12 Scientifically Proven Aphrodisiac Foods
Can food really sexually arouse you? Yes! But there’s more to it than that. Here’s all you need to know about the foods and substances that can boost your sexual desire and arousal, also known as aphrodisiacs.
What are aphrodisiacs? Aphrodisiacs are foods or substances people ingest for a temporary boost to their sexual experience, whether to elicit a spark, enhance sexual pleasure, or increase sex drive, desire, arousal and performance. Across a varied range of aphrodisiac foods, spices, herbs, and plant-based and non-plant-based substances, they ideally increase blood flow to genitals or get those wondrous neuro-chemicals flowing, like oxytocin or dopamine, the hormones our brains release during sex.
The science behind how they work. The science behind aphrodisiacs relies upon the particular substance. Essentially, most aphrodisiacs work because they increase blood flow, which activates the bodily senses or because they release feel-good, mentally relaxing neurotransmitters.
While people often slurp down oysters in hopes that they’re an aphrodisiac, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support many aphrodisiacs of pop culture. When studied, most research can’t confirm that foods often considered being aphrodisiacs, like cocoa, berries, or food resembling genitalia, create a meaningful sexual response.
These foods may increase vital nutrients, such as zinc or magnesium, which help your body function properly, including sexual function.
Meanwhile, some aphrodisiacs have more scientific evidence behind them than others. Among those substances claiming aphrodisiac properties that lack solid evidence, a placebo effect is often the true science driving their success as sexual enhancers. In these cases, the aphrodisiacs work because the user believes they work. Similarly, many aphrodisiacs elicit a placebo effect; i.e., the more you think about sex, the more you desire it, and what you think, you become.
Try These Aphrodisiac Foods
1. Watermelon. Watermelon is a rich source of citrulline, a naturally occurring amino acid, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels, similar to Viagra and other drugs aimed at treating erectile dysfunction. All that citrulline results in increased blood flow, blood vessel relaxation, and sexual arousal, promoting more blood flow to the erectile tissue and clitoral area. Still, don’t expect an instant effect with this aphrodisiac. Because citrulline is most concentrated in watermelon rinds, you’d have to eat lots of them to achieve the desired effect.
2. Maca root powder. A Peruvian root vegetable and popular superfood powder, maca has been found to increase libido and help postmenopausal women with sexual dysfunction, as well as men with erectile dysfunction. Another study also found that it can help boost sexual desire for people taking SSRI antidepressants, often linked with reduced sex drive as a side effect. Plus, maca contains arginine, which may support blood flow and has also been linked to increased levels of testosterone in animal studies. Testosterone is a hormone that influences libido and sexual functioning. Not that while maca is mostly deemed to be safe, more research is needed to better understand its adverse effects.
3. Oysters. For hundreds of years, oysters have been considered a natural aphrodisiac and used to increase sex drive and desire. Despite this, their effect on libido is still met with skepticism.Yet, they can be effective in certain quantities. A lot of shellfish such as oysters, clams, crabs, lobsters and mussels, are high in zinc, which can trigger a surge in the production of sex hormones. Plus, oysters also contain large amounts of the amino acid tyrosine, a nutrient included in the production of dopamine.
4. Saffron. According to numerous studies, this pricey Southwest Asian spice can actually bring the heat. Five studies, part of a systematic review, found saffron had a significant positive effect on sexual dysfunction. Another study found that it boosted arousal and lubrication in women, while another showed that it proved successful in improving erectile function with 30 milligrams of saffron per day.
Not only does saffron have aphrodisiac properties for both men and women, but it has also been shown to help with depression symptoms, PMS symptoms, and even insulin resistance.
5. Foods high in antioxidants. Antioxidants can wield a hefty range of potential benefits on our sexual health. For starters, they relax the blood vessels (potentially helpful for erections) and are thought to improve testosterone levels. Researchers have also found that increased consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) by 38 percent.
Examples of foods high in antioxidants
- Olive oil
- Goji berries
- Dark chocolate
- Dark-colored grapes
- Red wine
6. Foods high in magnesium. In general, there are many known benefits of magnesium. A daily dose of this mineral is linked with better sleep quality, better cardiovascular and metabolic health outcomes, support for mental well-being, and much more. When it comes to your sexual health, research suggests magnesium may help testosterone remain in your bloodstream. Magnesium also promotes relaxation and regulates stress hormones, so you may even be able to enjoy yourself more during the act. You can take magnesium supplements and eat magnesium-rich foods such as:
- Almonds (or cashews and peanuts)
- Pumpkin seeds
7. Foods high in zinc. Zinc sustains our health in many ways, making it an essential nutrient. Indeed, it’s literally found in every cell of your body. Besides supporting our immune systems, metabolism, and brain health, zinc also helps in the production of the key sex hormone testosterone. Why is this vital? Because low testosterone is associated with low libido, fatigue, and even erectile dysfunction. Testosterone significantly increases sex drive, making zinc a bedrock for sexual function. According to one study, zinc is essential for male fertility.
Examples of zinc-rich foods
- Meat (beef, pork, chicken)
- Whole grains
8. Foods with sexual shapes and textures. While some aphrodisiac foods have some scientific evidence backing their ability to get you in the mood, others are considered to be enhancing simply because of their sexy shape, texture, or the seductive ways you can eat them. A few foods that are more legend than science in terms of stimulating the parts of your brain and body that increase sex drive:
- Dark chocolate
- Chili peppers
- Pistachio nuts
Aphrodisiac herbs to try. Across big and small studies, many herbal and natural aphrodisiacs have been scientifically proven to improve sexual dysfunction. Sourced from around the world, these herbs are rich in nutrients that support health, making it easier to connect with your desire.
Warning: Before taking any of these herbs as aphrodisiacs to boost libido or enhance sexual pleasure, do consult your doctor(s), especially if you currently take other medication.
- Red ginseng. Ginseng root, a staple herbal remedy in traditional Chinese medicine provides numerous health benefits. Research on red ginseng’s impact on male reproductive function shows it can be effective as an aphrodisiac, enhances erections, and increases the production of sex hormones. Although studies observing its effect on women are limited, at least one study found that ginseng boosted sexual arousal in menopausal women.
- Ginkgo biloba. An extract from the ancient tree species native to China, Ginkgo biloba is another herb commonly seen in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s typically used as a remedy for depression, sexual dysfunction, and other ailments due to its ability to increase blood flow, a major reason it makes a worthy aphrodisiac. Like all aphrodisiacs, conclusions on whether Ginkgo truly benefits sexual health are mixed. But clinical studies that link the herb to improved sexual health show that it increases nitric oxide levels in blood, one of the keys to achieving and maintaining an erection. For women, this herb’s ability to stimulate blood flow means it may potentially help with increased vaginal arousal, pleasure and orgasms.
- Yohimbe. Sometimes called herbal Viagra, Yohimbe is a West African herb found in the bark of yohim trees. For centuries, this herbal aphrodisiac has been considered one of the best ways to naturally enhance sexual performance, and some studies have found it useful in supporting healthy erections. How does this herb work? Yohimbe stimulates spinal nerve centers and blocks the receptors in your body that prohibit erections (alpha-2 adrenergic receptors). Evidence is limited on its effectiveness, so before jumping right in, be wary of yohimbe’s known side effects, such as anxiety, weakness, overstimulation, and hallucinations.
- Damiana leaf. A wild shrub native to South and Central America, Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean, dried Damiana leaves have long been used as an aphrodisiac to improve sexual response. It’s also said to have hormone-balancing benefits. While few studies prove its effectiveness, some pilot studies have found supplements containing Damiana leaf may enhance sexual satisfaction and desire as well as increase clitoral sensitivity, vaginal lubrication, and even orgasm frequency.
Other Ways to Boost Libido. Are you seeking to spice up your sex life without aphrodisiacs? If so, these natural approaches in your daily life can help.
- Boost your self-confidence. If your brain runs feedback loops of all your worst thoughts about yourself during sex, stop that loop in its tracks. When those self-esteem-killing thoughts appear, replace them with ones that are more encouraging and forgiving since the more open you are about yourself and sex, the easier it is to freely explore your sexuality. After all, you deserve to feel good when you’re trying to feel better about your sex life.
- Limit your substance intake. Many people enjoy an alcoholic drink or using cannabis before having sex to relax and open themselves up. In fact, new research is emerging about cannabis, CBD and wine acting as aphrodisiacs. While they clearly help with that for some, too much is a sexual hindrance. Alcohol can cause problems with erections in men, and either substance can make you feel too tired to even have sex. Moderation is key with these.
- Reduce your stress and anxiety. Not many people can relax enough to enjoy sex when their stress or anxiety levels are sky-high. Whether you’re experiencing life stress or specific sex-related anxiety, these feelings are a known barrier to an active libido and proper sexual functioning, beyond getting or maintaining an erection. To reduce your stress levels and increase your pleasure levels, consider meditation, yoga, more exercise, or setting firmer boundaries to achieve a better life balance!
- Get plenty of sleep. Quality sleep helps far more than we give it credit. With more sleep in your life, you can improve your overall mood and energy levels, achieve stronger focus, and lower your risk for serious health issues. Without adequate sleep, your sex life might suffer. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia have been connected to sexual dysfunction, and research shows that sleep deprivation has been associated with reduced sexual desire and arousal in women.
- Build intimacy in your relationships. It’s normal to undergo a lull in sexual desire and frequency at various points of a relationship. Yet, you need not stay in that place. Focusing on improving, and at times rediscovering, your connection to each other can boost both your sex drives. You can: a) Take sex off the table and stick to foreplay to build anticipation; b) Plan more date nights; c) Do activities together outside of the bedroom; d) Practice open communication; and e) Set time aside for quality time with each other.
- Find some support. Sexual desire is complex and factors in both psychological and physical components. Even if you have a physical condition that affects libido, bettering your emotional and psychological sexual response can be just as key to enhancing sexual functioning. If you want to increase your desire for sex or address concerns affecting your drive, consider therapy, whether it be individual therapy, couples therapy or tantric sex therapy. Achieving better orgasms can involve teamwork!
Bottom Line. Exploring new ways to enhance your sex life is a varied experience that can include food. Aphrodisiacs can creatively boost your and your partner’s libido but you need to be mindful as some supplements contain insect or plant extracts with side effects. So, consult your health care provider before adding any new ones. They can also examine your underlying medical conditions, offer suggestions or refer you to a sex therapist or tantric intimacy coach to help you support your libido in other ways. In the meantime, learn more about low libido issues, libido killers and how you and a partner with mismatched sex drives can meet in the middle.
Jean Bliss © 2022