Listen, I love having sex. I also love writing about the great sex I'm having. So when I was given an assignment to try a product called Sex Dust for a week, I was thrilled. Not only would it provide an opportunity to experience something I could never afford on my own—the dust costs $60 for a 2.2-ounce jar—but I could test drive it with my new fiancé, whose appetite for sex is, in a word, insatiable.
Before I tell you how it went, let me explain what Sex Dust is. Most people know it as "that thing Gwyneth Paltrow puts in her smoothie." The Hollywood actress-slash-guru first endorsed the dust, which promises to fuel sexual potency, last year, when her lifestyle website GOOP shared a recipe for "Sex Bark," a chocolate dessert that features Sex Dust as a key ingredient. Then in March, she described mixing it into her daily breakfast smoothie. Curiously, when Gwyneth published a GOOP Sex Issue last month, she didn't mention the dust—but like many of the products she did mention, it is comically expensive, costing around $1,560 for a one-year supply.
The seemingly magical potion was created by an entrepreneur named Amanda Chantal Bacon, who owns a health store in Los Angeles called Moon Juice—the only venue from which you can purchase it. The dust itself, which looks like a jar of powdered cinnamon, is a concoction of rare herbs and ingredients including Ho Shou Wu, Cistanche, Cacao, Shilajit, Maca, Epimedium, and Schisandra.
If those names sound made up to you, you're not alone. Bacon, who has never formally studied nutrition or eastern medicine, has been mocked for using obscure and expensive ingredients in both her dusts and her daily life. When I asked how she settled on the herbs used in Sex Dust, she told me over email that they are "based on ancient Taoist elixirs that have been known for centuries to promote longevity, beauty, sexual potency and expansion of the heart and mind." Basically, they allegedly have aphrodisiac qualities.
While I wouldn't be the first journalist to experiment with Sex Dust, as someone who has written extensively about aphrodisiacs (well, mostly weed), I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Plus, as my fiancé and I head toward Forever, why not explore options for keeping our sex hot? But I also wondered: Is a prohibitively expensive powder really the answer? Or more to the point, do you have to be rich to have great orgasms?
Luckily for me, Moon Juice, which is nestled on a trendy street in Venice, California, is located right around the corner from my house. The shop itself is small and minimalist with super-white walls. It's best known for its cold-pressed juices, which run about $10 to $11 a bottle. Nothing in this shop, from your breakfast to your mystical powder, comes cheap.
Since I live nearby, I had the pleasure of buying the dust in person and pumping the store clerk, a lean 20-something dude, for information. I was told that many people swear by the shop's Sex Dust, despite its hefty price tag. (Since I am a #journalist, I asked this same question about five different ways, and every time he assured me—customers like it.) The label touts it as being an "aphrodisiac warming potion," noting that it is "medicinal grade." Despite the clinical vagueness of these claims, I was excited to try it.
As soon as I got home, I broke open my shiny new jar. That's when I encountered Red Flag Number One. The dust smells godawful, like a muddy barnyard covered in cocaine—but worse. It's bad. Really bad. I added the powder to some 1 percent milk—the directions say to add a teaspoon to nut milk or water, but I don't own nut milk because I'm a regular person—yet despite my vigorous stirring, it wouldn't dissolve. The concoction ended up chunky and gross, so I put it in the blender. After a few whirls, it finally began to look somewhat appetizing, so I drank it.
As the Pretty Woman quote goes: BIG MISTAKE.
It's hard to describe how disgusting this dust was to ingest, but my body immediately rejected it and I began gagging. I didn't want to throw it up because, hello, work, so I stood over the kitchen sink praying it would stay down. I still had half a cup to go. My nightmare wasn't over.
I plugged my nose and drank the rest. It tasted like a vitamin had been popped open and shoved inside my throat. I quickly downed some water, then some juice, then brushed my teeth. Anything to get rid of the taste.
For the rest of the day I felt tired and woozy and had a mild headache. I'm not sure if it was the herbs or the traumatic experience, but I wasn't feeling sexy. I felt sick.
The next day I repeated the process, because I care about keeping my job. This time I dissolved the dust in warm water and, somehow, the mixture tasted even more disgusting. Also, my body really, really wanted to throw it up—so much that I had to lie down on my couch and assume a fetal position to stay alive.
This experiment was not going as planned. I began to dread the Sex Dust. What was supposed to be me reveling in a celeb-endorsed luxury item followed by phenomenal, mind-blowing sex with my lover turned into a battle of wills. I would stare at the dust on my kitchen counter as it mocked me with its cute lavender label and pretty hand lettering. Why Gwyneth? Why?
Finally, I got smart and decided to do as Gwyneth does and mix the Sex Dust into a smoothie—a.k.a., mask the terrible taste of this evil dust by blending it with fruit.
My smoothie consisted of blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, banana, Kefir, and protein powder—and Sex Dust. It was okay. I could still slightly taste the Sex Dust, but the drink was far more palatable than my previous mixtures.
I even snuck some into my fiancé's smoothie to see if he noticed. When I asked if his drink tasted good, he said, "It tastes like medicine." I played dumb, "Oh really? Weird, like super medicine-y?" (I don't have to use real words with him, because he gets me.) He drank some more. "I mean it's okay, it just tastes different than usual." He was onto me. Needless to say, this exchange was not followed by us ripping off each other's clothes and engaging in passionate, dust-induced lovemaking.
I drank Sex Dust smoothies for several more days. Over time, my body stopped immediately rejecting it—but I still didn't feel good. And ironically, due to my adverse reactions to the dust, my fiancé and I were having less sex than usual. The experience left me very confused.
I've been to Moon Juice once or twice before, and I actually love their drinks—I just don't buy them that often because I have rent and stuff. And their dusts, which include Beauty, Brain, Sex, Spirit, Body, and Sleep, have a ton of celeb endorsements—along with Gwyneth, Rachel McAdams, Shailene Woodley, and Rooney Mara are reportedly fans as well. Would famous people lie to us?
I looked online to see what non-celebrities thought. Last year, shortly after Gwyneth first endorsed the product, Cosmo journalist Lane Moore wrote in a hilarious / sad post that trying Sex Dust made her "ridiculously sick. Like 'energy and life force drained from my body' sick."
Rachel Khona, writing for Marie Claire, also had a not-so-great experience. After adding Sex Dust to her tea for the first time, she said, "Taking my first swig, I have to be honest—I almost choked. It tasted like mung bean water. Sour with a tinge of dirt." Despite the terrible reaction, she said the dust did give her an energy boost, kind of like caffeine but mixed with champagne, since it also made her "buzzy." After reading her review, plain old coffee doesn't sound so bad.
But this can't be the case for everyone, right? I doubt Gwyneth would use a dust every day that made her feel like death—or offered less of a boost than a cup of coffee. So I reached out to some users on Instagram who reported trying the dust in their posts, and one woman named Kate sent me a glowing review, telling me over email, "I'm a BIG FAN … Not only does the dust prove to be the perfect aphrodisiac, but I also enjoy using it to balance out my hormones." So there's that.
Perhaps the problem with Sex Dust, like many herbal supplements, is that it's made from ingredients that have not been studied extensively and can cause different reactions in different people. After all, herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA for safety or efficacy. This means taking them is a risk, which I confess is something I knew going into this one-person experiment.
"Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases," the FDA explains on its website. "That means supplements should not make claims, such as 'reduces pain' or 'treats heart disease.' Claims like these can only legitimately be made for drugs, not dietary supplements." Even in the case of Sex Dust, which is simply claiming to be an aphrodisiac, it may not have the desired effect for everyone who takes it.
For more insight, I reached out to Alyse Levine, a nutritionist in Los Angeles. "My personal view of herbal supplements is that you should always approach them with an eye of skepticism," Levine told me. Most herbal supplements, she said, can't actually prove claims like "enhanced focus"—or "increased libido."
"From the research I have seen on herbal supplements making these promises, there seems to be no evidence supporting these claims," she added. "You are likely just wasting your money with them." Levine also told me she never recommends herbal supplements to her clients, instead pushing for real, wholesome, unprocessed foods.
Levine isn't the only nutritionist skeptical of Moon Juice's dust collection. As Daniel Commane, a human nutrition expert at Britain's University of Reading, told WIRED in March, "The products throw a lot of Chinese medicinal products together for which the evidence is primarily anecdotal."
About those ingredients—let's examine them, shall we?
Ho Shou Wu, the first ingredient listed in Sex Dust, is actually a pretty common herb used in Chinese medicine. It's rumored to "maintain youthful sexual drive, normally abundant sperm count in men and to support the health of the ova in women." However, in 2006, the Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency in London issued an alert about potential adverse reactions to the herb after several people reported liver issues. Again, while herbal remedies appear harmless, they can still be dangerous—and as Levine advised, you should always check with a doctor before using them.
Cistanche, the second ingredient in Sex Dust, comes from a desert plant and is said to treat "yang deficiency," which allegedly contributes to fertility problems, including impotence and female infertility. Um, okay. As for whether Cistanche works, I have no idea. One paper published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology says it can help improve brain function, bolster the immune system, and work as an aphrodisiac by increasing sex hormone levels. Of course, the research it cites regarding sex hormones was conducted on rats.
Shilajit, another ingredient, is said to improve vitality and contain high amounts of fulvic acid— an antioxidant that can help support cellular metabolism. Shilajit is, in fact, very rare—it's mainly found in the Himalayan and Tibetan mountains, and due to its scarcity, many forms on the market are diluted with other compounds. For that reason, Canada banned the sale of Shilajit after authorities discovered heavy metal contamination. Pretty scary stuff.
On to Epimedium, which is also known as Horny Goat Weed. This herb is commonly used in Chinese medicine. It's said to improve blood flow and sexual function, and some men use it to treat erectile dysfunction. A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Milan found that Epimedium may help block an enzyme that restricts blood flow to the penis, but more research is definitely needed.
Lastly, Schisandra is a fruit extract also used in Chinese medicine. It's said to help with energy, immune function, blood flow, PMS, nerve function, and a whole host of other ailments. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Schisandra has effectively protected animals' livers and nervous systems—but researchers haven't conducted enough studies on humans to know if it works on us, too.
After I finished my week-long experiment of forcing Sex Dust down my throat, I reached back out to Moon Juice to see if other people had also reported adverse effects as I did. A spokesperson responded with a statement on the health value of "adaptogens," which is another word for the type of herbs used in the product, without additional comment on their side effects.
So what can I conclude about Sex Dust? Not a lot. Are the ingredients rooted in ancient Chinese medicine? Yes. Do studies solidly prove the effectiveness of these ingredients? No. Do we know if we're actually getting the herbs it claims we're getting? No. Does it help some people? Seems that way. Will I be using it? Probably not, because it tastes super gross and I can't afford it. Not to mention it did nothing for my libido.
So for anyone lusting for Sex Dust, lamenting that if you only had an extra $1,560 a year to spend you would suddenly be having earth-shattering sex—save your energy. Great orgasms, it turns out, can come cheap. In my case, I am fortunate to have a fantastic partner with whom I feel a strong connection. And that's magic enough.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.