Do Aphrodisiacs Really Work?

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
February 14, 2006

For thousands of years people have pursued plants, potions, scents, and stimulants believed to boost sexual desire.

The world's aphrodisiacs—named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty—range from the mundane to the downright bizarre.

Spicy foods, like chilies, have long been thought to boost the libido by inducing physical conditions similar to those of sexual arousal, such as an increased heart rate.

Rarer objects, like rhinoceros horns, enjoy a powerful mystique—not to mention a phallic form.

Rhino horn, consumed primarily in Asia, does contain high levels of calcium and phosphorus. When consumed by people with very poor diets, those nutrients could possibly make diners feel healthier, more vigorous, and thus more interested in sex.

Judging the effectiveness of any aphrodisiac can be difficult. Human studies are sparse, and where sex is concerned, results can be unreliable.

"It's important to know—when it comes to everything from food to pharmaceuticals that are used for sexual attraction and arousal—you always have to factor in a large placebo effect," said Jennifer Bass, a spokesperson for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University in Bloomington.

"The mind is so important to the body." (Read a National Geographic article excerpt on love and the brain.)

Effectiveness Often in the Eye of the Beholder

Some foods or other substances may have physical benefits that could indirectly lead to increased sex drive without directly inducing such urges.

Foods that boost nutrition and overall health, for example, may help people feel better and more energetic—and thus more sexually aroused.

But most aphrodisiac consumers hunger for a more targeted approach.

Continued on Next Page >>


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