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 of the ‘love boosters’ are associated with ancient Greece. 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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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. Even though consuming a bar of Hershey’s just before sex is unlikely to have an effect, that’s not to say chocolate 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. But that 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 pleasure.
With its phallic resemblance, asparagus has risen to fame as a potent seductive food. And there is some evidence which suggests that asparagus root extract may treat sexual dysfunction in male mice. But there are no studies in humans to support these claims. Either way, the green veggie makes for a healthy addition to your evening of desire because it contains important nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E and K, 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 in support of the effectiveness of natural aphrodisiacs was weak at best. There is one exception and that’s alcohol.
Alcohol has been found to be a potential aphrodisiac because it lowers inhibition and can boost confidence in bed. Men and women are more outgoing during sex with a partner when they have been drinking alcohol. But for men who suffer erectile dysfunction consuming excess wine and beer may backfire. Heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of sexual dysfunction.
Herbal remedies such as ginseng have been more widely studied for their medical benefits. There are actually three types of ginseng depending on the way it is processed: fresh, white and red ginseng. 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 quality. Its effects are largely due to the natural active component ginsenosides.
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. But it’s best to stay away from dubious aphrodisiacs such as rhino horn or potentially poisonous substances.
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