Do Aphrodisiacs Really Work?

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Want things to get real steamy in the bedroom? Many gobble down oysters, chocolate, or red wine in hopes of generating some extra heat. But even though common belief holds that these supposed aphrodisiacs tout the ability to increase sexual desire, there’s little scientific evidence to prove they really can up that sex-drive [1].

It's Gettin’ Hot in Here — Why It Matters


Photo by Ben Draper

Aphrodisiacs are historic and cross-cultural phenomena that pledge to heighten sexual desire. The list includes some foods that resemble sex organs, which have gained them an erotic reputation (figs, cucumbers, and bananas, to name a few). But it looks like the joke’s on us. Exhibit A? Oysters. Beyond resembling a woman’s, ahem, they also contain high levels of zinc, which studies suggest boost the production of testosterone and improve sex drive [2]. However, science has yet to prove oysters can actually boost libido (a.k.a. sex drive)— unless we eat an ocean’s full, perhaps [3].

But not all hope is lost— studies suggest certain spices may help with arousal. Researchers found ginseng and saffron could literally heat things up by improving sexual function. Nutmeg, cloves, and ginger have also shown their sexy side, with scientists connecting them to sexual potency [4] [5]. (Although most studies have only been done on rats. Those frisky little critters!)

Movin’ That Mojo — The Answer/Debate

Still, there are ways to help send some sexy vibes. A glass of wine may make a partner seem more attractive (no makeup required!), which could stimulate some steamy properties [6]. In the mood for something sweet? A bar of chocolate could boost the mood by helping to create a sensual ambiance [7]. The scent of pumpkin pie and lavender may also entice us to make a little love (and get down tonight.)

But science has yet to find a real link between common so-called aphrodisiacs and frisky physical changes down under— very little research backs up the belief that certain foods actually produce a sexual response, be it hormone production or rapid blood flow to certain organs. So rather than an eating a boat full of oysters followed by a few chocolate bars, try upping that mojo naturally. Inactivity is connected with erectile dysfunction, so hitting the gym over the oyster bar may be the real solution to great sex [8]. And remember, the results of a healthful diet and plenty of exercise could lead to improved self-esteem, which could be the best libido lifter yet [9]. 

What do you think — do some aphrodisiacs really work? Share in the comments below!

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About the Author
Laura Schwecherl
I'm the marketing director at Greatist, and when I'm not hanging at HQ with my best buds (aka co-workers...) you can find me training for...

Works Cited

  1. Natural aphrodisiacs. Shamloul, R. Queen's University-Pharmacology, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2010 Jan;7(1 Pt 1):39-49. Epub 2009 Sep 30.
  2. Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Prasad, A.S. Mantzoros, C.S., Beck, F.W., et al. Department of Internal Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan. Nutrition, 1996 May;12(5):344-8.
  3. Libido: the biologic scenario. Graziottin, A. Menopause Center, H. San Raffaele Resnati, Milan, Italy. Maturitas, 2000 Jan;34 Suppl 1:S9-16.
  4. An experimental study of sexual function improving effect of Myristica fragrans Houtt. (nutmeg). Tajuddin, A., Latif, A, Qasmi, I.A., et al. Department of Ilmul Advia, Faculty of Unani Medicine, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2005 Jul 20;5:16.
  5. Mango ginger (Curcuma amada Roxb.)--a promising spice for phytochemicals and biological activities. Policegoudra, R.S., Aradhya, S.M., Singh, L. Department of Biotechnology, Defence Research Laboratory, Tezpur, India. Journal of Biosciences, 2011 Sep;36(4):739-48.
  6. Automatic effects of alcohol cues on sexual attraction. Friedman, R.S., McCarthy, D.M., Forster, J., et al. Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO. Addiction, 2005 May;100(5):672-81.
  7. Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Macht, M. Dettmer, D. Department of Psychology, University of Würzburg, Marcusstr. Würzburg, Germany. Appetite, 2006 May;46(3):332-6. Epub 2006 Mar 20.
  8. Abdominal obesity and physical inactivity are associated with erectile dysfunction independent of body mass index. Janiszewski, P.M., Janssen, I., Ross, R. School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009 Jul;6(7):1990-8. Epub 2009 Apr 28.
  9. The relationship of internally directed behavior to self-reinforcement, self-esteem, and expectancy values for exercise. Field, L.K., Steinhardt, M.A. Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas, Austin. American Journal of Health Promotion, 1992 Sep-Oct;7(1):21-7.

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