Do aphrodisiacs really work?
- Merriam-Webster defines an aphrodisiac as 'an agent (such as a food or drug) that arouses or is held to arouse sexual desire.'
- Aphrodisiacs can be classified into two categories: '(1) psychophysiological (visual, tactile, olfactory, aural) and (2) internal (stemming from food, alcoholic drinks, drugs, love potions, medical preparations).'
- The first use of the term aphrodisiac in the Western world dates back to Latin medical texts from the 16th through 18th centuries.
- The Bible references mandrakes (Gen. 30:14-16) as aphrodisiacs, with one academic study stating, 'the Scripture clearly connects the fragrance of mandrake with sexuality.'
- The FDA's Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, states that regarding commonly believed aphrodisiac ingredients used in drugs, 'there is a lack of adequate data to establish general recognition of the safety and effectiveness of any of these ingredients, or any other ingredient, for OTC use as an aphrodisiac. Based on evidence currently available, any OTC drug product containing ingredients for use as an aphrodisiac cannot be generally recognized as safe and effective.'
The debate around aphrodisiacs has lasted centuries, and science still declares no conclusions to the present day. However, it's proven that some foods create comparable effects to sexual enhancement medications 'by relaxing blood vessels and improving blood flow to the genitals.' Such foods as pumpkin, walnut, and beef contain the amino acid L-arginine, omega-3 fatty acid fare such as salmon and avocado, and foods with quercetin (apples, grapes and red wine, berries, garlic, and dark chocolate) all demonstrate this effect. Plants like ginseng and ginkgo biloba also show 'early but promising data behind them,' explains sex researcher Dr. Michael Krychman. 'Ginseng, for example, was shown to be effective at treating erectile dysfunction (ED).'
Studies also support placebo effect theories linked to aphrodisiac experimentation, finding they stimulate consumers under proper circumstances. 'You don't think of chocolate as an aphrodisiac every time you break into a Twix. You have to be in the right context,' says lecturer Jennifer Evans. Mindset, mood, and situation play a significant role in the mystery of aphrodisiacal arts, which may be all in the mind, but that's where such pleasures are experienced and perceived, anyway.
Turn-ons come down to taste in each individual. Predilections would inherently sway the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs since sexuality is multi-faceted and complex. While many claim aphrodisiacs are farcical, others find truth in the myth—which has been alive since ancient times.
Aphrodisiacs aren't necessarily limited to food. Psychology supports that scent is powerful in influencing mood and behavior. Scientists have identified several aromas to be arousing, such as jasmine, saffron, vanilla, and patchouli. It's no wonder the buzz around aphrodisiacs remains to this day.
Aphrodisiacs have long been thought to improve the human libido. In fact, the term originated from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of fertility and sexual love. However, like the Greek goddess from which it derives its name, aphrodisiacs are a long-standing myth.
Even though the use of aphrodisiacs dates back thousands of years, there is little evidence to suggest that these substances affect sexual desire in any way. Historically, it was believed that consuming the genitalia of various animals would act as a sexual stimulant. Similarly, foods that merely resembled the human genitalia (such as oysters and certain root vegetables) were also thought to produce salacious results. However, eating substances with a likeness to the sexual organs has no basis in science.
While the aphrodisiac tradition eventually evolved to include substances like chocolate and cinnamon, the effect of these substances on the libido has never been scientifically proven. In fact, research strongly suggests that aphrodisiacs do not affect sexual desire at all; instead, success reported with these substances can be primarily attributed to the placebo effect. Simply put, the power of want and belief ultimately produces the results many individuals expect to see. The power of belief is strong—which is likely how these substances came to be associated with sexual potency in the first place.
While it sounds convenient to jumpstart your sexual drive by eating an oyster or a banana, at the end of the day, it is only wishful thinking. But as it turns out, wishful thinking may be more effective than the aphrodisiacs themselves.
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