Want to get turned on? According to those who believe in the power of aphrodisiacs, there are thousands of foods, drinks, drugs, vitamins, herbs, nutrients and aromas that can increase your sexual desire and excitement.
But many are based on old myths, ancient traditions and false claims. So how can you know which ones truly work?
An aphrodisiac is anything thought to boost sexual response, create sensual moods or invite emotions conducive to sexual seduction and activity. And when I say anything, I mean anything. It seems like almost everything has been regarded as an aphrodisiac at one time or another, including turtle eggs, bull’s testicles and wild lettuce. So it can be tough to determine which ones deliver their promised sex effects.
In investigating what has the potential to benefit us in the boudoir, scientists and nutritionists have been slowly taking on claimed agents of arousal. The following is a list of the ones that have, so far, proven themselves quite worthy of the “aphrodisiac” title:
1. Caffeine. Whether in coffee, tea, sodas or chocolate, caffeine, up to a certain point, can get your motor going. Research out of the University of Michigan found that couples aged 60 and older who reported drinking coffee daily were likelier to report being sexually active than those who didn’t have a cup of java. And we’re not talking small beans: The difference was 62 percent to 38 percent.
2. Honey. Known for giving you a quick boost, sugar in its pure honey form can boost your energy. Honey also fuels sperm cells.
3. Chocolate. Besides containing caffeine, chocolate contains two compounds believed to have sex-enhancing effects: anandamide and phenylethylamine (PEA). (PEA is a natural form of amphetamine, an antidepressant). This sweet also contains theobromine, which increases endorphin production, making for a good high.
4. Herbs. Helping lovers relax and ease anxieties, some herbs are seen as having physical effects that can make you feel randier and increase blood flow to the genitals. Certain ones, like lemon balm, a type of mint plant that’s available in tea form, can relax the nervous system, soothing you while elevating your mood.
5. Spices. Some spices, like cayenne pepper, can get you hot quite literally by increasing your heart rate and body temperature. Some also mirror signs of sexual arousal, like a body flush, perspiration and plumper lips. Certain spices can be consumed in capsule, tincture or concentrated drop form a half an hour before sex to boost circulation.
6. Garlic. Because it contains allicin, garlic increases blood flow to the sexual organs, which can certainly help get things going in the bedroom.
7. L-arginine. L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is a precursor to nitric oxide, the molecule that is responsible for promoting circulation by relaxing the blood vessels. Research from the University of Texas at Austin found that l'arginine, when combined with yohimbine, causes a significant increase in the vaginal pulse amplitude responses of postmenopausal women watching an erotic film. (It should be noted that this combination took about an hour to kick in).
8. Asian Ginseng. Commonly used to treat sexual dysfunction in males, ginseng has direct effects on the central nervous system and genital tissues. Evidence indicates this Chinese herb can facilitate erection by increasing blood flow to the penis. It also enhances the activity of neurotransmitters and hormones involved in sexual behavior.
Chinese and Korean herbalists claim that the ginsenosides, stimulants in the herb, enhance your stamina and make you feel more passionate. Ginseng does, however, carry side effects, including diarrhea and hypertension.
9. Alcohol. Liquor is known to help lovers feel relaxed and in the mood, in large part because people have such strong beliefs that liquor makes for libido. A study from the University of Missouri, Columbia, found subjects who strongly believed that alcohol ups sexual desire rated photos of the other gender as more attractive.
Wine, however, has proven itself an aphrodisiac when it comes to scent. According to the sensual cookbook “Fork Me, Spoon Me,” yeasty champagnes, dry Rieslings, and some chardonnays are said to replicate female pheromones. Cabernet sauvignons, earthy pinots and Bordeaux blends are said to replicate male pheromones.
Whatever you're drinking, know when to stop. More than two glasses may well work to your disadvantage.
10. Ambrien. Found in the digestive tract of some sperm whales, this waxy substance is used in Arab countries, but is illegal in the U.S. (This is because sperm whales are on our endangered species list.) Ambrien is said to increase a male’s libido by increasing the concentration of several hormones, including testosterone.
11. Seafood. Resembling female genitals, any slippery, succulent seafood is held as an aphrodisiac. Also, the word “aphrodisiac” comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty and love, who, like fish, comes from the sea.
Greek mythology says that in a battle for the throne of the heavens, Kronos killed and castrated his father, Uranus, and threw his genitals into the sea. From this, the oceans foamed up and gave birth to Aphrodite, which is one of the reasons so many things of the sea are sexual stimulants.
12. Vitamins. Certain nutrients boost hormone levels and neurotransmitters that create sexual arousal and increase flow of blood to sex organs, plus affect one’s emotions and libido. Vitamin E, for example, is known as the “sex vitamin,” since it is considered a source of high energy, good for sexual endurance.
While it has not been studied as an aphrodisiac, Vitamin E is essential to sperm production and the production of sex hormones and gonadotropin (the pituitary hormone that stimulates sex glands). You can get your fill of Vitamin E in nuts, eggs and whole grains.
13. Essential Fatty Acids. Found in seeds, nuts, salmon and peanut butter, essential fatty acids help with the normal functioning of sex organs and glands. They also assist in the production of sex hormones and adrenal hormones, increase blood flow to the genitals, and stimulate the production of prostaglandins (hormone-like substances). As you can see, they are vital to our sexual response.
When trying to figure out what may work for you, realize that anything can be an aphrodisiac. This is because your belief that something will arouse, attract or seduce you is what makes it stimulating. Aphrodisiacs are all about the power of your mind more than anything.
Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."