Do aphrodisiacs actually work?

Oysters, chocolate, ginseng - can food and herbs really boost sexual pleasure?


Aphrodisiacs are foods or herbs that increase sex drive when consumed. Named after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, they’ve been around for centuries. Many are associated with aGreek mythology. For example, Aphrodite tends to be depicted as emerging from a clamshell. It’s no wonder then that oysters have become a famous aphrodisiac.

Other foods such as asparagus and artichokes are said to increase sexual pleasure because they resemble genitalia. Sadly, in our rush to treat erectile dysfunction and provide sexual stimulants, no species has been spared: claims that rhino horn could be an aphrodisiac have been widely dismissed but demand has driven the animal close to extinction.

But what about long-established favorites such as oysters, chocolate and ginseng? Do aphrodisiacs actually work?

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Food aphrodisiacs

Chocolate is said to boost sexual desire because it contains chemicals that increase levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. But research by the University Vita-Salute San Raffaelle did not find a difference in reported sexual function in a sample of 163 women who either ate chocolate daily or not at all. Consuming a Hershey bar just before sex is unlikely to have any effect on libido, but that doesn't mean it can’t be a fun food during foreplay.

Oysters contain high levels of zinc which is vital for maintaining optimal testosterone levels in men and women. Testosterone is the male sex hormone that promotes healthy erections. However, this doesn’t mean slurping a big plate of the seafood actually has an effect on libido. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that oysters boost sexual desire or pleasure.   

With its phallic resemblance, asparagus has gained notoriety as as a potent aphrodesiac. While there is some evidence suggesting that asparagus root extract may treat sexual dysfunction in male mice, there are no studies in humans to support these claims. Either way, the green veggie makes for a healthy addition to your diet because it contains important nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E and K, and folate and copper.

There are plenty of other foods like celery and pomegranate rumored to heighten sexual pleasure, but a review by Queen's University in Canada found that the scientific evidence supporting natural aphrodisiacs was sorely lacking. The one exception may be alcohol.

Alcohol can act as an aphrodisiac by lowering inhibition and boosting confidence. Men and women are more outgoing during sex with a partner when they have been drinking alcohol. However, for men who suffer erectile dysfunction, consuming excess alcohol may backfire, as heavy increased the risk of erectile dysfunction.


Herbal aphrodisiacs

Herbal remedies such as ginseng have been more widely studied for their medical benefits. One meta-analysis of seven studies on the effect of ginseng on erectile dysfunction found that it did improve sexual function in men compared to a placebo. Ginseng has also been shown to improve sperm count. Its effects are largely due to the natural active component ginsenoside.

Yohimbe is traditionally found in Africa where it is extracted from the yohim tree. It is actually approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a prescription drug because it is effective in treating erectile dysfunction. However, effectiveness varies from 34% to over 70% depending on patient age.

The evidence is less clear when it comes to horny goat weed or saw palmetto. And, there are some aphrodisiacs you should steer clear of such as Spanish fly which is not only poisonous but can also leave burns inside the mouth and throat when ingested.


Do aphrodisiacs work?

Yes, if you believe they do. The answer may surprise you given that much of what is written above debunks claims that aphrodisiacs have any effect on sexual pleasure. But don’t underestimate the placebo effect. According to Michael Krychman, an expert and clinical sexual counselor at the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, it is precisely this placebo effect which makes it so difficult to measure the true impact of rumored stimulants such as oysters.

So, if you think chocolate gets you going, there’s no need to stop eating it. At the same time, it’s best to stay away from dubious aphrodisiacs such as rhino horn or potentially poisonous substances.



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  2. Salonia, A., et al. "Chocolate and Women's Sexual Health: An Intriguing Correlation." The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2006. (Jan. 17, 2012)
  3. Prasad, A. S., Mantzoros, C. S., Beck, F. W. J., Hess, J. W., & Brewer, G. J. (1996). Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition, 12(5), 344–348.
  4. Shamloul, R. (2010). Natural Aphrodisiacs. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(1), 39–49.
  5. Thakur, M., Bhargava, S., & Dixit, V. K. (2009). Effect ofAsparagus racemosuson sexual dysfunction in hyperglycemic male rats. Pharmaceutical Biology, 47(5), 390–395.
  6. Jang DJ, Lee MS, Shin BC, Lee YC, Ernst E. Red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction a systematic review. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2008;66:444–50.
  7. Leung, K. W., & Wong, A. S. (2013). Ginseng and male reproductive function. Spermatogenesis, 3(3), e26391.
  8. Morales A, Condra M, Owen JA,Surridge DH, Fenemore J, Harris C. Is yohimbine effective in the treatment of organic impotence? Results of a controlled trial. J Urol 1987;137:1168–72.
  9. Karras, D. J., Farrell, S. E., Harrigan, R. A., Henretig, F. M., & Gealt, L. (1996). Poisoning from “Spanish fly” (cantharidin). The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 14(5), 478–483.
  10. Dumbili E. W. (2016). Gendered sexual uses of alcohol and associated risks: a qualitative study of Nigerian University students. BMC public health, 16, 474.
  11. Arackal, B. S., & Benegal, V. (2007). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian journal of psychiatry, 49(2), 109–112.
  12. Brown, J. (2019). Do aphrodisiacs really work? Retrieved October 16, 2019, from website:

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