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Dr. P on Aphrodisiacs

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Dear Dr. P, Are there any foods, like celery and oysters, which can improve the sex drive or act like aphrodisiacs?  Is there such a thing as a love potion?

“Eat oysters and Love Longer” says the New Orleans bumper sticker.  “Love potion #9” is the lyric to the old rock song by the Clovers in which a guy who strikes-out with the girls pays an old gypsy for a magic potion. This causes him to “kiss everything in sight” until he kisses a cop who busts his bottle.  You would fare as well with your money if you were to pay for some of the concoctions available on the internet.

Save your money.  Nothing that is available without a prescription, including foods, is a true aphrodisiac.  An aphrodisiac in the strict sense is anything that arouses libido or the urge to sexual activity.  It is something that when eaten, taken or applied turns an uninterested individual into one with desire and passion.  It would turn a sexually uninterested person into one who is very “horny” and desirous of sexual activity.

Certain foods have been touted as improving the sex drive, but almost all work, if they do, by means of the placebo effect.  That is, your belief in the food, and the suggestion that it might work, makes it work.

Dorothy Parker, a poet and wit said “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” when referring to the un-inhibiting effects of alcohol on women.  On the other hand Shakespeare may or may not have said “Wine increaseth the desire but diminisheth the performance.”  This means that a fall-down drunken fellow cannot rise to the occasion.  Nevertheless, alcohol has traditionally been used as a non-petroleum based sexual lubricant—to varying effect—usually dismal.  Remember guys, diminished capacity to provide consent due to alcohol or drug use sets you up for valid charges of rape or sexual assault.

Throughout history people have sought to use foods, natural herbs and animal products to enhance their libidos and sexual performance.  Here are some of the more common:

Asparagus, with its phallic shape and vitamin E, are thought by the French to help sex, but it makes your urine and semen smell awful.  Chili pepper, with an active ingredient of capsaicin, burns the mouth (and genitals after oral sex), and makes one sweat.  Chocolate, a Valentine’s Day favorite, contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a brain chemical normally released when someone is in love. However, good pork salami has more PEA by weight.  The Aztec supposedly mixed bitter cocoa with finely ground chili peppers for a cold frothy “aphrodisiac” drink which released endorphins.  Oysters are thought to help because of their zinc content.  Zinc is needed to make the testosterone essential for both male and female libido—but most diets have plenty of zinc otherwise.  Oatmeal, the ordinary cereal oats for breakfast, has traces of compounds that may free bound testosterone.  Gensing, which is harvested here in the hardwood forests of the East and mountains of Appalachia, is sold at high prices in Asia for its supposed “revitalizing” effects.  Damiana root, which has been a folk medicine for “lost nature,” supposedly increases genital sensitivity.  Yohimbine, from the bark of an African tree, actually is in the Physican’s Desk Reference (PDR) and is prescribed to enhance libido—with varying effect.  In the Philippines “Balute” eggs supposedly give men virility.  “Balute” eggs are fertilized goose eggs allowed to incubate until the embryonic chick is just short of hatching.  These are then cooked and eaten whole with tender little bones, feathers, beak and all, and chased by beer. There actually may be some substance in the egg-embryo which acts on systemic testosterone.

“Spanish fly” or cantharides, is a powder made from the finely ground dried bodies of the blister beetle.  It is the most notorious “traditional” aphrodisiac but is a genitourinary tract irritant and is illegal for its toxic effects on the kidneys.

The list is endless, and includes endangered species’ body parts such as tiger (any part, especially the penis), rhinoceros horn, snakes, bear paws and gall-bladders.  But nothing has been shown consistently effective as a true aphrodisiac.  As mentioned, most of the effect, if any, is a placebo effect.  If you think it will work then it might.  The relaxation and confidence provided by the belief that something will work—is what works.

The search continues.  The pharmaceutical company that can genuinely concoct a true aphrodisiac would have something worth more than gold by weight.  Now we have Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and several other compounds whose effects are genital tumescence enhancers.  That is, these drugs contain nitrous oxide (NO), or similar vasodilators, that increase the flow of blood to the genitalia and thus enhance the arousal that is the result of a pre-existing desire for a suitable partner.  This means that Viagra and the like will not work on someone who has no interest in you nor has no pre-existing desire to engage in sexual behavior. However, in those already “hot-to-trot,” Viagra etc., will help performance and response.

The one consistent substance that affects libido, sexual desire or “horniness” in both males and females is testosterone.  In cases of inhibited sexual desire (ISD), which is very frequently diagnosed in busy and stressed American couples, testosterone supplements for men and a testosterone patch for women seems to be effective in returning sexual desire to normal levels.

The one consistently effective and safe method to increase libido is to keep yourself lean and fit through daily exercise, adequate sleep and a normal FDA approved healthy diet.  The exercise should include both aerobic and weight training. This procedure works for both men and women, is cheap, safe, and healthy for you.

Gastronomically yours,

Dr. P