Food and Sex: What Do These Foods Have in Common?

By Carol Ann Rinzler

Oysters, celery, onions, asparagus, mushrooms, truffles, chocolate, honey, caviar, bird’s nest soup, and alcohol beverages. No, that’s not a menu for the very, very picky. It’s a partial list of foods long reputed to be aphrodisiacs, substances that rev up the libido and improve sexual performance. Take a second look, and you’ll see why each is on the list.

Two (celery, asparagus) are shaped something like a male sex organ. Three (oysters, mushrooms, and truffles) are said to arouse emotion because they resemble parts of the female anatomy. (Oysters are also high in zinc, the mineral that keeps the prostate gland healthy and ensures a steady production of the male hormone testosterone. A 3-ounce serving of Pacific oysters gives you 9 milligrams of zinc, about 82 percent of the 11 milligrams a day recommended for adult men.)

Caviar (fish eggs) and bird’s nest soup are symbols of fertility. Onions — and Spanish fly (cantharides) — contain chemicals that produce a mild burning sensation when eliminated in urine; some people, masochists to be sure, may confuse this feeling with arousal.

Honey is the quintessential sweetener: The Bible’s Song of Solomon compares it to the lips of the beloved. Alcohol beverages relax the inhibitions (but overindulgence reduces sexual performance, especially in men). As for chocolate, well, it’s a veritable lover’s cocktail, with stimulants (caffeine, theobromine), a marijuanalike compound called anandamide, and phenylethylamine, a chemical produced in the bodies of people in love.

So do these foods actually make you feel sexy? Yes and no. An aphrodisiac food isn’t one that sends you in search of a lover as soon as you eat it. No, it’s one that makes you feel so good that you can follow through on your natural instincts, which is as fine a description as you’re likely to get of oysters, celery, onions, asparagus, mushrooms, truffles, chocolate, honey, caviar, bird’s nest soup, and wine.