Ode to the Aphrodisiac

A video called “Feed Your Libido
is about the Aphrodisiac Café at the Museum of Sex in New York City.

It is truly amazing how much we do not understand about how food affects our bodies, health, and mood. Scientists have just scratched the surface of the different components of food, but only have a mild idea about what each of these components does for us, let alone how multiple components interact with each other when we eat a complex meal.

One of the ways that food is famously charged with changing our moods is to increase sex drive. Different foods have been highlighted in different areas of the world at different times in history. Some claim to work on women, some on men, and some on both. Interestingly the primary hormone that controls sexual excitement is testosterone, and this goes for both men and women. When the balance of hormones is correct, according to howstuffworks.com, neurons fire causing rapid heart rates and erections in the penis or clitoris. Additionally, norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters, are released giving us the sense of pleasure and excitement.

Scientists haven’t actually proven that any food is actually an aphrodisiac. For one thing, this is difficult to prove since libido a difficult thing to quantify. Of course, the placebo effect certainly works on almost everyone. If you eat a strawberry thinking it does increase sexual desire, it problem will. Still, scientists have found that some foods do stimulate the production of testosterone or other chemicals that affect libido. They just don’t know whether the quantities of chemicals these foods contain are enough to actually increase sexual desire. The FDA has claimed that aphrodisiacs are a myth, but millions of people throughout the world believe otherwise.
Here are some of my favorite aphrodisiacs that howstuffworks.com described:

The avocado tree was called a “testicle tree” by the Aztecs because its fruit hangs in pairs on the tree, resembling the male testicles. Its aphrodisiac value is based on this resemblance.
Basil (sweet basil)
For centuries, people said that basil stimulated the sex drive and boosted fertility as well as producing a general sense of well-being. The scent of basil was said to drive men wild — so much so that women would dust their breasts with dried and powdered basil. Basil is one of the many reported aphrodisiacs that may have the property of promoting circulation

Chocolate has forever been associated with love and romance. It was originally found in the South American rainforests. The Mayan civilizations worshipped the Cacao tree and called it “food of the gods.” Rumor has it that the Aztec ruler Montezuma drank 50 goblets of chocolate each day to enhance his sexual abilities.
Researchers have studied chocolate and found it to contain phenylethylamine and serotonin, which are both “feel good” chemicals. They occur naturally in our bodies and are released by our brains when we are happy or feeling loving or passionate. It produces a euphoric feeling, like when you’re in love.
In addition to those two chemicals, researchers at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California, say that chocolate may also contain substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana. The substance is a neurotransmitter called anandamide. The amount of anandamide in chocolate is not enough to get a person “high” like marijuana, but it could be enough to contribute to the good feelings that serotonin and phenylethylamine produce. Does that mean it increases sexual desire? Probably not — but if it makes you feel good, it might lower your inhibitions so that you’re more receptive to suggestion.

Aside from its phallic shape, the scent of cucumbers is believed to stimulate women by increasing blood flow to the vagina.

Long ago, Tibetan monks were not allowed to enter the monastery if they had been eating garlic because of its reputation for stirring up passions. Garlic increases circulation.

In medieval times, people drank mead, a fermented drink made from honey, to promote sexual desire. In ancient Persia, couples drank mead every day for a month (known as the “honey month” — a.k.a. “honeymoon”) after they married in order to get in the right frame of mind for a successful marriage. Honey is rich in B vitamins (needed for testosterone production) as well as boron (helps the body metabolize and use estrogen). Some studies have suggested that it may also enhance blood levels of testosterone.

In ancient China, people used licorice to enhance love and lust. The smell appears to be particularly stimulating. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, conducted a study that looked at how different smells stimulated sexual arousal. He found that the smell of black licorice increased the blood flow to the penis by 13 percent. When combined with the smell of doughnuts, that percentage jumped to 32.

In ancient China, women prized nutmeg an aphrodisiac, and researchers have found it to increase mating behaviors in mice. There is no evidence to prove the same happens in humans. In quantity, nutmeg can produce a hallucinogenic effect.


Welcome to the food brothel…

I live in a food brothel. The Hamilton College Woollcott Cooperative, known as the “co-op” houses 20 students, 16 of them female and only four of them male. The college typically does not approve of such unbalanced gender ratios. The rumor we heard during the housing lottery was that, legally, they could not allow more than two thirds of the inhabitants to be female or else the dorm would be considered a brothel. In the end, however, they had no choice. They could not convince men to move into the co-op and therefore the remaining spaces, typically reserved for men, were given to women.

We have embraced our offbeat ratio and thrived as a co-op. Our trade, however, is not sex, as with the typical brothels, but food. Co-opers shop for and cook our own breakfasts and dinners, only frequenting the dining halls for lunch. The house is a haven of cooking, but to outsiders it is better known as a haven of eating. Men and women come regularly to share in the succulent pleasures of warm bread, steamy tea, and sensual dinners. Everyone knows that if they show up to the co-op, their most bodily desires, sometimes hunger but, more often, cravings for something to just tantalize their tongues, will be gratified.

The sheer amount of food contained and created in the co-op is so plentiful that it is almost always given out willingly, similar to how sex is perceived to be in a brothel. Likewise, the varieties of tastes that can be fulfilled by different combinations of hundreds of different ingredients housed in the co-op also mirrors the choices typically housed in a brothel.

I have since looked into New York State brothel laws and it seems as though the rumor that a dorm is considered a brothel after a certain ratio is a myth. It, however, is a very common myth, almost ubiquitous among college students across the country.  The supposed law is why my friend at the University of Rochester thinks sorority houses are not allowed on campus even though fraternity houses are.

In any case, from this space, my home – the co-op food brothel, I will blog about the multifaceted relationships between gender, sex, and food.