Eat, Drink, Love: Stripping Aphrodisiacs Bare

Photograph by Deon Black

No matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the situation, and no matter the person, everyone needs some lovin’. And if you look hard enough, you can find love everywhere, in the air, in your heart, and – many claim – in your aphrodisiac food and drink. 

Understandably, people have always been fascinated with unlocking the secrets to pleasure, and over a long history, we have uncovered the secrets of the science of sex. 

The complex and exciting realm of intimacy is however also swarming with certain misunderstandings and more than a few hyperboles, so we’re here to set some of them straight.    

A Hefty History

Aphrodisiacs are consumed substances that increase sexual desire, attraction, behavior, and pleasure. These edible turn-ons are – as rumor would have it – things to eat and drink during date night to spice things up, in and out of the bedroom.  

Although at a glance it might seem too good to be true, there is actually a storied and well-recorded history to aphrodisiac food and drink working to increase sexual activity and pleasure.

Very ancient and very long-lasting civilizations and their doctors have been found to have believed in and even prescribed aphrodisiac foods regularly; after all, you can’t build up generations of strong sons and daughters without a healthy sex drive.  

Ancient Chinese, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and other civilizations all have medical records of men with erectile dysfunction and women suffering from infertility, and all of them have countermeasures to swear by. Although back then, views of sex were quite a bit more restrictive and pleasure for all peoples was not a priority, still the effort to increase sex drive and enhance the sexual experience was sought after and “cures” discovered.  

Bufotenin, found in the skin of bufo toads, is said to be an aphrodisiac.

Of the more outlandish aphrodisiacs claimed from history are various animal products and a great deal of complicated herbal concoctions; the list is long and broad with ever stranger ingredients.

A root plentiful, powerful, and used in many Asian countries is ginseng, which boasts aphrodisiac status through spiritual and physical means. Ambrien, found in the stomach of sperm whales, is commonly used in Arab countries as both a headache reliever and a sexual enhancer. The skin of the bufo toad, found in the western regions of China and India, is said to be a particularly potent aphrodisiac as well. 

And of course, alcohol is also referred to by these ancient professionals as a foolproof way to get down, get going, and get back up again. 

These old ways may seem dubious today but sex has always been exhilarating, and lascivious people of modern times are no different from those lustful long ago. If you look closely enough, listen hard enough, and ask enough people, you’ll find a host of different foods and drinks that people swear by; they may even have a kid or two to prove it. 

 

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Some common modern aphrodisiacs include spicy foods, various shellfish (particularly oysters), asparagus, strawberries, cherries, figs, and of course alcohol.

Even listing these foods and drinks evokes images of passionate nights and sexual release, and there are plenty of people who wholeheartedly recommend many of these aphrodisiacs citing their own sexual nights and passionate releases. Surely so much history and so many people cannot be wrong? 

The Facts Hung Out to Dry

Unfortunately, those ancient doctors and these people eager to share their own remedies may be a bit… misinformed. Though they may not be entirely right, they’re not entirely wrong – not exactly. 

There is very little clinical evidence to support the claim that certain substances can naturally increase sexual function. There have been a great many studies conducted by researchers and even the FDA to determine the direct effects of many different substances, and none have conclusively proven that consumption of these “aphrodisiacs” leads to a direct and causal increase in sexual function. 

“There’s little evidence to support the effectiveness of most substances thought of as natural aphrodisiacs — natural substances that may enhance sexual function. Some foods and supplements are sometimes claimed to affect libido. These include chocolate, spicy food and saw palmetto. But research has found that they usually don’t work to produce a sexual response in men or women. Some early evidence is a little more encouraging for a few natural supplements, but more research is needed.”

– The Mayo Clinic

Aphrodisiac foods, in the purest natural sense, do not exist; and yet there is still so much experiential evidence to the contrary. How can this be? Do aphrodisiacs really exist? 

Here’s Where the Science Gets Sexy.  

To understand the disconnect between the experience and science, we need first to understand what sexual arousal is. Healthy sexual functioning has both a physical and psychological component, both components feed into one another, both are necessary. Takes two to tango.   

Although there is no “turn on switch,” scientific evidence suggests aphrodisiacs help the mind, and the body together approach, enter, and revel in sexual arousal more indirectly.

Berries are naturally nutritious and seductively juicy (Photograph by Jamie Street)

A healthy body is a sexually functioning body, and sexual arousal is a big part of proper sexual function: If you’re healthy and taking care of your mind and body through things like nutrition and adequate hydration, natural body functions like sexual desire, attraction, behavior, and pleasure will become enhanced.

Or, in other words – the sex will be better.   

The connection between health and sex is backed up everywhere you look. All the aforementioned aphrodisiacs affect either the physical or psychological component of sexual arousal. Ginseng and Ambrien have been found to help increase testosterone levels which have been shown to trigger sexual behaviors in some animals.

Fruits such as strawberries, cherries, and figs are high in antioxidants which improve blood flow to all parts of the body – *wink-wink. Spicy foods contain capsaicin, a compound found in many types of spicy peppers, which increases heart rate and metabolism, similar physiological reactions to sexual arousal. 

While these physiological triggers are not directly aphrodisiacs, they help to primp and prime the body for sexual activity by maintaining health and evoking similar physical responses to sexual arousal.  

On top of these physiological reactions, some other aphrodisiac foods also affect the psychological aspects. Bufo Toad skin has been found to contain bufotenin, which is a psychedelic compound that can make one susceptible to suggestion. Oysters, clams, and asparagus, along with containing nutrition that could help a healthy body function, are simply the shapes of sexual organs and some studies have found their geometry to be another form of suggestion.

Alcohol, despite technically being a depressant and slowing blood flow, has the psychological side effect of disinhibition; a freer, more confident person is and will appear to be more attractive which results in higher levels of sexual arousal. 

On top of these effects, both physical and mental, the act of willingly eating these foods as aphrodisiacs and expecting results is also in itself a placebo. If you expect to be sexually aroused you will find that it is easier to become so. 

Just be Happy, Healthy, and Willing

It may seem a little underwhelming and a bit obvious now, but aphrodisiac foods aren’t love potions or instant turn-on’s; they’re an explainable reaction to a natural phenomenon.

Eat what makes you happy (Photograph by Noah Buscher)

Most of these powerful aphrodisiacs in the kitchen ultimately amount to health upkeep and seductive suggestions which are not particularly sexually exciting on their own but are important nonetheless. 

The body and mind function as one, feeding each other in a mutual melding of the human experience, and aphrodisiacs are just one of the many natural ways to enhance that sexual experience. WebMD puts it best, “although the Food and Drug Administration has determined that all these non-medicinal approaches are ineffective, people still follow their heart’s desire in search of the perfect catalyst for love.”