Culinary delights designed to increase lust have been around as long as man has wanted to get under the loincloths of his cavemate. A caveman grunting, “Hmmppphhh, I give you meat, you give me meat,” may not be sexy, but at least it achieved the same end result. Over time, more and more myth and superstition surrounded certain types of foods rumored to excite the libido. And the rarity of a food item is in direct correlation to its legendary status as an aphrodisiac, which may be one reason green M&Ms (which only number one or two per pack) have achieved urban myth status as a modern aphrodisiac.
Throughout the ages, as travelers returned from far away lands, the exotic fruits, vegetables, herbs and animals with which they returned were often attributed with magical sexually enhancing properties. These rare foods titillated and sometimes inspired lustful actions through sympathetic magic—the principal that foods shaped like phalluses, or sexual organs, may inspire or impart some “essence” to those eating them. These include foods such as potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes and turtle eggs (eaten raw with lime and salt). Other animal products such as rhinoceros horn and tiger penis have been used in Chinese medicine and are said to impart the virility of the animal to the taker. In addition to foods, gifts of fine silks, jewelry and exotic goods have always been used to entice lovers into the boudoir, but items that physiologically change one’s mood to one of lust are few and far between, if they exist at all.
While most aphrodisiacs are more psychological than anything, some foods have been known to physically affect the body. A chemical called phenylethylamine—a strong neurotransmitter—has been known to create a pleasurable euphoria. This chemical has been found in chocolate, but as high levels are needed to create the effect, one would have to eat a large quantity of this delicious treat. While some people may be able to feel the effects of good chocolate, cocoa-based products act much more as a psychological aphrodisiac with their delicate, rare and exotic flavors.
Yohimbine, from the yohime tree’s bark, has been used to treat erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow to the genitals, which in turn has increased sexual sensitivity for some.
Alcohol has been called an aphrodisiac, however it achieves its benefit through social lubrication. A “4” might become a “10” under the influence of a six-pack, and alcohol is perhaps the single largest cause of irrational hookups due to its tendency to reduce inhibitions. And, as many drinkers have discovered, alcohol in large quantities has “diminishing” returns when too much is consumed … if you know what I mean.
Oysters are credited as being sexual stimulants and there is no better way to down the mollusks than in an oyster shooter with tequila or vodka—combining an aphrodisiac with an inhibition inhibitor. A Greek physician first prescribed oysters to keep the sex drive alive sometime between AD 130 and 200, and perhaps because of the zinc content—needed for the production of testosterone—there may be some long-term benefit.
The Kama Sutra not only makes for good reading and offers suggestions for unique positions only a yoga master can accomplish, but it also has a few recipes for love potions. The first, a drink made from equal parts ghee, honey, sugar, licorice, the juice of fennel bulbs and milk, is said to enhance the libido. And if that doesn’t work, an alternative concoction suggests boiling a ram’s testicle in milk and sugar. Delicious and nutritious.
There are other concoctions, however, that through the ages have allegedly had some positive results. Spanish Fly, the legendary potion said to stimulate lovers into wild abandonment, has been called a myth by some, but in reality, it is an actual insect named the Green Blister Beetle. Spanish Fly achieves its aphrodisiac status through an active chemical that irritates the urethra while being expelled by the kidneys. The irritation is supposedly pleasurable and may entice an erection, but ingesting more than 1.6 grams of the insect results in death after 24 hours. The Marquis de Sade is said to have fed bon-bons laced with Spanish Fly to prostitutes he hired for orgies. He was arrested for poisoning and sodomy.
Today many drugs on the market are used to treat sexual dysfunction, the most popular of which may be Viagra. And while technically not an aphrodisiac, it is often taken recreationally to enhance lovemaking sessions. And many ladies, when considering their options for the evening, may prefer to go home with a “Viagrated” hunk rather than Mr. Limp.
Methylenedioxymethamphetamine—an illegal substance also known as ecstasy or MDMA and dubbed “the love drug”—is said to enhance the libido by stimulating secretion of and limiting the amounts of dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain. This creates a feeling of openness, empathy and well being many consider a feeling of “love” and making physical contact with others more pleasurable. It was re-approved by the FDA in 2001 to treat post-traumatic distress disorder, but technically, it does not have any literal aphrodisiac qualities.
However, there may be one aphrodisiac out there that exists beyond mythic status. PT-141 is currently in phase three clinical trials as a medication to be used as a nose spray that enhances sexual desire in men and women. Unlike Viagra, which affects the vascular system and corrects erectile dysfunction, PT-141 may be the first actual aphrodisiac to physically increase sexual desire through a compound. Interestingly enough, it was discovered as a byproduct of a sunless tanning agent when volunteer testers began getting aroused.
So, if in this season of love, your methods of seduction will involve aphrodisiacs, be sure to talk it up with your lover before consuming the love aid. As the evidence suggests, it’s all in the mind.