What is Spanish Fly?

Figs are a better aphrodisiac than Spanish Fly

Are Figs an Aphrodisiac?

They say in Amsterdam you can buy anything – even girls appear semi-clad in shop windows. Smoking cannabis is decriminalised and I was once offered Spanish Fly in a bar in De Wallen by a man wearing an eye patch. ‘It will make your dreams come true,’ he said and winked. 

Gabriel García Márquez may have had Spanish Fly in mind when he wrote Memories of My Melancholy Whores, his last novel. It is the story of a man who decides to celebrate his 90th birthday by paying for a final night of love with a virgin. In this case, it wasn’t so much sex that interested the old man, but his memories of sex.   

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

Thus spake the Nobel laureate. 

Spanish Fly is an aphrodisiac discovered by Roman apothecaries and used by ageing degenerates at orgies. This ‘natural’ forerunner of Viagra has a celebrity greater than its triumphs and seems through history to have killed more consumers than provided nights of heavenly bliss. 

The Facts

Spanish Fly blister beetle

Blister Beetle

Here’s two things we do know about Spanish Fly. First it is not a fly and, second, it is not Spanish. It is an emerald green blister beetle that scurries about in warm damp places all over the globe. Ground into powder and taken with liquids – water for the curious, champagne for the daring – the cantharidin chemical extracted from the crushed insect stimulates blood flow to vital areas and can cause itching and blisters. 

Does it work? Sort of. For men, yes. Women who try it just feel itchy, which is not necessarily sexy, although it might be.

An early fan of Spanish Fly was Livia, the money-grubbing wife of Augustus Caesar. She would slip the powdered green stuff into the wine cups of guests to encourage an indiscretion that she could then exploit in blackmail.

Apothecaries supplied Louis XIV with beetle dust to arouse a prolonged erection when he climbed into bed with Madame Montespan, of whom, it is said, gasped ‘Long Live the King’ during their lovemaking.

We have in court documents a record of the Marquis de Sade giving Spanish Fly laced with aniseed to ladies of the night at an orgy in 1772. Sentenced to death for drug abuse and sodomy, de Sade’s noble status enabled his being pardoned on appeal. Locked up again for another aberration, he started writing erotic novels, smuggling his work out to an impatient public a page at a time. For those unable to enjoy erotic liaisons, at least they could now read about them.  

The word aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Not that it was love that the apothecaries were seeking. It was stimulation, performance, prolongation. And they searched for this erotic holy grail in places it is hard to imagine anyone searching – the digestive tracts of sperm whales, for example, where they discovered a waxy stuff called ambergris.

Does it work? It does for whales.

Spanish Fly & Marx

Erotic qualities have been found in nuts from the ginkgo (or maidenhair) tree. The Chinese have been serving the stuff at weddings for millennia. Phallus-shaped foods like asparagus are thought to have the necessary je ne sais quoi. So does the banana, which is rich in B vitamins and potassium, both necessary for sex hormone production. Red ginseng is said to do the trick – provided you don’t mind a mild gastrointestinal upset. So does Maca, a Peruvian plant called the ‘Peruvian ginseng.’

Salvador Dali in his Spanish Fly jacket

The Aphrodisiac Jacket

Salvador Dalí believed lobsters were just too sexy for their clothes. He turned one into a telephone for the collector Edward James and served the crustaceans with chocolate sauce to guests at his home in Cadaqués. He wrote an aphrodisiac cookbook and had his tailor make what he called an aphrodisiac jacket containing numerous glasses of crème de menthe. Dalí at parties, according to the dancer Carlos Lozano, would cut a fig in half to reveal its erotic qualities.

Snails have a coquettish reputation, as do oysters. Groucho Marx famously remarked: Last night I had a dozen oysters. Only eleven of them worked. It was more than mere jest. Oysters contain high quantities of zinc, which stimulates blood flow.

The above foods do contain chemicals that can stir the blood, which may not improve performance, but will aid erections. Perversely, traditional Oriental recipes, such as soups cooked with the penises of tigers or turtles, have no effect whatsoever.

Neither does ground up rhino horn, the most famous, or infamous, of all aphrodisiacs and sold on the black-market for up to $100,000 a kilo. The horn is like hair, hardened and dead, a weapon and sex adornment belonging to the rhinoceros, an endangered species, like the tigers and turtles. Men seeking lasting erections should leave the last few rhinos and elephants to graze the veldts of Africa in peace and stick to Viagra, the modern-day Spanish Fly. Or, like the hero of Márquez’s My Melancholy Whores, use their imaginations.

Cover of the book Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me illustrates What is Spanish Fly?You may enjoy my book
Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me: The Memoirs of Carlos Lozano.
It is currently free on Amazon Prime



Posted in Blog.


  1. Excellent article. Nice break from news about inflation, NHS waiting lists, shortage of lorry drivers and the incompetence of you know who.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *