By Kelly Ferguson
Humans have had a long-running affair with foods believed to entice or enhance sexual performance, and it’s led to a host of recipes for stirring up some mojo. Some of these concoctions are based on science, some are based on folklore, and some are just based on last-ditch efforts by really desperate guys. Here are 10 foods you never want to catch your parents eating together.
Since ancient times, most great sex has taken place when both parties were awake. Maybe that’s why stimulants, from geisha tea to Red Bull, have long been held in high esteem as aphrodisiacs. According to a 1990 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, drinking coffee increased sexual activity in 744 participating Michigan residents over the age of 60, strongly suggesting that caffeine promotes arousal. That, or the subjects confused the study with a casting call for another sequel to Cocoon.
While caffeine has not yet been directly linked to an increased sex drive, the consensus in the medical community is that anything that gets the central nervous system pumping will have a general stimulating effect on the body. This explains why the ancient herb ginseng, which is said to increase energy and memory, is considered a strong aphrodisiac. It impacts the central nervous system, gonadic tissues and the endocrine system, thus enhancing arousal. Ginseng has long been respected in China for its systemic healing properties, including the ability to aid sexual function.
Before Viagra, there was yohimbine, an oil that comes from the bark of the West African Pausinystalia Yohimbe tree. For hundreds of years, African natives have dried yohimbe bark and made it into a tea, used both as a treatment for impotency and as a general aphrodisiac. Yohimbine works by blocking the blood vessel-constricting effects of adrenaline on the nerves. This promotes the flow of blood to the genitals, thereby assisting erections. Although yohimbine doesn’t have as much research (or Bob Dole) to back up its claims, the principles of operation are essentially the same as Viagra. It even has the same side effects, such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure and anxiety. In fact, while Viagra has become the recommended treatment for impotency, the use of yohimbine has also been approved by the FDA. Fortunately, the key component of yohimbe bark, yohimbine hydrochloride, is available by prescription in pill, capsule or liquid form.
You only need to gaze upon Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (otherwise known as Venus on the Half Shell) to know why oysters are one of the world’s most popular aphrodisiacs. For starters, the word aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the goddess of love (and Venus’ Greek counterpart). And since she’s associated with the ocean (and in some stories sprang forth out of the foam of ocean water), it stands to reason that other fruits of the sea would possess similar charms, right? Actually, it’s been theorized that oysters are considered aphrodisiacs because, evolutionarily, the origins of life began in the water. In other words, the concept is that we, like our amoeba ancestors, have a kind of subconscious desire to return to the primordial ooze to mate. (Ah, romance!) But perhaps the more likely explanation is simply that, nutritionally, oysters are high in zinc content, which is essential to testosterone production—testosterone being a key component in both male and female arousal. Now we know why Casanova liked to start his day in a hot tub with oysters served on a woman’s breasts. Not that anyone needs a reason.
The playground legend that green M&M’s make you aroused has certainly made its rounds, but it’s nothing more than an unsubstantiated myth. The green part of it, that is. Actually, chocolate is one of the most powerful edible aphrodisiacs in the world—and has been for quite some time. According to ancient Aztec history, 12 cacao beans (the beans used to make cocoa and chocolate) could purchase the services of a prostitute, and Montezuma reportedly downed 50 cups of liquid cacao to rev up before conjugal visits to his vast harem.
The scientific explanations for the arousing effects of chocolate are found in phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (AEA). PEA is the chemical that causes elevated heart rates, increased energy, euphoria and generally any symptom corresponding to feelings of being “in love.” So, apparently, PEA is what makes us drive by our loved ones’ houses late at night and compulsively scan our caller IDs. PEA’s cohort, AEA, is a neurotransmitter that acts on the brain in a similar fashion to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the same chemical found in marijuana. And while chocolate won’t get you stoned (sorry, dude), the presence of AEA probably explains chocolate’s ability to calm and mellow.
In Eastern Asia, ground rhino horns have long been considered a widespread cure for many ailments, including erectile dysfunction. Aside from the obvious allusions to potency, the source of the rhino horn’s power is its scarcity. Humans love to attribute special powers to rare objects, and aphrodisiacs are no exception. But, unfortunately for the rhinos, their horns are becoming an increasingly rare commodity, making them seem all the more powerful. Naturally, the rhinos vigorously dispute this claim and are often seen campaigning for people to eat more white tiger penises, which are credited with similar erotic qualities and are equally rare.
After surviving 50 million years, the rhinoceros is on the verge of extinction—a fact that can certainly be blamed in part on poachers seeking the high-value horns. But, as of yet, the only scientific reason to consume a rhino horn for any purpose, sexual or otherwise, is the nutritional benefit. Rhino horns are an excellent source of calcium, but, then again, so are Tums. While a daily supplement is not wildly exotic or erotic, think of the many African birds that will have nowhere to perch if the rhino is gone. Besides, sneaking endangered animal parts through customs is no way to live.
Sometimes, edible aphrodisiacs are never meant to be consumed, but rather smeared onto the body. In the ancient Arabian sex manual, The Perfumed Garden, rubbing the penis with various ointments is prescribed for “increasing the dimensions of members and making them splendid.” Similar procedures are recommended in the Kama Sutra. Ingredients for such practices include honey, camel’s milk and lavender. While intriguing, the efficacy of the prescription probably has more to do with lubrication and the action of “repeatedly anointing the member” than the actual recipe.
An especially memorable recommended concoction for this instructs the man to catch a vulture by himself (very important) and mix the meat with honey and the juice of an amalaka (an Asian gooseberry-like fruit). Apparently, rubbing your body with dead vulture paste has the ability to bewitch the opposite sex, “even if a bath is taken afterward.” How hot is that?
Many food aphrodisiacs date from a time when it was difficult to eat nutritiously, so finding a guy with a full head of hair and all his teeth was about as hard as bringing home a cute doctor who can’t wait to give your parents grandkids. Fruits and vegetables are needed to ward off a host of ailments, and in times of myriad nutritional deficiencies, it stands to reason that vitamin-rich foods such as figs, grapes, avocados and carrots would be considered aphrodisiacs. Even today, these foods are seen as great sources of health and vitality. But of all the foods held in high esteem for sexual enhancement, asparagus reigns supreme (its main side effect, strong-smelling urine, notwithstanding). In 19th-century France, it was customary for bridegrooms to down three courses of asparagus at their prenuptial dinners. Perhaps all this greenery led to evenings of fabulous lovemaking, or perhaps it only made the bride wonder if the serious odor emanating from the chamber pot was normal for her new husband. In the wake of modern research, asparagus still holds up as a “superfood” due to its intense nutritional value. And although it’s unknown if the long, firm stalks of asparagus work any true phallic magic, in this era of fast food and poor diet, it’s surely worth a try.
Before Anthony and Flea, there were habeñeros to get everyone hot and sweaty. For centuries, people have turned to chili peppers to spice up their love lives. In fact, in the 1970s, the Peruvian government, apparently fearing “big house love,” banned chili sauce from prison food, declaring it inappropriate for “men forced to live a limited lifestyle.”
The theory at work for this aphrodisiac is that chilis ignite in more ways than one. Think about what happens after you eat a big, mean chili pepper: your palms sweat, your lips burn, and your breathing begins to shorten. One thing leads to another, and if your lover doesn’t leave you for a big glass of milk … arriba! Another theory as to why searingly hot chilis arouse has to do with the pain they inflict. Pain causes the body to release endorphins, which try to block the signal of physical distress to the nervous system. These are the same kind of endorphins that are released during exercise and after sex, creating that feeling that all is right with the world. So masochists take note: if the whip is out of commission, then hit the Mexican produce stand.
On a movie date, it turns out there is good reason to pay those exorbitant concession stand prices. For thousands of years, Eastern and Western cultures have turned to licorice when the libido is lacking. Licorice contains phytoestrogen sterols, which affect sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone levels), although exactly how and to what degree has not yet been fully determined. Some believe that the strong smell of licorice may be a factor. When Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Chicago Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation hit the candy store to find out which smells sexually appealed to people, he found that women were aroused by the smell of (oddly enough) Good n’ Plenty. And for men, the aromatic combination of black licorice combined with doughnuts increased penile blood flow by an amazing 32 percent.
Doughnuts or not, Chinese, Egyptians and Hindus have all used licorice to increase sexual arousal and stamina. And in the traditions of pagan religions, crushed licorice root was used in love sachets and in spells to ensure fidelity. But whatever the purpose, be sure to use real licorice; the artificial “licorice flavorings” used in cheap candies won’t contain phytoestrogen, just food coloring and corn syrup.
The long-standing legend that “Spanish Fly” can drive the ladies wild is a dangerous myth. The Spanish fly is actually a green blister beetle found in southern parts of Europe. For centuries, a preparation made from the insects’ dried and crushed bodies (a substance known as cantharides) was used medically as an irritant and diuretic. If the chemical is given to a woman, it will severely irritate the urinary tract, causing extreme burning and itching in the vaginal area. And while these symptoms may cause a woman to grab her crotch, this side effect is not to be confused with an invitation for intercourse.
Today, Spanish fly is actually considered a poison, as an overload of cantharides can cause kidney malfunction, gastrointestinal hemorrhages or even death. In 1996, an FDA study proved that the chemical had no sexual effects on men or women, although you’d never know that based on the number of Spanish fly-related porn sites on the Web.