Food and Sex

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Food and Sex

Dr. Steve McGough sat down with Brittany Wong, Lifestyle editor for Huffington Post, and seasoned expert when it comes to all things dating, relationship and sex related.

Dr. Steve McGough sat down with Brittany Wong, Lifestyle editor for Huffington Post, and seasoned expert when it comes to all things dating, relationship and sex related.

First, what do known aphrodisiacs have in common, in terms of how they interact with our bodies?

Aphrodisiacs all have the common result of increasing desire and (or) arousal in people: This can be caused by many different areas including enhancing basic well being, possibly increasing blood flow to the genitals, potentially increasing sex hormones, as well as possibly enhancing mood.


Other than being a great summer food, watermelon contains both high amounts of lycopene’s (the nutrients normally associated with tomatoes, etc.) and high concentrations of citrulline. Citrulline is most concentrated in the rind of the watermelon. Citrulline causes the body to produce nitrous oxide, which makes blood vessels expand. This has been associated with helping men achieve erections using a pathway similar to that of drugs like Viagra. Do you think watermelon is an effective aphrodisiac? I think it’s great for general health, and may help men with erections. For women, it’s great for general health, but I don’t know of studies showing it increases desire or arousal. However, if men are having erectile dysfunction, they should see their doctor for more than the ED. Erectile dysfunction is often an early sign of cardiovascular disease, and while watermelon is a great addition to a diet, they should have their overall health checked before there are problems later.


Oysters have a legendary history of helping men increase their libido. Casanova supposedly ate 50 raw oysters to help him seduce 122 women (according to his memoirs). However, raw oysters are a potential risk for contracting Hepatitis A, which can be spread through sexual contact. So, hopefully, Casanova’s 122 women were OK later. Do you think oysters are an effective aphrodisiac? Oysters are a good source of zinc, which is needed for sexual health in men. Women also need basic levels for overall health. Raw oysters do contain 2 amino acids, D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) that might have interesting results. In one study, when these amino acids were injected into rats it caused increased production of testosterone in males and progesterone in females. While this is associated with increased sex drive, this was a study in rats. However, there are a lot of legends about oysters and sex. Frankly though, unless you’re crazy about raw oysters, if you eat 50 raw ones, you may not be in the mood for sex until you stomach settles.


Asparagus is a great source of vitamin E and B, and many other key nutrients. It’s also a source of steroid glycosides that may possibly cause increased production of sex hormones, at least in rats. Do you think asparagus is an effective aphrodisiac?
Rumor is that if you and your lover eat asparagus for three days in a row it will increase your sex drive (supposedly). A study on rats did show that based on how much they ate, eating asparagus did significantly increase their sex hormones, body, and testicle size. This provides some possible indication that it might work in people as well. Since it’s a great nutritious food to eat, I’d say why not try it. I haven’t tried it personally, but I like asparagus and am curious now. So, I’ll have to check back with you later on that…


Fig leaves have been associated with modesty in the Judeo/Christian history, while at the same time the fruit is often associated with women’s vulva. Figs were also supposedly one of Cleopatra’s favorite foods. Figs taste great, and are packed with nutrients. Do you think figs are an effective aphrodisiac?
I don’t know of any studies showing specific aphrodisiac qualities. However, if the thought of cutting and eating fresh figs turns someone on, I say go for it.


Chocolate was often made into a fermented drink in many cultures. Sometimes, it was mixed with hot peppers. Supposedly, Montezuma, the famous Aztec emperor, drank 50 cups of this fermented cocoa drink daily. Later Europeans added sugar to it. It’s said that Benjamin Franklin sold chocolate in his print shop to increase repeat visits. Do you think chocolate is an effective aphrodisiac?
I personally LOVE chocolate, so I may be biased. The bottom line is that current studies haven’t shown chocolate to have any statistically significant effect on libido. That being said, more recent studies have indicated that cocoa can potentially improve mood. Since desire is often closely tied to mood and general positive mental state, I think it helps. Another thing to consider is that if chocolate is associated with romantic or positive events (or you just LOVE chocolate), the placebo effect may be working here.  But my thought is if it works: use it.


It’s reported that around 200 BC Aztecs considered avocado an aphrodisiac. This may be due to it simply being a wonderful nutrient-packed food that can help someone suffering from a nutrient deficiency. Or it may possibly have certain polyphenols that help with blood vessel dilation (like the above-mentioned citrulline in watermelon). Do you think avocados are an effective aphrodisiac? Steve M.: My wife and I try to eat an avocado each day (plus blend the seed in a veggie drink). I haven’t personally noticed any jump in libido — but I do strongly believe it’s a great food to eat for health. Brittany W.: I think as part of an overall healthy diet it will help support people’s wellness, which tends to result in better sex lives, but I don’t see it as a magic bullet.

Hot chilies

Chili peppers were a key part of the cocoa drinks revered by the Aztecs. However, I think this was more associated with general good health and vigor than specifically being an aphrodisiac. Hot chilies contain a compound called capsaicin, which if you eat a lot can increase heart rate, sweating and other responses that are similar to sexual response. It has been reported that eating large quantities of chili peppers can cause mild burning with urination and this stimulation is sometimes thought as being sexual. Do you think hot chilies are an effective aphrodisiac?
I’m not aware of any studies showing it will significantly help. However, if eating spicy food is associated with good times and sexual relations, it can’t hurt. But for pity’s sake: If you cut hot chilies make sure to wash your hands well with soap immediately afterward, especially before going to the bathroom or being intimate with your partner. Let’s just say, I learned that the hard way after cutting peppers & getting distracted with a phone call…


In ancient Rome, the strawberry was the symbol of Venus. Strawberries have been used as a food for newlyweds in many cultures to help promote romance and fertility. Do you think strawberries are an effective aphrodisiac? I think they are a wonderful source of nutrition. However, I don’t know of any studies showing that they actually have any effect on libido. That being said, if strawberries are associated with romance and being in the mood, why not enjoy them?

Other foods that have been associated with sexual desire and libido

Apples: While this may not be considered an aphrodisiac, it’s a great thing to eat an apple each day, especially with the new “side effect” it appears to have based on one study. “Apple consumption is associated with better sexual quality in young women.” Saffron: One really exciting possibility for dealing with reduced libido — particularly when it is caused by antidepressants — comes from an unexpected source, the spice saffron. Saffron has historically been considered an aphrodisiac, but only recently has it gotten interest both for helping with depression, and helping women recover from low libido caused by their anti-depressants. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that saffron significantly helped women who had lost their libido from taking an anti-depressant. There are also some exciting clinical studies of saffron’s affect on depression. This is so impressive, and I’m shocked it hasn’t been repeated with a larger number of subjects. Maca Root: One of the aphrodisiacs of folklore called “Maca Root” or “Maca powder” has shown that it can help increase general well-being and result in sexual benefits. However, past summaries have shown it’s unclear if maca root/powder truly does increase libido or if it just makes you feel better. But again, if you feel better, you’re more likely to be “in the mood” compared to not feeling better. Either way, it’s a “food” that some might want to consider. Particularly considering the lack of alternatives. As well, a pilot study recently indicated maca root/powder can help women with both blood pressure and depression. This gets back to one of my key points that overall health is an integral part of sexual health.

Dr. Steve McGough, D.H.S is the Director of R&D, CTO hi® Master Level instructor and Director of R&D at Women and Couples Wellness, LLC, Associate Professor of Clinical Sexology, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Steve is regularly interviewed by outlets such as Prevention, Redbook, CNBC, MSN, Women’s Health, Medical Daily, Glamour, Ask Men, etc. Steve McGough discovered the technology behind “hi” when trying to help Wendy (his wife) recover from a tragedy.

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