Aphrodisiacs – Fact or Fiction?


Aphrodisiacs are substances that arouse sexual desire or enhance sexual performance. For many centuries there has been a search for substances that could increase a person’s sexual powers or desire. These include oysters, ginseng root, powdered rhinoceros horn, animal testicles, and turtles’ eggs. There is no evidence that an actual aphrodisiac response occurs with these or any other substances.

Natural aphrodisiacs

Folklore often determines whether certain foods or other substances are seen as aphrodisiacs. In some cases the newness or rarity of a food or chemical invite people to endow it with magical powers of a sexual nature. In other instances, foods resembling sex organs are believed to improve sexual performance. This includes bananas and oysters because of their vague resemblance to the penis and testicles. While the notion that the shape of an unrelated object should qualify it as an aphrodisiac seems absurd to most, people continue to view some foods as aphrodisiacs.

In the case of oysters, probably the classic among the alleged aphrodisiacs, chemical analysis shows that it consists of water, protein and carbohydrates, plus small amounts of fat, sugar and minerals. None of these components can affect sex drive or performance. The belief exists that oysters, raw bull’s testicles, clams, celery and tomatoes are aphrodisiacs. This in itself is sometimes strong enough to produce, at least temporarily, greater sexual desire or performance. The wonder food then gets the praise for the improved performance. This discovery is passed on to the next person.

Is it ok to use them?

Eating certain foods to increase sexual power, while ineffective, is generally harmless. Other supposed aphrodisiacs, however, are not so innocuous. Spanish fly (cantharides) is one such substance. It is made from a beetle found in southern Europe. The insects are dried and heated. Thereafter they disintegrate into a fine powder. Once ingested the substance causes bladder and urethra irritation. This is accompanied by a swelling of associated blood vessels. This produces a certain stimulation of the genitals. Some men inteerperate this as a sign of lust. The drug can cause an erection, but usually without an increase in sexual desire. Furthermore, if taken in excessive amounts, it can cause violent illness and even death.

Man made substances

Alcohol is another substance that most people believe increases their sexual responsiveness. This is partly because alcohol has a disinhibiting effect. It lowers the sexual inhibitions a person may ordinarily have, thus allowing sexual desire to emerge. Alcohol’s reputation as an aphrodisiac also stems from advertising and cultural myths. Television, radio and print ads are the cause. They suggest to consumers that alcohol will help them create such sexually charged moments. Cultural myths, often propagated among high school and college-aged drinkers, suggest that alcohol will ease the way for sexual encounters to occur. Furthermore, the myths promise that, once underway, sexual experiences will exceed normal performance levels, thanks to the presence of alcohol. The fact is that alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, physically inhibiting the sexual response, including the capacity for erection and orgasm.

Illicit drugs are sometimes promoted as improving sexual performance. These drugs include LSD, heroin, morphine, cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana. In addition they enhance the sexual experience. Like alcohol, these drugs break down inhibitions and act as sexual facilitators in a social sense. However these drugs are addictive and ultimately have the opposite effect on sexuality. They can cause an array of other very serious problems.


Amyl nitrate (snappers or poppers) is commonly believed to increase sex drive. In addition it intensifies or prolongs the orgasm . Some people report that inhaling the drug at the instant of orgasm enhances the pleasure of the experience. This is particularly popular among homosexual men. Valid scientific data of its effectiveness as an aphrodisiac are lacking. Amyl nitrate has dangerous side effects. The primary side effects are dizziness and headache.

Yohimbine is the bark from the african yohimbe tree. It has been reputed to have sexually stimulating properties for men. Studies of yohimbine have found that it has a tendency to enhance erectile functioning relative to placebo in men with erectile difficulties. There have not been consistent reports of yohimbine enhancing sexual desire or arousal.

Testosterone supplements

Though not generally considered an aphrodisiac, testosterone supplements do affect sexual drive. They can be used effectively in some cases of inhibited desire when endogenous levels of testosterone are extremely low. There are, however, negative side effects, and such supplements should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.

Certainly, it seems reasonable to speculate that various chemicals and other substances might influence the centers of the brain that control sexual response. To date, however, about the only effects that drugs appear to have on sexual behavior are inhibitory rather than enhancing. Most foods believed to be aphrodisiacs have no physical effect at all. It would appear that most claims about aphrodisiacs are based on myth rather than scientific evidence. This makes their continued use more a statement about the desperate search for remedies than a tribute to their effectiveness.

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