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Aphrodisiacs: Better Sex or Just Bunk?


WebMD Feature

Men and women have sought aphrodisiacs, agents that arouse or increase sexual response or desire, since the beginning of time. Aphrodisiacs may well be the one thing that crosses all barriers -- race, culture, ethnicity, age -- making it unanimous: We all want to have better sex.

 

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If you looked hard enough, you could find an authority for almost any folk belief about the stimulating properties of a substance. And although the Food and Drug Administration has determined that all these non-medicinal approaches are ineffective, people still follow their heart's desire in search of the perfect catalyst for love.

Foods

One category of foods that were thought to be aphrodisiacs are foods that resemble genitalia. Eggs and caviar may come to mind, as well as asparagus, celery, and onions. Clams and oysters also lay claim to aphrodisiac qualities because of their shape and texture. Oysters, in fact, are high in zinc -- a nutrient that was lacking in people's diets at one time; eating them could improve a nutritionally deficient diet, thus improving a person's overall health and increasing his or her sex drive.

 

Spicy foods have long been considered to be sexual stimulants. There is some scientific truth to this claim in that foods that are heavily spiced often contain capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper. Eating capsaicin can cause a physiological response -- increased heart rate and metabolism, sometimes even sweating -- that is quite similar to the physical reactions experienced during sex.

 

Okra is another reputed vegetable of love. Rich in magnesium, it's a natural relaxant. It's also full of iron, folate, zinc, and vitamin B, all nutrients that keep your sex organs healthy and happy. A little gumbo, anyone?

Herbs

An herb very commonly associated with love is ginseng. Some say ginseng is an aphrodisiac because it actually looks like the human body. (The word ginseng even means "man root.") Studies have reported sexual response in animals who have been given ginseng, but there is no evidence to date of ginseng having any effect on humans.

 

Yohimbe is an herb found in Africa and India that for centuries has been thought to possess aphrodisiac qualities. It works by stimulating nerve centers in the spine, thereby improving the capacity for erection without increasing sexual excitement. These days, some call it the herbal Viagra. Unfortunately, there are side effects to taking this herb, which include anxiety, weakness, overstimulation, paralysis, and hallucinations. Sounds like a large price to pay for the possibility of better sex, don't you think?

Spanish Fly

No discussion of aphrodisiacs would be complete without mention of Spanish fly, the most legendary of the love drugs, but also the most dangerous. Spanish fly, or cantharides, is extracted from dried beetle dung. Reported sexual excitement after taking Spanish fly stems from its ability to irritate the urogenital tract, causing a rush of blood to the genital area. And that's not the down side! Spanish fly is a poison that burns the mouth and throat, and can cause urinary infections, scarring of the urethra, and in some rare cases, death.

 

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