Once again, science has ruined all our fun: There is no such thing as a food aphrodisiac.
I know it’s tough to ingest (pun intended), but it’s true: Within Western medical science, no substantiated claims exist supporting the idea that certain foods increase libido, or sexual desire. Who says? The FDA did, in 1989, saying that the supposed sexual effects of so-called aphrodisiacs are based in folklore, not fact.
Now before you all go and viciously comment on this story with a detailed recount of that one time you ate two dozen raw oysters and had a, um, frisky night, hear me out — and keep in mind that there is such a thing as TMI.
You’re not crazy. It’s entirely possible that those 24 oysters livened up your libido — but not because they have aphrodisiac qualities. One possible explanation is the placebo effect, the phenomenon by which something causes an effect simply because we expect it to. Other reasoning involves what is sometimes referred to as the “law of similarity” or “sympathetic magic,” whereby an object, such as an oyster, is believed to possess sexual powers simply because it resembles genitalia. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
There have been some attempts to explain possible aphrodisiac effects through science, but none of them have been substantiated. Let’s examine those, shall we?
Science has confirmed that this sweet treat can affect mood, but a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found no correlation between daily chocolate consumption and sexual function.
Some studies suggest that the chemical phenethylamine, or PEA, which is found in chocolate, could play a role in sexual attraction and arousal. However, the chemical usually is rendered inactive when orally ingested because it’s so quickly broken down by monoamine oxidase, or MAO, which prevents much of it from reaching the brain.
There is scientific evidence proving that some women get turned on simply by the possibility of finding a pearl in their oysters. Kidding.
The common argument supporting oysters as an aphrodisiac surrounds their high zinc content, since zinc plays a role in the production of the sex hormone testosterone. The mistake here is that zinc is not some kind of natural Viagra. Zinc only enters the picture when there’s a deficiency of the mineral in our bodies; when there’s a zinc deficiency, testosterone levels decrease. According to an article in the government magazine FDA Consumer, the idea that oysters could increase testosterone production may have originated from a time when oysters’ “contribution of zinc to the nutritionally deficient diets of the day could improve overall health and so lead to an increased sex drive.”
There was a study back in 2005 that claimed injecting the amino acids D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate — which are contained in oysters — into rats resulted in a chain reaction of hormones that ended with the production of testosterone in males and estrogen in females. But food myth expert Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, who at the time was a Harvard Medical School associate professor, said this one study doesn’t prove the existence of aphrodisiac qualities in oysters. “The findings are certainly interesting, but we still have a ways to go before saying that there is scientific evidence that claims oysters and scallops boost libido,” he told MSN Health.
For one, Shmerling pointed out that injecting something doesn’t always have the same effect as digesting it. Secondly, testosterone is thought to play a larger role in men’s libido than in women’s, and estrogen actually could reduce women’s libido. Lastly, we might want to research the effects in humans, not just rats, before we start playing telephone with “Aphrodisiac foods DO exist!”
Alcohol and other drugs that we’ve definitely never done
We all know there’s a connection between alcohol and sex, but it’s not because alcohol increases one’s libido. Alcohol, cannabis, MDMA and other psychoactive substances could increase sexual pleasure and reduce sexual inhibition, but they do not increase sexual desire.
In conclusion, the bad news here is that we have another disappointing lie to add to our pile of Santa, the tooth fairy and other things we wish existed. But the good news is that your significant other hasn’t read this article yet! There’s no harm in taking advantage of the placebo effect.