Aphrodisiacs have been around since the dawn of time. If there’s a foodstuff that has a reputation as a sexual enhancer, people are going to try it.
But do they really work, or are we just fooling ourselves into believing those pre-dinner oysters will have some raw, primal power over us later that night?
Below, three experts offer their opinion on the effectiveness of common aphrodisiacs and explain how each food got their reputation.
First things first: What is an aphrodisiac and how do they interact with our bodies?
Typically, an aphrodisiac ― a term derived from Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love ― is defined as a food or other substance that causes arousal or sexual desire.
“There tend to be nutrients provided via these foods that improve the health of the sex organs as well,” said Kat Van Kirk, a sex therapist and the resident relationship and sex expert at AdamandEve.com. “The foods are said to increase sensations of arousal such as body temperature, heart rate or physical energy, making you feel more like having sex.”
Of course, a placebo effect may be at play, too; for instance, you heard figs impact your sex drive so you feel more inclined to want sex simply because you have high expectations for the fruit. Whatever the case, still worth a bite, right?
Watermelon had a reputation as an aphrodisiac long before Queen Bey sang about it drinking it on “Drunk On Love.”
It makes sense that people latch onto this one, said Diana Hoppe, a obstetrician and gynecologist and the author of Healthy Sex Drive, Healthy You: What Your Libido Reveals About Your Life.
Watermelon is a rich source of the non-essential amino acid citrulline, she said. Citrulline relaxes and dilates blood vessels much like Viagra and other drugs meant to treat erectile dysfunction.
“All that citrulline results in increased blood flow, blood vessel relaxation and sexual arousal,” Hoppe explained.
It sure sounds promising, but is it effective? Since citrulline is most concentrated in the rind of the watermelon, “you’d have to eat a lot of watermelon rind to get this effect to see a payoff,” Hoppe said.
Watermelon rind juice, anyone? Or better yet, watermelon rind pickles.
Chocolate is our go-to Valentine’s Day gift for good reason: it’s delicious, decadent and you’d be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t like some type of it. (We see ― and want you ― pink chocolate.)
Is it effective as an aphrodisiac, though? Sadly, current studies suggest that chocolate has no statistically significant effect on libido, said Steve McGough, an associate professor of clinical sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
That said, chocolate contains chemicals like phenylethylamine, which may elicit feelings of excitement and general well being. Hopefully, you can parlay your good mood into some sexy time with your S.O., McGough said.
Oysters have a storied history as an aphrodisiac: Legend has it that Casanova, the famed 18th century lover, fueled up on raw oysters every morning to maintain his stamina. The oyster also bears some resemblance to female genitalia, and slurping down its soft, moist flesh can be a bit suggestive.
Are oysters really effective as aphrodisiacs? They can be in certain quantities, Hoppe said.
“Oysters contain high amounts of zinc, a mineral important in production of testosterone, sperm production and immune function,” she said.
They also contain large amounts of the amino acid tyrosine, a nutrient that plays a part in the production of dopamine. Low levels of dopamine are known to negatively impact libido, Hoppe explained.
“You’d need to eat large amounts to get enough dopamine to cause any effect, but having oysters as an appetizer never hurts to fuel the flames!”
How many is enough, though?
“For some, two oysters may fuel the flames while others may need more,” Hoppe said. “With aphrodisiacs, the food is only one component of the equation to libido, as the body’s reaction to the food and the surrounding (a romantic candlelight dinner versus crazy busy loud restaurants) could also contribute.”
This slightly phallic-shaped veggie has the French to thank for its naughty reputation. French grooms in the 19th century were served three courses of asparagus the day before their weddings in the hopes that it would increase their sex drive for the big night ahead. (We’re hoping their pee didn’t smell like asparagus because that’s really not sexy.)
Is asparagus really a sexy super food, though? Possibly, McGough said.
Asparagus is a great source of a lot of sexually stimulating nutrients, including vitamin E, B and potassium, he explained.
“Since it’s a great, nutritious food to eat, I’d say why not try it,” he said. “I haven’t tried it personally but like asparagus and am now curious.”
Veggies with similar nutrients may have the same effect as asparagus, but McGough advises not to overdo it.
“One thing I would say, based on personal observation, is that if you eat large amounts of anything that makes you feel great, don’t keep high levels of intake all the time,” he said. “Unless it’s a nutritional deficiency, certain foods can bump our physiology one way or another (sometimes for really great results) but over time we might adapt to it.”
He added: “It’s best to keep things in balance and eat a good variety of healthy foods each day. Save the asparagus, raw oyster and watermelon binges for a special weekend date.”
5. Chili peppers
Spice up your (sex) life. According to Hoppe, chili peppers contain a colorless, odorless oil-like compound known as capsaicin that stimulates the nerve endings on the tongue.
“It creates a tingling sensation and increases the release of epinephrine ― also known as adrenaline ― and endorphins, the natural opiates for body,” she told us.
Is it really effective? Yep, that endorphin high from the chili is very likely to get you going, Hoppe said.
Plus, chili pairs well with another food believed to be an aphrodisiac, the nutrient-rich avocado. Don’t forget to buy chips, salsa and guacamole before sending that next “Netflix and chill?” text.
Figs have long been considered an aphrodisiac, in large part because they’re mentioned in the Bible as one of the fruits in the Garden of Eden. Some even believe it might be the true forbidden fruit that got Adam and Eve into all that trouble.
OK, so it’s got a sexy backstory, but is it really effective? No, said Van Kirk, but the fruit is good for your general health.
“Figs have a high concentration of antioxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols which can lead to feelings of relaxation and well being,” she said.
(Just don’t go and read about how figs grow, because it’s a supremely unsexy story.)
Because of its heart shape and red color, Romans are said to have considered the strawberry a symbol of Venus, the goddess of love.
Beyond its cute shape, the berry is packed with Vitamin C, which helps keep blood flowing to all regions of the body, Hoppe said.
Is it effective? “As with many of these aphrodisiacs, it contains ingredients important to sex hormone production but there’s no way to guarantee it will increase desire,” she said. “They’re good for your overall health, though!”
Hey, staying healthy is always sexy.