Coffee and other stimulants
Since ancient times, most great sex has taken place when both parties were awake. Maybe that’s why stimulants, from geisha tea to Red Bull, have long been held in high esteem as aphrodisiacs. According to a 1990 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, drinking coffee increased sexual activity in 744 participating Michigan residents over the age of 60, strongly suggesting that caffeine promotes arousal.
While caffeine has not yet been directly linked to an increased sex drive, the consensus in the medical community is that anything that gets the central nervous system pumping will have a general stimulating effect on the body. This explains why the ancient herb ginseng, which is said to increase energy and memory, is considered a strong aphrodisiac. It impacts the central nervous system, gonadic tissues and the endocrine system, thus enhancing arousal. Ginseng has long been respected in China for its systemic healing properties, including the ability to aid sexual function.
Before Viagra, there was yohimbine, an oil that comes from the bark of the West African Pausinystalia yohimbe tree. For hundreds of years, African natives have dried yohimbe bark and made it into a tea, used both as a treatment for impotency and as a general aphrodisiac. Yohimbine works by blocking the blood vessel-constricting effects of adrenaline on the nerves. This promotes the flow of blood to the genitals, thereby assisting erections.
Although yohimbine doesn’t have as much research to back up its claims, the principles of operation are essentially the same as Viagra. It even has the same side effects, such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure and anxiety. In fact, while Viagra has become the recommended treatment for impotency, the use of yohimbine has also been approved by the FDA. Fortunately, the key component of yohimbe bark, yohimbine hydrochloride, is available by prescription in pill, capsule or liquid form.
Chocolate is one of the most powerful edible aphrodisiacs in the world—and has been for quite some time. According to ancient Aztec history, 12 cacao beans (the beans used to make cocoa and chocolate) could purchase the services of a prostitute, and Montezuma reportedly downed 50 cups of liquid cacao to rev up before conjugal visits to his vast harem.
The scientific explanations for the arousing effects of chocolate are found in phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (AEA). PEA is the chemical that causes elevated heart rates, increased energy, euphoria and generally any symptom corresponding to feelings of being “in love.” So, apparently, PEA is what makes us drive by our loved ones’ houses late at night and compulsively scan our caller IDs. PEA’s cohort, AEA, is a neurotransmitter that acts on the brain in a similar fashion to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the same chemical found in marijuana. And while chocolate won’t get you stoned (sorry, dude), the presence of AEA probably explains chocolate’s ability to calm and mellow.
For centuries, people have turned to chili peppers to spice up their love lives. The theory at work for this aphrodisiac is that chilis ignite in more ways than one. Think about what happens after you eat a big, mean chili pepper: your palms sweat, your lips burn, and your breathing begins to shorten. One thing leads to another, and if your lover doesn’t leave you for a big glass of milk … arriba!
Another theory as to why searingly hot chilis arouse has to do with the pain they inflict. Pain causes the body to release endorphins, which try to block the signal of physical distress to the nervous system. These are the same kind of endorphins that are released during exercise and after sex, creating that feeling that all is right with the world. So masochists take note: if the whip is out of commission, then hit the Mexican produce stand.
For thousands of years, Eastern and Western cultures have turned to licorice when the libido is lacking. Licorice contains phytoestrogen sterols, which affect sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone levels), although exactly how and to what degree has not yet been fully determined. Some believe that the strong smell of licorice may be a factor.
When Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Chicago Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation hit the candy store to find out which smells sexually appealed to people, he found that women were aroused by the smell of (oddly enough) Good n’ Plenty. And for men, the aromatic combination of black licorice combined with doughnuts increased penile blood flow by an amazing 32 percent.
Doughnuts or not, Chinese, Egyptians and Hindus have all used licorice to increase sexual arousal and stamina. And in the traditions of pagan religions, crushed licorice root was used in love sachets and in spells to ensure fidelity. But whatever the purpose, be sure to use real licorice; the artificial “licorice flavorings” used in cheap candies won’t contain phytoestrogen, just food coloring and corn syrup.