Want to turn up the heat in the bedroom? Looking for a quick way to spice up your lovemaking?
Legend has it that Casanova, the Italian adventurer and perhaps history’s most famous lover, slurped down dozens of oysters before bedding down with his partners. But do foods and herbs really work as aphrodisiacs to heighten your mood or boost your sexual performance?
Research shows us that it's mostly in our heads -- but when it comes to aphrodisiacs, we should never underestimate the power of sensual suggestion.
Basically, foods considered aphrodisiacs are those that aim to stimulate the love senses (sight, smell, taste, and touch). You can’t really eat your way to better sex. No food has been scientifically proven to stimulate the human sex organs. But foods and the act of eating can suggest sex to the mind, which in turn can help stimulate desire in the body.
Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts in particular help you better pump blood throughout your body. That may improve your cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and, for men, help you get and keep an erection. Eating 2-3 ounces of pistachios each day also may help.
Avocados. It’s one of the few fruits that contain healthy unsaturated fats. One benefit is avocados can help keep your hormones in balance. Avocados also have folate, a vitamin needed to make histamine, a compound released during orgasms.
Pomegranate. It’s called a superfood because it’s packed with antioxidants. Pomegranate juice may super-size your sex life, too. One study found that drinking a glass a day for 2 weeks improved testosterone levels in men and women. The hormone is plentiful in men and is needed for both sexes to kick sex drive into high gear.
Chocolate. Ancient Aztecs considered it a powerful aphrodisiac. Chocolate contains the compound phenylethylamine, aka the “chemical of love.” But chocolate’s power as an aphrodisiac is probably more myth than reality.
Berries. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are good for your overall health, and they also may help men keep erections. Researchers found that foods rich in flavonoids -- nutrients that give fruits and vegetables their color and are also found in citrus fruits and red wine -- are linked to a lower risk of erectile dysfunction. Also, blackberries contain zinc, which may play a role in regulating testosterone production.
Alcohol. A drink or two may lower your inhibitions and put you in the mood for romance. One study found that women who drank a glass or two of red wine a day reported more desire, lubrication, and overall sexual satisfaction than nondrinkers.
But too much alcohol can cause sexual problems, like not getting your penis hard or not having orgasms. Drink moderately, which is no more than one drink a day for a woman and not more than two for a man.
Certain qualities in foods are thought to elicit sensuality. Foods considered sexy are generally those that are:
- Spicy (but not too spicy)
So if you're planning a romantic encounter, you may want to take note for your menu.
Talk to your doctor before adding herbs. They can interfere with some drugs.
Ginkgo. This herb comes from fan-shaped leaves from trees found throughout Asia. It may increase blood flow to the genitals and improve sexual function in men and women. One study in women showed an improvement in sexual excitement when ginkgo was paired with sex therapy.
Ginseng. Some studies say ginseng may heighten sexual excitement in postmenopausal women and may help men get and hold an erection. Women who are pregnant or people with certain cancers shouldn’t take it.
Maca. This root grows in the Andes Mountains in South America and is usually ground into a powder. In one 12-week study, men reported an increase in desire after treatment with 3,000 milligrams of maca.
Tribulus. This is an herb that’s been used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. One recent study showed that it helped sexual function in men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. But an earlier study didn’t find any improvement. Tribulus also may help get you more interested in sex. After using it, some women reported better lubrication and orgasms and generally more satisfying lovemaking.
Don’t Forget the Placebo Effect
A placebo is an inactive substance -- like a sugar pill -- given to a research participant who is under the impression it is a drug. So the "placebo effect" is when the belief that something is helping has as much as, or more of, a therapeutic effect as the substance itself.
So if a person thinks eating raw oysters will give a jolt to their sex drive and sexual stamina, their anticipation of this powerful effect can help it come true.
What to Watch For
Some well-known substances touted as aphrodisiacs are really too dangerous to try. These include:
Spanish fly. Several studies have shown that this can be possibly deadly. Spanish fly comes from the blister beetle and contains a poison called cantharidin. It can cause kidney damage, genital and gastrointestinal bleeding, and burning in the mouth, among other things.
Mad honey. Honey has been used as folk medicine for thousands of years.
But so-called mad honey is a dangerous substance sometimes used as an aphrodisiac. It comes from the nectar of a rhododendron bush and is contaminated with a poison called grayanotoxin. It can cause heart problems, confusion, and other serious symptoms. If you take mad honey and feel sick, get medical help right away.
Yohimbe. This is made from the bark of a tree that grows in parts of Africa. It’s been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. It supposedly can help men get erections. But yohimbe has been linked to heart attacks and seizures.