Spurious Spanish Fly's Promised Pleasures - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Spurious Spanish Fly's Promised Pleasures

Spurious Spanish Fly's Promised Pleasures

By Eugene S. Robinson

Blister beetles
SourceKarthik Photography/Getty


Because (spoiler alert) if it really did work, no one would ever get anything done. Ever. Well, except for gay men and nuns.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Let’s do the math.

Women constitute, más o menos, 50 percent of the world’s population. Of that 50 percent, according to a variety of statistical sources, 30 percent are under the age of consent. Meaning the pool of available women for heterosexual couplings has now shrunk to 20 percent.

Spanish fly supplements.

Spanish fly supplements.

No worries. Twenty percent of all of the 3.5 billion women on earth is still a goodly sum. Even after you factor out the too old, the too infirm and the disinterested, that’s a lot of women to try to seduce.

Which is where Spanish fly comes in.

Not actually a fly, nor particularly Spanish, but a blister beetle that coats its eggs with a chemical blistering agent called cantharidin. Cantharidin, the Spanish fly extract, has been used as far back as Augustus Caesar’s wife’s attempts to encourage blackmail-worthy orgies.

How so?

Well, its purported aphrodisiacal qualities probably stemmed from its ability to irritate the genitals. This irritation is then directly connected to an increased genital blood flow that mimics sexual excitement.

Not actually a fly, nor particularly Spanish…

While we’re unsure of how Spanish fly became more closely identified with its ability to turn women on, the side effects are noteworthy. Burning, swelling, nausea and potential poisoning and death might be sexy to some, but to the world’s 3.5 billion men and a bunch of lawyers and cops? Not so much. (The Marquis de Sade was arrested, in part, for poisoning prostitutes with cantharidin.)

So this plot device in a 1987 Beastie Boys video and curious curio stocking dusty bodega shops and truck stops back in the ’70s, promising to drive the ladies wild, seems to only have a few actual medical effects: burning the skin (sometimes used in the treatment of warts), inducing abortions (highly risky folk remedy) and causing insomnia.

How sexy is that?

Yeah, that’s what we thought, too. However, the use of “Real Spurious” labels on the bottles of liquid or gel caps has allowed Spanish fly manufacturers to stay one step ahead of the long regulatory arm of the FDA. And a $20 price tag singlehandedly guarantees that the customer base is price-conscious, in addition to being insane.

Screengrab from the Beastie Boys

Scene from the Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” video.

So a great gift to give in jest at a bachelor or bachelorette party, possibly. But a better one just to talk about. Or to use in your music video.

Or here’s an idea: Sub it out with some chocolate, roses, wine and the removal of all standing garbage from your domicile. It’ll cost a little more, but really, what price love?

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