You may want to feel like Aphrodite, goddess of love, on Valentine’s Day, but will her namesake aphrodisiacs do the trick?
Humans have been trying to spark their desire with special foods and drinks for millennia, with several schools of thought dictating what made for a libido-enhancing ingredient. Certain foods were valued for their resemblance to genitalia—phallic foods like carrots and asparagus, yonic foods like oysters and halved figs. Others, like chili peppers, are supposed to speed up blood flow with heat. Some, like very rare spices, were the Lamborghinis of the food world, turning on the eater with the knowledge of how expensive they were.
But do any of them actually work? It’s not very likely. Take chocolate: There is some science behind the treat’s seductive powers, in that cocoa boosts serotonin levels and contains phenylethylamine, both of which are associated with arousal and stimulation. But the amounts are so small that you’d have to eat enough chocolate to make yourself sick before you saw any real chemical impact on your sex drive.
In the past, however, there is some chance that because diets were so poor, eating some of these nutrient-rich foods may have boosted one’s health enough to restore the sex drive that may have been hindered by malnutrition.
Alcohol has functioned as a love potion for centuries, and it even explains the etymology of the “honeymoon”—after a couple was married, they would drink mead (a honey wine) every day for a month. This was their “honey month,” or “honeymoon.” The drink was meant to increase fertility and ensure that the couple procreated quickly. A glass of mead may still help get the night going, but leave it at that—too much alcohol can have an anaphrodisiac affect, actually decreasing libido.
So no, none of these rumored aphrodisiacs will directly stimulate your sex organs, even if they produce sensations akin to arousal. And yet—do not disregard the power of the placebo effect. Desire starts and ends in the brain, the location of all sensation, and if you really believe that adding a few dashes of Sriracha to your Valentine’s dinner can make you hot and bothered, it probably can by the power of suggestion. In sex, as in all pursuits, your brain is your most powerful organ.