Aphrodisiacs That Work—as Long as You Believe They Do
The science behind aphrodisiacs is limited, but here's what you need to know about common libido boosters and your sex drive.
What aphrodisiacs do
Chocolate, fruits, and even a sultry music playlist are among some of the most talked-about aphrodisiacs. Popular belief is that they help set the mood by boosting feel-good chemicals in the body to rev up your libido. But, how much of this is true? And do they really work?
There isn't a ton of science to support the efficacy of some of the most common aphrodisiacs. However, keep in mind that they may work as long as you believe they do, aka the placebo effect. (Placebos are a real thing, and in fact, here's why doctors continue to prescribe placebos.) That said, here's the lowdown on aphrodisiacs to consider when you're ready to get down and dirty.
Pinks and oranges
You may be surprised to learn how color perception can influence desire: Lynn Anderson, PhD, author and naturopath, says, "Pink is a soothing color and sets the mood for relaxation. Orange is associated with the sex center (also known as the sacral chakra); it stimulates appetite and reduces fatigue. So if you want to relax your partner and serve them a sexually stimulating dinner, set the table with pink carnations and think pumpkin pie for dessert."
They're loaded with the mineral magnesium, and that's key, says Suzanne C. Fuchs, MD, health and wellness expert/blogger, in Mineola, New York: "Magnesium is needed to produce sex hormones like androgen and estrogen that have some control over your libido. Amino acids increase the production of nitric oxide, which is important for expanding blood vessels and increasing blood flow everywhere." Plus, that fleshy, rich flavor makes it an excellent fruit to hand-feed your partner.
Here's your excuse to take a vacation ASAP: An Expedia study of more than 30 million travelers finds that travel can boost sex drive by reducing cortisol levels and improving self-perception. Over one million travelers reported traveling increased their sex drive, which is likely due to an increase in confidence and improved mood, study researchers speculate. There's nothing like globetrotting with your partner to stir those romantic feelings. (And here's how you can avoid getting sick on vacation.)
Hit the gym: A study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that women with a dulled libido due to their antidepressant medication (a common side effect of some types of antidepressants) could boost their sexual interest and satisfaction by doing three 30-minute sweat sessions per week. That's real evidence: The researchers concluded that moderately intense exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which facilitates blood flow to the genital region.
To turn up the romance, turn on the tunes: After studying images of the brain, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found that listening to music releases the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. According to their study published in PLoS ONE, they found a positive link between pleasure and emotional arousal. Meanwhile, a study in the Journal of Research in Music Education suggests music releases serotonin. The only catch is that everyone has different music tastes, so try involving your partner in compiling your lovemaking playlist.
Yes, the fruit has a suggestive shape. However, a study in the International Journal of Aromatherapy suggests the most potent banana-related aphrodisiac may come from the smell of banana bread. The scent boosted arousal in women by an average of 12 percent. Is it time to include baking as part of your foreplay? Maybe just stick with these nutritional strategies to boost your sex drive.
Whether you trust the science or not, chocolate deserves a role as an aphrodisiac. In a study in the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, chocolate has been found to enhance affection and boost serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. According to Anderson, "The reason for this is that chocolate contains a substance known as phenylethylamine, or PEA. It's PEA that brings on the amphetamine-like rush of chemistry known as sexual attraction."
This succulent fruit is loaded with lycopene, a vital antioxidant that helps relax blood vessels and improve circulation to all areas of the body—including your genitals. Dr. Fuchs explains, "Phytonutrients are one of the beneficial components in watermelons that include lycopene and the libido-enhancing citrulline. Citrulline produces nitric oxide, which widens blood vessels. The increase in blood flow helps to decrease blood pressure by a response mechanism. Basically, the blood vessels relax much like the response caused by Viagra."
This luscious and tart fruit plays a role in fertility and libido lore—and a study in the International Journal of Sexual Impotence suggests pomegranate juice can be helpful with erectile dysfunction. Because it's bursting with antioxidants, drinking a dash of pomegranate juice spritzer could give you a sexual boost. (Don't miss these other natural aphrodisiac foods proven to spark romance.)
- Lynn Anderson, PhD, author and naturopath
- Suzanne C. Fuchs, MD, health and wellness expert/blogger, in Mineola, New York
- Annals of Behavioral Medicine: “Acute Exercise Improves Physical Sexual Arousal in Women Taking Antidepressants”
- PLoS ONE: “The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening Are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal”
- Journal of Research in Music Education: “Music and Affective Phenomena: A 20-Year Content and Bibliometric Analysis of Research in Three Eminent Journals”
- International Journal of Aromatherapy: “Scentsational sex Olfactory stimuli and sexual response in the human female”
- South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Cocoa and chocolate consumption – Are there aphrodisiac and other benefits for human health?”
- International Journal of Sexual Impotence: “Efficacy and safety of pomegranate juice on improvement of erectile dysfunction in male patients with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study”