the fertility god.   

Ancient Roman medicine also played a critical role in shaping medicine and other inventions. The Roman Empire rose to prominence in 800 B.C.E. The Romans were responsible for a number of advancements, the first being their use of herbal remedies. They were advanced in maternity care, having developed birthing stools to help midwives deliver babies.   

The Romans had a much different approach to ED than people do today. Today, men can turn to treatments that promise to be effective in some fashion. ED treatments during Roman times were very different, resorting to unusual practices. 



17 Sources

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.