10 Aphrodisiac Myths


Plenty of people love chocolate, but does chocolate make them better lovers? © chan_vargas/iStock/Thinkstock

Having a bit of a slump in your love life? Or looking to kick things up a notch? Stop before you reach for the guacamole and shots of tequila.

Sure, aphrodisiacs can be found in the most unexpected places. Spicy foods, erotically shaped foods, and the smell of pumpkin pie are all considered ways to boost your sexual desire and performance (although pumpkin pie apparently only works for gentlemen). Many are simple things like chili peppers and chocolate, which are probably already in your kitchen. But do they actually work? Maybe, but maybe not — and even if there's any inkling of a special tingle, it might be more psychological than physiological. Science has yet to prove that any popular sexy-time foods are actually stimulating more than our imagination [source: Magee]. So what gives? It turns out your brain is the best aphrodisiac you have.

The power of the placebo effect can have better results than what's scientifically proven simply because we believe something will increase our sexual desire. Sometimes it really is just all about expectation. So if it makes you feel sexy to believe that what you're ingesting (or smelling or touching) is a tried-and-true aphrodisiac, then, by all means, help yourself. Many alleged aphrodisiacs won't hurt you if you want to dabble, but always double check. Spanish fly, for example, is toxic, which is kind of the opposite of what you're going for here.

10

Bananas

Bananas: full of potassium, and rumored to have sexual mojo. ©Baloncici/iStock/Thinkstock
Bananas: full of potassium, and rumored to have sexual mojo. ©Baloncici/iStock/Thinkstock

When the potato was introduced to Europeans in the 1500s it began a wave of vegetable-as-aphrodisiac mythology. There wasn't anything about the chemical makeup of the potato that was especially erotic; rather, it was the potato's phallic shape. By the 1700s, asparagus, carrots and even onions (which were thought to resemble testicles) were all considered to have aphrodisiac qualities based on their shape alone.

And then there's the banana, perhaps considered the most phallic of them all.

Bananas contain B vitamins and potassium, which your body needs to make sex hormones, but there's no evidence linking your sexual desire, performance or satisfaction to your banana consumption. Results from a small study by the Smell and Taste Research Foundation, however, suggest that if you want to use a banana as an aphrodisiac, bake it in banana bread. Women's sexual arousal increased by an average of 12 percent, according to their data, when they smelled banana nut bread combined with, oddly enough, the licorice candy Good & Plenty [source: Hirsch].

9

Spanish Fly

Being dead can really put a damper on your love life. © Tung-Tong/iStock/Thinkstock
Being dead can really put a damper on your love life. © Tung-Tong/iStock/Thinkstock

Type the phrase "Spanish fly aph..." — you don't even need to complete the word "aphrodisiac" — into Google. Lo and behold, you'll see suggestions such as "Spanish fly aphrodisiac does it work" and "Spanish fly aphrodisiac side effects" pop up. Since you're clearly curious, let's be clear: Spanish fly will not help your love life. In fact, Spanish fly is toxic.

The active ingredient in authentic Spanish fly is a chemical called cantharidin, which is made from blister beetles. Cantharidin is sometimes used as a topical treatment for warts, but it should never be ingested. That's because it's poisonous — as poisonous as cyanide. It comes with a long list of severe side effects if swallowed, including burning and irritation in the mouth and throughout the upper gastrointestinal tract, renal failure, bleeding, seizures, and sometimes painful and persistent erections.

8

Watermelon

It’s a refreshing summer treat, but watermelon isn’t a sure bet in the aphrodisiac game. © camelot1671/iStock/Thinkstock
It’s a refreshing summer treat, but watermelon isn’t a sure bet in the aphrodisiac game. © camelot1671/iStock/Thinkstock

Watermelon may be nature's Viagra. But we aren't holding our breath.

This myth began when scientists discovered that watermelon contains an amino acid called L-citrulline. In your body, your kidneys convert it into L-argnine and nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is what we're interested in; it expands blood vessels, and when you're talking about aphrodisiacs, that's important because it helps increase blood flow.

When a penis is flaccid, smooth muscles are contracted (called vasoconstriction), and there is limited arterial blood flow to the area. To get an erection, there needs to be smooth-muscle relaxation (called vasodilation) and increased arterial blood flow. Nitric oxide helps with that smooth-muscle relaxation, which then helps boost arterial blood flow throughout the body, including to your genitals.

But before you serve up watermelon for its potential Viagralike effects, know that no one knows how much watermelon you need to eat to see any sexual function benefits. Eating 4 ounces (28 grams) of watermelon will get you 150 milligrams of L-citrulline, but is that too little? Or maybe too much? Your guess is as good as ours — and it may not even work at all.

If you do plan to give it a try, though, don't toss the rind; 60 percent more L-citrulline is found there than in the sweet fruit [source: Men's Health].

7

Almonds

Almonds have many health benefits, but they don’t directly correlate to enhanced sexual performance. © Katie Nesling/iStock/Thinkstock
Almonds have many health benefits, but they don’t directly correlate to enhanced sexual performance. © Katie Nesling/iStock/Thinkstock

Hippocrates recommended almonds as a cure for several things. Almonds were considered a remedy for coughs and weight problems and were believed to an aphrodisiac. But are almonds really going to put you in the mood? Well, not really. Almonds do contain the amino acid L-arginine, which helps with vasodilation in your body (that means it helps with blood flow). That increase in blood flow, in theory, could help men with erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow to the genitals — but it also may not help, and no one is sure how many almonds might do the trick. It's never been scientifically proven that almonds will enhance your sex life.

However, scientists have been able to prove that eating almonds is good for your heart and your weight, and they may help lessen your risk of developing diabetes. Almonds, at least the ones with the skins on, may also be antiviral agents, boosting your immune system and giving you a slight advantage when fighting off viral infections, such as genital herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus 2).

So eating a handful of almonds (if you'd like to be specific when recording your food in your fitness tracker, that's a serving of 23 nuts) will boost your overall health in the long run, which could in turn improve your sex life. Maybe.

6

Avocado

Avocadoes might not make you a better lover, but they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. © olgakr/iStock/Thinkstock
Avocadoes might not make you a better lover, but they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. © olgakr/iStock/Thinkstock

What do you see when you look at an avocado? Well, the Aztecs called the fruit "ahucatl" -- which means "testicle." And in turn, a translation of that word is how we got the name "avocado." If you're wondering whether it was the shape of the fruit or its rumored ability to make great lovers, that part seems to be lost to the ages.

Like almonds, watermelon and other foods considered (by some) to have aphrodisiac qualities, avocados are good for your overall health. They contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals in just one serving, along with monounsaturated fat — that's the "good" fat — and fiber [source: Zelman]. (Watch your servings, though, as they are calorie-dense.) But despite the health benefits and deliciousness, avocadoes aren't proven to cause any physiological changes specifically to release your inner Casanova.

5

Clomipramine

Is this man yawning or experiencing an orgasm? Or both? © Barış URUNLU/iStock/Thinkstock
Is this man yawning or experiencing an orgasm? Or both? © Barış URUNLU/iStock/Thinkstock

Clomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder by increasing the concentration of serotonin in your brain. Those who take it may experience some pretty intense side effects such as seizures, heart arrhythmias and significant weight gain. And, as with many antidepressants, those who take them often suffer sexual dysfunction. And this one is no different. As many as 85 percent of people who take or have taken clomipramine report their sex life is negatively affected by the drug — both loss of desire and a drop in performance are reported.

However, in a very rare, very small percentage of people — and this may sound like a joke, but it definitely is not — clomipramine causes a spontaneous orgasm with every yawn, even fake yawns [source: Schwartz]. How rare is this reaction to the drug? Back in 1983, researchers published findings that about five patients reported the "yawngasm" side effect, which, as you can imagine, generated a sudden public interest in the medication [source: McLean]. But for most of us, clomipramine isn't going to give us the power to spontaneously orgasm (and, frankly, that comes with its own set of problems). As many as 20 percent of men who take clomipramine report impotence, and nearly half, 42 percent, report difficulty ejaculating [source: Schwartz].

4

Trazodone

Treating depression with meds often leads to sexual dysfunction, but Trazadone is less likely than other antidepressants to have that effect.  © Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Thinkstock
Treating depression with meds often leads to sexual dysfunction, but Trazadone is less likely than other antidepressants to have that effect. © Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Trazodone (marketed as Desyrel or Oleptro) is a rare antidepressant — rare in that it is far less likely to cause sexual dysfunction compared to other, more popular antidepressants. Sertraline (marketed as one of the most common antidepressants, Zoloft), for example, reportedly decreases the libido of 6 percent of those who take it, and as many as 14 percent of men report sertraline-related ejaculation problems [source: Stöppler].

So if it doesn't cause as many sexual side effects as other types of antidepressants, will trazodone do the opposite and increase your libido? So people hoped back in the'80s when a (very) small number of men and women reported that it gave them a boost in that department. In each of the findings, just three men and three women reported an increase in their libido while taking the drug to treat their depression. More often, though, and yet still rare, men were more likely to report priapism, a painful and persistent erection that may last as long as six hours [source: Gartrell, Sullivan].

There may be something on the horizon for trazodone and its potential to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), though. Combined with another antidepressant that has a low risk of sexual dysfunction, bupropion (marketed as Wellbutrin), it may turn out to be a viable treatment to increase sexual desire. In 2014, experimental drugs containing those two antidepressants — Orexa as a possible treatment for men with HSDD and Lorexys for women with HSDD — were undergoing in clinical trials [sources: S1 Biopharma, S1 Biopharma].

3

Green M&Ms

If you insist on only eating green M&Ms, you can always go to a specialty candy store where they sell unmixed colors. © Owen Franken/Corbis
If you insist on only eating green M&Ms, you can always go to a specialty candy store where they sell unmixed colors. © Owen Franken/Corbis

Is it true what they say about the green ones?

Sorry to break it to you, but no, it's not true. There is absolutely no evidence — and we mean scientific evidence, not the "evidence" you collected during your teenage years — that green M&Ms have any magical erotic powers. Nor do any other green candies you might enjoy (green jelly beans, green Skittles, green gummi bears, etc.).

Back in the '70s and '80s a rumor started that eating green M&Ms would turn you on; while no one can be sure how or why the myth began, it could be related to the color green's association with fertility throughout history. The only thing special about green M&Ms around the time the myth began was that you could only expect about 10 percent of a package of M&Ms to be green, 20 percent if you were eating peanut M&Ms [source: Snopes]. So it's possible, though not substantiated, that their relative scarcity added to the allure.

Green M&Ms aren't the only color that's been considered a libido-booster, though. When the FDA banned Red Dye No. 2 in the mid-1970s because of its association with certain cancers, rumors swirled that they were unavailable because they were an even better aphrodisiac than the green candies. Also not true.

2

Alcohol

Spirits may give you the courage to talk to that attractive person in the bar, but it may very well make render you unable to perform sexually. ©Purestock/Thinkstock
Spirits may give you the courage to talk to that attractive person in the bar, but it may very well make render you unable to perform sexually. ©Purestock/Thinkstock

You know the famous quote from Shakespeare ... no, not Hamlet's "To be, or not to be." We mean the Porter's words in "Macbeth" that "[drink] provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance." Ah, yes, alcohol. It turns us on yet shuts us down all at the same time.

First, it hands you your beer goggles. Alcohol changes our perception of things, including how attractive you find other people. The way this works is that the more drinks you have, the less likely you'll be able to accurately judge whether something is asymmetrical, whether it be a face or, well, pretty much anything, really [source: Halsey]. We find symmetry more attractive, so when everything looks a little more symmetrical, everything looks better. Sexier. But it's not only that your new friend across the bar looks good when you're inebriated; you start to feel really good about your own attractiveness, too. Your inhibitions lessen and your desire begins to, let's say, swell [source: Telegraph].

However. The problem with alcohol is that it can leave you hanging when it's time to perform. Women may find sex uncomfortable because alcohol can cause vaginal dryness. Men may find that even though they were feeling quite lustful at the beginning of the night, the more alcohol they consume, the more likely they are to lose their libido, and they may also lose their ability to get and/or maintain their erection -- problems that only get worse the more you drink and the more frequently you drink [source: WVU].

1

Chocolate

Chocolate is so yummy, does it even matter if it’s an aphrodisiac? © Nikolay Trubnikov/iStock/Thinkstock
Chocolate is so yummy, does it even matter if it’s an aphrodisiac? © Nikolay Trubnikov/iStock/Thinkstock

There's a reason we give gifts of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on Valentine's Day — and it's not the chocolate lobby. In addition to finding chocolate tasty, many of us believe it's an aphrodisiac.

Here's the thing about chocolate, though: Despite how much we want chocolate to be an aphrodisiac (even emperor Montezuma reportedly believed it to be one) it's actually not. But on paper, it does look like it could be, and here's why. Chocolate contains three natural stimulants: tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin (which improves your mood); theobromine, which also elevates your mood; and phenylethylamine (PEA), which triggers your body to release endorphins that make you feel like you've just fallen in love.

In 2006 researchers almost linked chocolate and sex — almost. They found though, when they adjusted their data to account for age, there was no difference in sexual function between women who ate chocolate and those who didn't [source: Salonia]. In the end, most scientists consider the amounts of these chemicals in chocolate too low to have any significant physiological effect on sexual function or satisfaction. So enjoy your chocolate for its taste and — if you choose dark chocolate — for its healthy heart benefits.

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Author's Note: 10 Aphrodisiac Myths

As far as what current research tells us, this aphrodisiac business is pretty much all a myth — although there's no reason to stop trying to prove it (fingers crossed it'll be chocolate). The only true thing we can conclude? There really is no better aphrodisiac than the placebo effect.

Related Articles

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