Remember that time you went to an excellent oyster happy hour and encouraged your date to slurp 40 oysters because the Internet once told you they strengthen sexual appetite? Remember how you still went home alone? The internet lied!
Everyone has heard about aphrodisiacs, the foods that supposedly increase sexual desire. Oysters, chocolate, avocado, pomegranate, coffee, and a handful of others are among them. But are they a myth? Is there science behind this or is it all anecdotal? Is it all placebo effect?
We asked certified sexologist Barbara Carrellas, the incomparable Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Supercompressor writer Jeremy Glass, who is paid to put weird things in his body and his body in weird things, to give us the scoop. Here's what these folks had to say:
What are your personal opinions on aphrodisiac foods as a sex expert?
Barbara Carrellas: I don’t believe that the average person could eat enough of these so-called aphrodisiac foods to have any noticeable or provable effect on either sexual desire or performance. Oysters, for example, probably made the sexy-food list because of their resemblance to genitalia. Plus, they are high in zinc, which was lacking in people’s diets at one time, so in that situation, eating oysters could result in an overall improvement in health. This could affect desire and performance. Many so-called aphrodisiac foods fall into this category.
Chocolate probably does not increase desire, but the theobromine, caffeine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide are definitely feel-good chemicals. Theobromine and caffeine are stimulants. The phenylethylamine combines with dopamine in the brain to produce a mild antidepressant effect, and the anandamide produces feelings of calm and well-being.
Dr. Ruth: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that these foods affect the libido but if someone believes that one or more do, then that placebo effect might kick in. On the other hand, a glass of wine -- and not much more -- can relax a person and that might make sex more enjoyable.
I do know that eating too much food can make the thought of having sex unappetizing. Couples should have sex before they go out to dinner so that they can just flop into bed when they return.
Jeremy Glass: If you think food aphrodisiacs are a myth, you can f*ck yourself right in your own mouth.
Are there certain foods that may not scientifically increase sex drive, but you think are good to eat to get you in the mood?
BC: Anything you like that makes you feel sexy and puts you in the mood. For one person that could be Champagne and oysters, for another, chocolate, strawberries, and whipped cream.
Dr. Ruth: If someone believed that mashed potatoes increased their sex drive, then I'd tell that person to eat mashed potatoes. Certainly there are foods that trigger pleasant memories, so-called comfort foods, so eating a personal comfort food might put someone in the mood for sex, especially if they were very tense.
JG: Jell-O pudding, regular Jell-O, certain types of gum, those wax lips you get during Halloween, most iceberg lettuce -- oh man -- Indian food sometimes.
Do you think shape has anything to do with arousal or is it more the nutrients in certain foods that cause a physiological response?
BC: I think that the phallic or vulvar appearance of some foods is completely responsible for their reputations as aphrodisiacs, e.g. bananas, oysters, avocados, carrots, cucumbers, figs. The nutrient factor may contribute to good health but it’s a real stretch to claim that they increase desire.
Dr. Ruth: Personally, if someone tried to feed me something in the shape of genitalia it would put me off that idea of sex for that evening, but again, each person reacts differently so if something like that worked for someone, great.
JG: Honestly, some of the most arousing foods out there look like penises.
What about spicy foods? How do you feel about cayenne being eaten as a sexual stimulant?
BC: I don’t think it’s a stimulant -- it’s more like a simulant. For example, the capsaicin in chili peppers produces sweating, increased heart rate, and circulation -- all reactions that are similar to those experienced when having sex.
Dr. Ruth: Spicy foods don't react well with my stomach, but for someone else, who knows.
JG: I've been saying it for years: people should be eating handfuls of cayenne pepper.
When are you supposed to eat aphrodisiac foods in relation to when you want to enjoy the benefits? Should you integrate them into your diet regularly, or can you just slurp a bunch of oysters and be ready to go?
BC: There is no proof of any kind that it would make any difference at all. However, a healthy, nutrient-rich diet makes everything better, including sex.
Dr. Ruth: Seriously speaking, if someone is having difficulties becoming aroused then turning to aphrodisiacs is a big mistake. If the problem is physical -- for example, if someone is depressed -- they should see a doctor. If the relationship is on the rocks, they should try to fix it themselves or see a therapist. No one is going to solve a problem with their libido by going to the kitchen cabinet.
JG: Oh, I'm all about eating oysters mid-coitus.
Are there any foods you recommend eating right before sex? What about incorporating into sex? What about directly AFTER sex? That’s an intriguing idea.
BC: You can eat anything you like that doesn’t make you feel weighed down or sleepy. If you want the food you eat to increase your desire, try eating it off your lover’s body.
Dr. Ruth: If a couple is engaging in oral sex, eating something sweet might be a good idea but certainly not necessary.
JG: After sex, I always eat a large hot fudge sundae with fudge, almonds, sprinkles, caramel, and whipped cream, followed by a quick EpiPen injection into my thigh because I'm incredibly allergic to almonds.
How else do you recommend incorporating foods into your sex life?
Dr. Ruth: Eating food brings one a lot of pleasure. If you stir one appetite it will likely stir up others, for as the saying goes, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. So couples today should work together to prepare nice meals when they can, and not have frozen pizza or takeout. By working together and then savoring what they prepared, that will set the mood for good sex. But exactly which ingredients to use in this meal, it really doesn't matter.
JG: I'll leave you with what my late grandfather left me with on his death bed: "Jeremy, dip your wand in caramel and have your honey eat it like a candy apple."