Aphrodisiacs: the reasoning, the mystery and the effects

According to Merriam-Webster.com, an aphrodisiac is “an agent (as a food or drug) that arouses or is held to arouse sexual desire; something that excites.”

However, many say aphrodisiacs are just myth — that they don’t actually exist. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims that there are no such things as aphrodisiacs since no conclusive scientific studies prove the effects of certain foods on sexual desire, performance or enjoyment.

Well, they can’t prove the effects in humans, at least. Several studies have shown differences in the sexual activities of lab rats and other such animals.

For the sake of this article, there is no conclusive proof that any of the following items have actual aphrodisiac effects. In fact, most of the “effects” of aphrodisiacs have been accredited to the placebo effect — people think that some foods or drinks have sex-enhancing qualities and they create these results psychologically.

Many items that are typically thought to be aphrodisiacs are mostly considered as such because of their shape. Common myths say that a tiger penis or rhino horn make good aphrodisiacs because of the obvious phallic shape, when in fact these have been proven to do nothing to increase libido. Yet there still is a good amount of illegal trading going on involving these and other animal parts because of their rumored sex-enhancing qualities.

In a similar vein, it has been thought for a long time that oysters have aphrodisiac powers — possibly because of their shape or because they were once considered a more exotic food.

Legend has it that Casanova, the infamous master of seduction, ate raw oysters for breakfast every morning. The only real benefit of eating oysters is the high amounts of zinc, which will just improve your overall health, unless they are contaminated, in which case they could be deadly.

If you really need to ingest something shaped like genitalia to get you going, save the rhinos and just get a penis- or breast-shaped cake from The Erotic Bakery in Wallingford.

Almonds have been thought to increase sex drive and possibly help premature ejaculation. In many cultures, the almond is the symbol of fertility and passion, and the aroma is particularly entrancing to women, which is why it is often used in hand creams and soaps.

Chocolate has often been said to be an aphrodisiac, much to the elation of women everywhere. While (once again) there are no scientific studies that can firmly prove this, the effects seem to be psychological. Chocolate was first introduced to Europe by the Aztecs. Its rarity and mystique gave chocolate an appealing aura. It was once said that white chocolate was the most powerful aphrodisiac — that is, until it became easily attainable. However, it is true that chocolate contains phenylethylamine and seratonin, which are both naturally produced in the brain during times of happiness, passion, love or lust.

A cult-favorite aphrodisiac seems to be the fig. The shape, the texture and historical stigma behind the fig provoke hidden sensualities in the subconscious. Firstly, an opened fig supposedly looks like female sex organs; it is widely thought that eating a fig fruit in front of a naked woman is the most erotic act on Earth simply because of the symbolism. Figs are one of the oldest fruits on earth and are said to have been Cleopatra’s favorite fruit. Perhaps the sensual reputation of the fig is owing to the “ritual copulation” that celebrated the arrival of the new fig crop in ancient Greece.

Honey has also been tied to sexual appetite because of its history. Mead — a fermented drink made of honey, water and yeast — was often given as gifts in medieval times (from seducer to object of affection or to young newlyweds). It is said that this tradition is related to the naming of the honeymoon. Honey was also used in Egyptian times to attempt to cure sterility or impotence.

It’s not yet proven that aphrodisiacs such as these actually work, nor is it a fact that their powers go beyond the extent of psychological stimulants. Non-edible aphrodisiacs go even further into the gray area of the debate. One certain contributor to a healthy and enjoyable sex life is — you guessed it — good health. Not only does having a good, healthy body help in the mechanical sense, being in good shape boosts self-esteem, which is a major plus for your sex drive.

So whether you chase down a rhino or eat a fig in the candlelight with some Barry White in the background, everyone has his or her own turn-on; the key is to be confident, healthy and safe.

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