Do Aphrodisiacs Actually Work? Trying to Have Better Sex Over Here

Photo: Stocksy / Pietro Karras
I've never understood how sucking down a rock booger is supposed to make you, like, really horny. I get the intent whenever a guy invites me out for red wine and oysters, but the whole presentation (and my general aversion to seafood) is always a turn off. It does make you wonder, do aphrodisiacs work, and if so how do they trick our mind and bodies into peak arousal? Well, in a few different ways, in fact.

Aphrodisiacs have been studied forever, mention of aphrodisiacs has been found in texts from various ancient civilizations, including Hindu, Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman. In modern times, there have been many interesting studies on how aphrodisiacs may make subjects frisky. As Sally Fisher, MD, integrative medicine specialist and medical director at Sunrise Springs points out, searching "aphrodisiacs" in the virtual National Library of Medicine returns 830 peer reviewed scientific studies. How plants or herbal products might effect the body or mind really varies based on the aphrodisiac.

"Some examples of effects include increasing hormones like testosterone, or certain neurotransmitters in the brain, or dilating blood vessels to increase blood flow, or affecting molecules in the body such as, for example, nitric oxide, the molecule that Viagra affects," says Dr. Fisher.

And sometimes the studies just note that certain herbs make animals want to bang more. Basically, it's complicated to deduce what will potently work on a person, although she has one herb in mind.

"I tend to recommend Tribulus terrestris, used in folk medicine for hundreds of years, because of modern research on sexual function improvement in both women and men, but I’d emphasize that I’d approach this integratively, and if there is room for improvement, put lifestyle changes foremost," says Dr. Fisher.

Sexual health is complex and "involves cognitive, neurochemical, hormonal, and genetic factors," she says. That means that, in part, shifting your overall diet might be what helps amp up your sexual wellness. Embracing a healthy diet might decrease the risk of sexual dysfunction in women, defined generally as more fruits and vegetables, and less refined grains, meat, sugar, fried food.

"There is, as then might be expected, promising data on the Mediterranean diet alleviating sexual dysfunction in women," says Dr. Fisher. "It’s helpful to think of the Mediterranean diet as a plant-based diet; other whole foods plant-based diets have not been formally researched but may be expected to have the same beneficial effect."

Opa! Okay but if you can't prioritize a full diet upheaval right now, are there good mood foods that'll make you like, really horny in one slurp? Yes and no. According to Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, and owner of BZ Nutrition in New York City, it's hard to directly link food and sex drive. However, "there are particular compounds within [certain] foods that can have a connection to certain hormones and sexual reactions," she says.

Among Zeitlin's top picks are foods with red ginseng, fatty fish that increases your feel good dopamine hormones for a stronger orgasm, cayenne pepper, and maca.

"[Maca] root has been linked to boosting those frisky feelings and has shown to be a helpful fertility food as well by multiple studies," says Zeitlin. "One study actually found that maca improved sex drive on people taking certain medications where the side effect was decrease of sex drive; think anti-depressants, hair-loss meds, anti-anxiety meds."

If you're truly about to make a quick bodega run before a potential boink fest (we've all been there) Zeitlin has a good power combo in mind.

"Dark chocolate, 70 percent or higher, contains compounds that actually boost the release of feel-good hormones getting you more in the mood for some togetherness and even more feel-good hormones," says Zeitlin. "Pair it with some dried apricots for extra pro-longed sexy energy, as the amino acids in apricots can trigger more stamina."

As for oysters, well, they're rich in zinc, which supposedly  to help with erectile dysfunction, so that means I'm off the hook forever. Like anything, utilizing a so-called aphrodisiac feels like a personal journey with room to experiment. Our recommendation? Grab a hottie or your favorite vibrator and conduct some research yourself.

If you're looking for other ways to boost your sex drive naturally, we have a few recommendations. And learning about spontaneous and responsive desire might help you get turned on.

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