Do Aphrodisiac Foods Actually Work?

Feb 14, 2018 at 2:51 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

Many humans enjoy sex and as a result have long turned to different foods to help get themselves — and their partners — in the mood. Pop culture tells us foods like oysters and chocolate are supposed to make us feel sexy, but is there any truth — or science — to that? Or does it even matter? (If something you eat makes you feel more amorous, does it really make a difference why?)

Oysters

If you asked someone to name an aphrodisiac food, chances are they'll go with oysters first. This makes sense given how long the association between this bivalve and sex has been around. According to legend (and Drs. Cristian Bosch and John A. Robinson of The Hormone Zone), Casanova and Cleopatra were fans of this quintessential libido kick-starter. Not only that, but oysters are also anthropomorphic, as they visually remind us of sex, mimicking the shape of the vulva and vagina, Bosch and Robinson add.

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As far as the science, Bosch and Robinson say oysters contain B12 and potassium, as well as an abundance of zinc, which is essential for testosterone production for both men and women.

"Food should tantalize and invigorate the senses, and that is exactly what [an oyster] does when it is swallowed," they note.

Can you expect an immediate boost immediately after ingestion? Not likely, says Kim Anami, holistic sex and relationship expert and founder of the Anami Alchemia sexual wellness product line. But that doesn't mean the texture of the oyster itself won't get you in the mood.

Chocolate

Aside from oversize drugstore teddy bears and generic greeting cards, chocolates are another Valentine's Day staple. But is it simply a near-universally acceptable gift, or does it go deeper than that?

"Chocolate increases a hormone called PEA [phenylethylamine] that is directly associated with experiences of ecstasy, just like sex and orgasm," Bosch and Robinson explain. "Dark chocolate also increases dopamine, another feel-good hormone that keeps us positive and happy, all leading to increased libido and sexual satisfaction. Form follows function, and as these substances are imbibed, our physiology shifts towards sexual desire and performance."

And no, not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate is best for reaping any health benefits because it's higher in PEA and lower in sugar. Not only is the decreased amount of sugar better for you, but, according to Bosch and Robinson, sugar is counterproductive to peak sexual performance.

Chili peppers

Eating this spicy phallic food has also long been associated with increased sex drive. Bosch and Robinson say this is thanks to an active ingredient called capsaicin, which causes blood vessel dilation and increased blood flow.

"Capsaicin also causes the brain to release the feel-good chemicals known as endorphins," they add. "All of this leads to an external appearance of sexual desire, such as flushed skin, swollen lips and dilated pupils and of course increased blood supply for penile erections and clitoral engorgement. This stimulates your own desire, [and] signals to your partner that you are ready."

Watermelon

Not only would watermelon make a great post-coital food (hello, rehydration), Anami says it can also act as an aphrodisiac. The fruit is high in the amino acid citrulline, which expands blood vessels much like Viagra does, she notes, but it's unclear exactly how much a person would have to eat to feel the effects.

Bananas

Not only are bananas suggestive in shape, they also contain bromelain, an enzyme which triggers testosterone production, Dr. Christopher Calapai, an osteopathic physician and board-certified family medicine practitioner tells SheKnows. On top of that, the fruit's potassium and vitamin B elevate energy levels and Calapai says that "the high sugar content gives the brain a kick!"

Coffee

Amy Reiley, author of best-selling aphrodisiac cookbook Eat Cake Naked and editorial director of Eat Something Sexy notes that some aphrodisiac foods work because they contain stimulants. That makes coffee one of her personal favorites because it acts as a mood enhancer as well as a stimulant, which could make your time in the bedroom more enjoyable and possibly longer-lasting.

Truffles

Other foods are considered sensual because of their scent. Truffles — the fungi, not the decadent chocolates — fall into that category (although the scent of chocolate truffles could certainly be sexy too). Reiley says truffles are recommended as being particularly effective for women because their aroma resembles that of the male pheromone androstenone.

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Aphrodisiac herbs & spices

According to Anami, your best bet is aphrodisiac herbs, which she says are more concentrated in their potency. Some examples include maca, saffron, yohimbe and ginseng, which she says do everything, increasing things like libido, erectile strength, orgasmic potential and hormonal production.

In addition, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg — known as the "warming spices" — raise body temperatures, supposedly to the point at which it encourages people about to engage in sexual activity to remove their clothes, Reiley says.

At the end of the day (or meal), no food affects everyone in the same way. Feeding oysters to someone allergic to seafood, for example, may result in the night ending in a hospital bed than your bed. And contrary to popular belief, not everyone likes chocolate. But, depending on the person and situation, certain foods can be a fun addition to your romantic plans.

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