Aphrodisiacs make better flirts and lovers
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
Forget perfume, the keys to spicing up your Valentine's Day and sex life may already be in your kitchen.
Researchers say the smell, taste, and even appearance of certain foods can act as potent aphrodisiacs that not only get you in the mood for love, but also may even make you a better flirt and lover. And knowing what foods are appropriate at each stage of the sex and mating process can maximize these effects.
"Different foods have different nutrients and substances that affect the body physiologically in different ways, that's why different foods work for different stages," says clinical sexologist Ava Cadell, PhD. "Some foods lower inhibitions, some get the blood flowing directly to the genitalia, and some foods release happy hormones."
Cadell has grouped aphrodisiacs into three groups based on the physiological effects they have on the body and how those effects can enhance sexual performance at each stage of a person's sex life.
Foods for Flirting
When looking for a potential mate, Cadell says it's important to choose foods that secrete chemicals and hormones that make you happy in order to increase self-confidence, lower inhibitions, and make you a better flirt.
Flirt-friendly foods include:
Chili peppers. Spicy foods get the heart pumping and induce sweating.
Bananas. They contain chemicals that reportedly have a mood-lifting effect on the brain and raises self-confidence.
Carrots. Their phallic appearance and high-fiber content may induce sexual desire.
Foods for Seduction
In the next stage, seduction, aphrodisiacs can help trigger the release of sex hormones, such as testosterone, provide a quick energy boost, and increase blood flow to the genitals to get the body "in the mood" for love.
At this stage, Cadell says it's important to create a visual stimulation with foods that look like the genitalia, such as oysters, fresh figs, or carrots.
"Anything that is visually erotic is automatically going to set your brain in motion," says Cadell. "Second, certain foods release hormones, like testosterone in women that makes them more sexually aggressive and adventurous."
Other foods for seduction include:
Shrimp. High in iodine, shrimp and other types of seafood are vital to the thyroid gland, which is vital for energy.
Chocolate. Not only does chocolate provide a jolt of caffeine, the plant has a flower that looks like sex organs.
Ginger. This root reportedly increases blood flow to the genitals in both men and women.
Olives. Green ones are believed to make men more virile, while black ones increase women's sex drive.
Tomatoes. Known as "love apples" by Puritans, they have a reputation as a sexual stimulant.
Apples. Since Adam and Eve, this fruit has been synonymous with temptation.
"My favorite thing is that when you're with someone is to feed each other with the most seductive foods you can find," says Cadell, "like an asparagus where one person can start at one end and another at the other end and you meet in the middle."
Cadell says not only is asparagus a sexy, long, phallic-looking food, but it's rich in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin E that can aid in hormone production and raising energy levels.
Foods for Sexual Performance
When it comes to the final stage of exploration and orgasm, even the scent alone of some aphrodisiacs may be enough to increase sexual arousal and enhance performance.
"Depending on where you are in your relationship you may want to use different food odors and tastes, since 90% of taste is smell, to get the different responses you're looking for," says Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.
In a study that looked at what scents stimulated sexual arousal, Hirsch found every food aroma they tested triggered a sexual response in men, and some foods had more dramatic effects than others.
"For example, cheese pizza increased penile blood flow by 5%, buttered popcorn by 9%, and lavender and pumpkin pie by 40%," Hirsch tells WebMD. "So you may want to start with something like cheese pizza to begin with."
In comparison, floral perfume only prompted a 3% increase in blood flow to the penis among men. Among women, the smell of men's cologne actually lowered blood flow to the vagina.
The study also found that the scent of lavender and pumpkin pie was a powerful sexual stimulant for women, but the combination of Good and Plenty (licorice-flavored candy) and cucumber was the most potent sexual scent in increasing blood flow to the vaginal area.
Unlike with men, the study found that some food smells actually inhibited sexual desire in women, such as cherries and the odor of barbeque or roasting meat.
A Smorgasbord of Aphrodisiacs
Hirsch says there are a number of different theories about why foods have such a strong effect on sexual attraction and performance, but it's likely a combination of physiological and psychological responses at work. Because the effects of different foods are linked to past experiences, the sexual potency of various tastes and smells naturally vary greatly from person to person.
That's why both Cadell and Hirsch recommend having fun with trying different aphrodisiacs to see what adds the right spice to your sex life.
"Have a smorgasbord of aphrodisiacs, because they're not all going to appeal to everybody," says Cadell.
According to the FDA, there is no scientific proof that any over-the-counter aphrodisiacs or foods can treat sexual dysfunction. In fact, over-indulgence in food or drink is a sure way to doom sexual performance and dampen desire.
But while aphrodisiacs may not be a quick fix all your sexual problems, Cadell says the natural aphrodisiacs found in foods are not dangerous.
"Let's be honest, the most erotic organ is the brain. So if you think something will turn you on, I guarantee it will," says Cadell. "There has always been a correlation between food and sex because they are two of greatest pleasures known to mankind, and both appetites need to be fulfilled."
SOURCES: Ava Cadell, PhD, clinical sexologist in private practice in Los Angeles and author of Twelve Steps to Everlasting Love and Between the Sheets. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director, Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago. FDA. WebMD Feature: "Aphrodisiacs Through the Ages." WebMD Feature: "Want Better Sex?"