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Aphrodisiacs: Fact or Fiction?

Food really can put you in the mood; find out how.

Erotic Edibles Through History

Throughout history, vegetables like onions, turnips, leeks, squash, asparagus, artichokes, and watercress were thought to not only stimulate desire, but also increase sperm count. Shapely fruits like the apple and curvaceous pear were seen as erotic edibles. And heavily seeded fruits like pomegranates and figs were compared to the "seeds of fertility."

And what about those notorious oysters? Alas, despite the sexual exploits attributed to their powers, oysters are made up of elements that cannot possibly chemically stimulate the genitals of either sex -- namely water, protein, carbohydrate, fat, some salts, glycogen, and tiny amounts of minerals like potassium and calcium. Apparently, the oyster can thank its shape and squishy texture for its aphrodisiac acclaim.

Chocolate is one of America's favorite "comfort foods," but to the ancient Aztecs, it offered a lot more than comfort -- it was considered a powerful aphrodisiac.

In the early 1980s, researchers thought they had solved the mystery of our love affair with chocolate. They detected the chemical phenyl ethylamine (PEA) in chocolate. PEA is a central nervous system stimulant, usually present in the human brain, that is thought to help arouse emotions. But the human body actually absorbs very little PEA from chocolate -- not enough to affect our emotions, anyway. So, it seems the sexiest thing about chocolate is its taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture -- which, in my estimation, is not too shabby!

In 14th century Europe, the spice trade from Asia added herbs and spices into the aphrodisiac equation. Historical accounts suggest that many of these foods ­ like cloves, anise seed, cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, and thyme -- had sterling aphrodisiac reputations in their native regions.

The fact that potatoes (both sweet and white) were new to Europe in the 16th century helped perpetuate the belief that they possessed sexual powers. Other vegetables joined their aphrodisiac ranks in the 16th through 18th centuries, namely carrots (the vegetable, juice, and seeds) and the juice of asparagus.

By the 18th century, the influence of phallically oriented foods, such as eel, carrots, and asparagus, had taken shape (pun intended). Various bulb vegetables thought to resemble testicles, like the onion, were thought to affect a man's potency.

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