Is it possible that certain foods and extracts can elevate our sexual desire and performance?
Throughout history, aphrodisiacs have been considered nature’s way of increasing libido and sexual enjoyment. Yet 21st-century cynicism has left many people consigning them to be nothing more than folklore.1
So, consider this article your complete aphrodisiacs 101.
It delivers the scientific facts behind all the most popular natural sex-boosters. Most importantly, it explains whether they’re going to skyrocket your libido—or leave you unfulfilled.
Prepare yourself for some truly surprising evidence.
What Are Aphrodisiacs?
The word aphrodisiac originates from the Greek aphrodisios—relating to Aphrodite—the goddess of love.3
In common usage, aphrodisiacs refer to mainly natural foods or extracts that can increase sexual desire, elevate pleasure, or improve bedroom performance.
The rise of the supplement industry means this word also correlates to pills or lotions that also claim to heighten libido. Usually, these products contain one or more of the most common natural aphrodisiacs.
Aphrodisiacs are considered dietary supplements and can be purchased legally over the counter—and are permitted by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration).6
Here are the most well-known naturally occurring aphrodisiacs:
Maca – One Of The Most Powerful Aphrodisiac
A plant from the brassica family (including cabbages and cauliflowers) which grows only in the Peruvian Andes.7
This is one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs with strong scientific backing.
Although considered in many parts of the world to be a weed—this plant has proven aphrodisiac properties for both men and women.
One study indicated that 88 percent of females suffering from sexual dysfunction (problems with arousal, orgasm, and/or satisfaction) experienced a reduction in symptoms after consuming 250 mg of Tribulus daily. 9 10
In men, the benefits are twofold. Experts have discovered that Tribulus increases levels of the hormone testosterone—responsible for libido. Additionally, it elevates nitric oxide production—opening up the vascular system—allowing more blood to enter the penis.11
Leading to more impressive erections.
Also known as the maidenhair tree, ginkgo biloba is thought to work as an aphrodisiac by improving blood flow—increasing sensitivity in the penis and clitoris.12
One research paper indicates that 88 percent of participants using this extract found their sexual desire elevated. However, this was more predominant in the female portion (91 percent of women compared to 76 percent of men).13
A popular Chinese herb previously considered to be one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs.
Scientists discovered that compared to a placebo—red ginseng was twice as effective at treating erectile dysfunction.14
Yet recently, researchers have begun to believe that the results are more psychological than physiological—recommending that more research was required.15
Not what you’d consider one of the instant aphrodisiacs drugs—but taken over a long period it has potent effects on men.
The male hormone testosterone—responsible for sex drive—can convert into estrogen within the body, rendering it ineffective.
Fenugreek inhibits this action (known as aromatization)—elevating testosterone levels and lifting sex-drive.16
Not one for vegetarians.
This aphrodisiac, often supplied in liquid drops, is made from the blister beetle. More specifically, from cantharidin, a chemical released when the beetle feels under threat.
While traditionally used as a sexual stimulant—it’s actually a poison.
While some Spanish Fly side effects are relatively mild, such as abdominal pain, research has shown ingestion can lead to vaginal bleeding and death.17
Possibly one of the few natural aphrodisiacs you should avoid.
Traditionally, men have used Catuaba (tree bark) to improve libido and erection quality.
There’s much anecdotal evidence indicating that it’s effective—although clinical studies have yet to prove this.
A plant from the Amazonian rainforest which elevates sexual pleasure.
Scientists believe it functions by heightening the responsiveness of nerve endings—making your body react faster to sexual arousal and increasing sensation during sex.20
Scientific investigation has shown that this traditional West African medicine can help men suffering from erectile disorders.
It’s thought that it functions by inhibiting the power of alpha 2-adrenergic receptors—which can prevent the onset of erections.21
A yellow flowering plant that has been used by men and women for centuries as an aphrodisiac.
However, most of the evidence is purely anecdotal—with no studies indicating its effectiveness as a sex-drive enhancer in humans.
Although, in rats, damiana has proved to be advantageous in improving ejaculatory power and erection quality.22
Epimedium (Horny Goat Weed)
A name that illustrates its libido enhancing power.
Horny Goat Weed contains icariin—a compound that inhibits PDE5—a receptor that stops the blood vessels in the penis from dilating.
This means that more blood enters the penis—creating firmer erections. Not only is this the function by which Viagra works—but also studies indicate in some circumstances it’s more effective.23
Derived from crocus flowers—saffron can assist both men and women with sexual problems.
Scientific research shows that in women, saffron can reduce vaginal pain, elevate arousal, and increase lubrication.24
While little proof exists that clove has a positive effect on libido in humans—that’s not the case for mice.
Science shows that its active ingredient, Syzygium aromaticum, increases the mating performance and frequency of sex in rodents.26
Not one of the most potent aphrodisiacs—but still with positive qualities.
Common Aphrodisiac Foods
Ingesting effective aphrodisiacs doesn’t always mean using extracts in the form of supplements.
Here are some of the most commonly touted aphrodisiac foods—with varying levels of scientific backing.
It’s considered by many people to be one of the most sensual foods and aphrodisiacs.
Hence, why it’s often the gift of choice on Valentine’s Day.
However, in a study conducted on 163 Italian women—there was shown to be no correlation between chocolate intake and sexual desire, performance, or satisfaction.29
Probably one of the best-known aphrodisiacs.
While oysters exhibit a sex-drive boosting effect on mice—there’s little more than subjective evidence that it works the same way in humans.32
However, there could be some truth to the traditionally held belief of a love-enhancer.
Spicy foods have long been considered aphrodisiacs for centuries—hence the saying—spicing up your sex life.
However, the evidence doesn’t really exist past the anecdotal.
There’s definitely proof that its active compound, capsaicin, can irritate the genitals—which may create sensations similar to sexual arousal.37
Additionally, capsaicin releases endorphins—putting you in a more relaxed and happier place—and hence more likely to indulge in love-making.38
These nuts are not just aphrodisiacs—they’re excellent for boosting health.
Pistachios reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower blood pressure.39
In a 2011 report, scientists explained it’s these two factors that contributed to the alleviation of erectile dysfunction symptoms in men.40
Blood was able to flow more easily to the penis—resulting in faster occurring, longer lasting, and harder erections.
It’s been considered for many years to be winter’s own aphrodisiac.
High in antioxidants—pumpkin is excellent for your health—and the better your wellbeing, the more likely you are to want intercourse.41
Possibly more importantly, pumpkin contains immense levels of potassium. This mineral is required for both healthy blood flow and pressure—required for satisfactory erectile function.42
One of those aphrodisiacs dating back to the earliest of times. Adam and Eve used the leaves of this plant to cover their nether regions.
Science illustrates that it’s mainly the nutritional values behind this fruit that makes it useful for enhancing sex-drive.
It’s high in the antioxidant vitamins K and A—boosting health and therefore vitality.43
Additionally, figs are packed with magnesium—a mineral which is one of the best natural testosterone boosters.44
Often regarded as a delicacy by culinary experts, it’s also a popular aphrodisiac used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Although studies on humans for sexual enhancement are minimal—numerous research papers detail its effects on animals.
One scientist in 2009 stated that because of the positive results of asparagus in rats, it provides—the scientific rationale for its traditional use as an aphrodisiac or for sexual disorders.45
Experiments have indicated that consuming asparagus can improve erections, delay ejaculation, and heighten desire (in rodents).46
One of a few aphrodisiacs that were reportedly used by the ancient Aztecs.47
Perhaps the most phallic looking of all natural aphrodisiacs.
Like avocados—bananas are high in potassium, essential for ensuring your penis becomes engorged with blood for a hard erection.50
What’s more, bananas are efficacious testosterone boosters. These penis-like fruits contain bromelain—an enzyme which stimulates testosterone production.51
Watermelon – Best Food Based Aphrodisiac
Although it contains mainly water—it also holds another compound, making it one of the best food-based aphrodisiacs.
Opening up the blood vessels improves erection quality and sensation—enhancing performance and pleasure.
In ancient Rome, strawberries represented the goddess Venus—due to its heart-shape and red coloring.54
It’s these aspects that have led many people to consider it to be one of the most potent psychological aphrodisiacs.
Like many food aphrodisiacs—strawberries are high in potassium promoting elevated blood flow.57
As with strawberries, the red color includes them in the psychological aphrodisiacs group.
Additionally, they also belong to the aphrodisiacs which are high in the erection-boosting potassium.58
The ancient Greeks, who loved their aphrodisiacs, considered the pomegranate to be the symbol of Aphrodite.59
Although research on humans is limited—scientists have agreed it requires further study due to its effect on rats.
Although beets are not the most attractive of all natural aphrodisiacs—they’re still effective.
Beets contain inorganic nitrate (NO3)—a gas which elevates nitric oxide (NO).62
As previously seen in other aphrodisiacs—boosting NO improves blood flow to the penis—increasing firmness and longevity.63
What’s more—heightened blood flow enhances oxygen supply throughout the body—which studies prove elevates stamina.64
Meaning, love-making sessions can be extended.
Another one of the spicy aphrodisiacs—and also known as one of the most potent.
I wanted to finish this food aphrodisiacs section with a bang—and ginger is the ultimate love booster.
In addition to its incredible ability to protect against inflammation, diabetes, and stomach upsets—it delivers incredible sex super-powers.65
History of Aphrodisiacs
In 1998, Pfizer introduced Viagra to the world.67
This drug revolutionized the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Before this—men had to either accept that this condition was simply a feature of aging—or had to use painful injections in their penis to achieve an erection.
The emergence of Pfizer boosted sales of not only clones of this drug—but also saw hundreds of companies producing “natural” alternatives that could be obtained without prescription.68
However, while this stimulated an aphrodisiacs resurgence that remains today—the history of love enhancement dates back millennia.
Ever since Adam grabbed a leaf from a nearby fig tree and covered his penis—food has always been associated with sex.
It appears to be part of the human psyche—as aphrodisiacs emerged around the world in countries that had never even communicated with each other.
Many aphrodisiacs emerged from mythology.
The Greek love-goddess, Aphrodite, was believed to consider sparrows as a symbol of lust and desire. Apparently, even her golden chariot was pulled along by these little birds.69
In those times, around 10th century BCE, sparrows were considered the most sexually active of all animals—similar to how we consider rabbits today. Hence, these birds were typically consumed by the Greeks as aphrodisiacs.
Across the water in ancient Rome, the physician Galen took a more medical based approach. He considered that foods functioned as aphrodisiacs if they were warm, moist, and windy—in that they promoted flatulence.70
Hence, there was a heavy emphasis on consuming spices (still aphrodisiacs today), carrots, sweet peas, and mustard.
In both Greece and Rome, however, many aphrodisiacs were purported to have sex-heightening effects as they looked like the erogenous zones of women. Hence, the popularity in both countries of oysters (vagina) and mandrake root (women’s thighs).71
On the other side of the world—the Chinese were taking a more ethereal view.
They believed achieving sexual satisfaction was a way to improve the spiritual element of wellbeing. They considered aphrodisiacs to be both ingested and rubbed on the penis and vagina.
In manuscripts found in a tomb dating to around 168 BCE—details have emerged regarding their novel practices. It seems snails and peaches were blended, added to a cloth and then applied to the sexual organs.72
Other aphrodisiacs used at this time are completely macabre.
The same ancient texts indicated how to make a woman fall in love with you. Firstly, remove four claws from a raven and pull four nails off a young virgin’s hand. Then, mix together and apply them to the clothes of your intended beloved. Lovely.
Throughout history, and across the nations of the world, the story’s the same. Consistently, societies develop their own particular aphrodisiacs and their reasoning behind them.
Whether they’re scientifically plausible is questionable. Yet, what is true is humankind’s unwavering aim to both give and receive pleasure sexually.
Do Aphrodisiacs Actually Work?
The efficacy of aphrodisiacs is generally split into two categories—those with physiological benefits and those with psychological effects.
These are the compounds, whether supplements or foods, that have been scientifically proven to enhance sexual performance.
For example, those who act in a similar way to Viagra. Many aphrodisiacs already mentioned in this article have the ability to dilate blood vessels—allowing more blood into the penis—boosting erection quality, sensation, and stamina.
However, while foods such as watermelon contain proven compounds like citrulline—it’s questionable whether you could consume sufficient amounts to have a noticeable effect. In which case, supplements may prove more attractive.
The story is similar in those foods which promote testosterone production. While the high zinc content of oysters is beneficial for elevating androgen levels—greater success would be achieved consuming a zinc or fenugreek supplement.
Furthermore, many foods and extracts can have an indirect effect.
Physical wellbeing promotes an active sex life—both in desire, performance, and function. Eating foods and taking products that improve health benefits the bedroom too.
In some cases—the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs is all in the mind.
Research shows that many problems of sexual dysfunction are related to mindset—not physiological issues. Equally—many aphrodisiacs have a placebo effect—if the brain thinks a particular food will turn you on—it will.73
For example, oysters are one of the most well-known aphrodisiacs. Anecdotal evidence is strong—with many people extolling its effects on libido and performance. However, under clinical conditions, this has never been replicated.
While their high zinc content may elevate testosterone levels—this occurs over many weeks—it’s not instantaneous. And, you’d have to eat oysters every single day.
Furthermore, the placebo effect depends on the individual. Sex is a personally tailored experience—what turns one person “on” may have the opposite effect on others.
Additionally, there are sociological factors. While rhino horn may induce firm erections in China, in the US, it’s likely to invoke feelings of disgust.
Finally, the effectiveness of psychological placebos is circumstantial. Eating a chocolate bar on the subway is hardly going to have you climbing the walls for sexual intercourse. While being fed truffles by your partner in candlelight may stir the loins.
The bottom line:
It doesn’t matter if the aphrodisiac is supported by mountains of peer-reviewed evidence—or something that your old gran used to swear by.
If it works for you—then it’s an effective aphrodisiac.
Why Should You Try Out Aphrodisiacs?
At the beginning of this aphrodisiacs article, I explained that over 50 percent of us suffer from sexual dysfunction issues. Due to the sensitive nature of the survey—it’s likely to be a higher figure than that.
After all—who wants to claim they’re disappointing in the bedroom?
Although, perhaps you consider your sex life is perfect, and you could give Casanova a run for his money.
But remember, it’s not all about having erection or stamina problems.
Sometimes, we just don’t enjoy the act of love-making as much as we should. Or maybe, it’s all working well downstairs, but we simply haven’t the desire to get physical after a hard day at work.
Let’s face it.
Sex is fun and delivers immense satisfaction. If we can not only have more sex but also elevate our pleasure too—we’re going to enjoy life more.
Give aphrodisiacs a chance. They’re inexpensive, legal, and without side effects. If it doesn’t work so be it—but, it’s worth a try, right?
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Biswadeep Das in August 2019