The Clovers had a top 40 hit with “Love Potion No. 9” in 1959, but our fascination with aphrodisiacs is even older than rock-and-roll. It's no wonder! Order your date the right dessert, or slip a special elixir into her Long Island Iced Tea and increase the odds of a sexual tryst later? How could we not be intrigued? In truth, however, aphrodisiacs are grounded far more in fable than in fact.
The ancient Aztecs long regarded chocolate as an aphrodisiac, likely because it contains tryptophan and phenylethylamine. The former is used by our bodies to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in sexual arousal. The latter is a stimulant that the brain releases when you fall in love. So will a heart-shaped box of Valentine Godiva's really beat a path to the boudoir of that Ice Queen over in Accounting? Not so fast, Casanova. The amounts of tryptophan and phenylethylamine found in chocolate are so trivial that even super-chocoholic Montezuma himself likely saw no appreciable chemical assist to his libido after downing an urn full.
A 2006 study published in the journal, Sexual Medicine, detailing the work of Italian researchers, pretty much nails the lid shut on this one. The scientists studied 163 adult women with an average age of 35, and found there was no appreciable increase in their sexual arousal levels whether they abstained from chocolate, had one serving a day, or binged out on three helpings daily.
Often times, foods derive their reputations as aphrodisiacs by the way they look. For example, the Romans, never ones to let a little bad biochemistry get in the way of a bacchanalia, believed that oysters had an aphrodisiac effect most likely because of their resemblance to female genitalia.
In Africa and the East, rhinoceros horn has long been prized for its cantharidian effect. That, and its reputation as a key cure-all ingredient in a number of folk medicine home brews, has driven the species nearly to extinction as poachers profit from the superstition. As with oysters, folklore experts believe the rhino horn's notoriety as a sexual jump-start is derived from (working with me on this one...) its semblance to a penis.
We all know that love hurts, but we should also be aware that some so-called aphrodisiacs can be downright painful. Case in point: The category leader, Spanish Fly. Extracted from dried beetle dung, its famous reputation as a sexual stimulant for women is no doubt derived from the fact that it is a urogenital irritant! Consumed in even moderate doses, it is poisonous. Applied externally, it is a powerful blistering agent. And nothing quite kills the mood as does a powerful blistering agent...
Keep it simple, and keep it safe: The most powerful sexual stimulant is your imagination. If your partner firmly believes that a glass of Love Potion No. 9 with a chaser of Funky Cold Medina (whatever that is) will get her motor running, it will. But nothing is going to put someone in the mood if he or she is not already pre-disposed to the notion of a sexual encounter. That, I think you will agree, is ultimately a good thing.