When you think about aphrodisiacs, what comes to mind? Is it oysters, chocolate, and champagne? Did you ever eat them on a romantic night out and then have fantastic sex afterward—perhaps thinking those foods were responsible? Or, perhaps you ate them and didn’t notice any difference. There are a lot of misconceptions about aphrodisiacs out there and whether they work or not. Learn more about what aphrodisiacs actually are and whether you should eat them to enhance your sex life.
What is an aphrodisiac?
An aphrodisiac is anything that is supposed to make sex, well, sexier, and there are a couple of different ways to look at it, says Merissa Hawkins, MPH, Clinical Strategy Manager at Nurx. “You have libido, the desire to want to have sex. There’s endurance, so someone that can last longer throughout sex; and then there’s stamina, the energy that you have during sex. Between the three of those, different aphrodisiacs and different chemicals are supposed to influence the different pieces of those three. It’s not necessarily just one component the aphrodisiac is supposed to help with.”
Current research shows that aphrodisiacs are primarily placebo effect, says Hawkins. Some of the chemicals contained in some foods when consumed in a high concentration, could potentially have an effect, but you would likely need to consume a lot of that food in order to have a sexual side effect, Hawkins says.
That said, if you believe a food or drink will boost desire or pleasure, the placebo effect is going to go so much further than actually taking any sort of medication, she says. “As long as you’re confident and have the belief that this is an aphrodisiac and that it’s going to help you in some regard [with sex], then you will see those effects.”
Learn more about the edibles often considered aphrodisiacs, including how they got their reputations and whether science backs them up.
Oysters contain zinc, iodine, and amino acids. Zinc has been associated with improving sexual potency in men, and the amino acids found in oysters have been found to increase sex hormones in rodent studies. If you enjoy eating them, then share a plate of oysters with your partner. They probably won’t have a physiological effect on your sex life but if you think they get you in the mood, then you’ll probably have a fun night ahead of you.
What our expert says: In the Middle Ages, Casanova was really into eating oysters, and he had younger women that would typically rotate through his bed, Hawkins says. “He was convinced that eating oysters made him better in bed and wrote this in his biography. People picked it up, and then [this theory] just hasn’t gone away,” says Hawkins. “It’s not backed by science. There’s nothing in oysters that has anything to do with [enhancing libido or sex] or that would potentially impact you in any way.”
Dark chocolate and cocoa contain flavonoids, an antioxidant that may have brain-boosting effects, like serotonin, which can improve your mood. A study of 163 Northern Italian women looked at how women who ate chocolate daily versus those who did not eat chocolate answered a questionnaire about female sexual function (like desire). The women who ate more chocolate had significantly higher desire than the women who didn’t consume it, but the researchers attributed those differences to the age of the women in the survey. Younger women were in the group of daily chocolate consumption versus older women who didn’t eat as much chocolate. Age was likely more of a factor with sexual desire than the actual treat.
What our expert says: There’s been research done to see if chocolate, specifically, and chocolate-covered strawberries were an aphrodisiac, says Hawkins. “It was discovered that they had the exact same results as if you ate cake and cookies and donuts—mood boosting.”
Garlic contains the compound, allicin, which can increase blood flow to sexual organs.
What our expert says: “Garlic is supposed to be something that gives you a lot of energy,” says Hawkins. “It has actually been pretty well researched and shows that the amount of garlic that you would have to eat in order to have any sort of long-lasting [sexual] effect would be astronomical. I can’t imagine anyone who’d want to have sex with someone who smells that strongly of garlic!” says Hawkins.
Herbs and Spices
Hot peppers contain capsaicin, which can boost blood circulation by stimulating compounds that expand blood vessels. Increased circulation and blood flow can help maintain a man’s arousal.
What our expert says: Mint, basil and spicy foods are popular herbs that people think could be aphrodisiacs. “This was back in the day where people thought eating spicy food would literally make you physically hot, which would then make it sexual,” says Hawkins. “But we know that’s not the case.”
Strawberries are a fantastic source of vitamin C, which is good for circulation and blood flow. It’s a great food for your health—and a light dessert after a romantic dinner—so there’s no harm in eating up!
What our expert says: The only thing that’s sexy about strawberries is how you actually eat them, says Hawkins. Perhaps some couples are pairing strawberries and chocolate or strawberries and champagne on a romantic outing and thinking that those combos can lead to more romance and better sex.
This is another healthy food that can increase blood flow. In one study, it helped exercisers open blood vessels before working out and delayed fatigue during exercise. So why not eat some pomegranate seeds before sex to see if it has an impact on the sex sesh, or if it helps your partner last longer?
What our expert says: “I haven’t heard about pomegranates being aphrodisiacs, but, I would probably put that in the same category as other fruits—it’s about the style or way you eat them that could be potentially alluring,” she says.
Although there isn’t any solid science behind the associations of honey, sex and fertility, one study injected honey into the sperm of male mice (weird, we know) to see how it would impact their sperm. There was a significant increase in active sperm motility of 49% and a pregnancy rate of 53% in female mice artificially inseminated with those sperm. Could it help you get pregnant? Who knows? But if your partner likes honey and you’re trying to conceive, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in having him consume a little more and seeing what happens.
What our expert says: This comes from the ancient tradition of newlyweds being given fermented honey wine, mead, as a gift. This inspired the term “honeymoon.”
Even though it’s a social lubricant, remember that too much alcohol can impact a man’s ability to get an erection, it can cause vaginal dryness, and it can delay orgasm, according to science.
What our expert says: Alcohol can lower inhibitions. It’s not an aphrodisiac per se, but it may help you act upon something you were hesitant about, says Hawkins. “If it gives you confidence and lowers your inhibitions, and then all of a sudden you feel like you’re more able and willing to do something sexually, then that’s going to have the same effect as an aphrodisiac,” she says.
Bananas (and pineapples) contain bromelain, an enzyme that stimulates testosterone production and blood circulation. They’re also a good source of vitamin B and potassium, which can help increase energy levels
What our expert says: Almost any phallic-shaped fruit or vegetable like cucumber, asparagus, zucchini and peppers are thought of as aphrodisiacs. (As are figs and oysters because they look like vaginas, she says.) “If you’re looking at something and thinking, ‘This will benefit me for sex,’ and then all of a sudden that’s in your head, it’s going to have a positive benefit,” says Hawkins. It’s not a specific component of the food that will have that outcome.
Want to eat your way to better sex?
Consider a plant-based diet. “People who typically have more of a plant-based diet…can usually last longer during sex,” Hawkins says. That may be because a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked with better heart health, circulation and may have a protective effect against erectile dysfunction.
The Bottom Line on Aphrodisiacs
Eat healthy foods as often as possible to maintain blood flow, energy, and keep disease at bay—all important components for a hot sex life. And if a certain food like oysters or chocolate puts you in the mood, eat up!
If you think your low sexual desire is a physiological issue, talk to your doctor about your options. A new injectable prescription drug was approved by the FDA this year, bremelanotide. Known by the brand name, Vyleesi, it’s designed to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a condition in which low sexual desire impacts your life. The oral prescription pill, flibanserin, known as Addyi, is designed to treat premenstrual women who have HSDD. It was approved by the FDA in 2015.
About the Author
Diana Kelly Levey is a freelance journalist who has written for Real Simple, Reader’s Digest, Prevention, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Men’s Health, among other national publications. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a freelance writing course instructor on Teachable.
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