Sexology Student

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Question

I am doing a psychology project on the myths and realities of aphrodisiacs. I was just wondering if you could lend your advice on the topic and perhaps point me in the direction of more information.

Answer

Despite the fact that sexual pleasure is one of the most intense feelings human beings experience, we've always been looking for ways to make it even better. From ancient Egypt to Babylon to Benin, archeologists have found recipes for love potions and sex tonics. Aphrodisiacs have also been sought out to assist a seducer in overcoming his conquest's resistance, or to prop up the sexual performance of a person whose physical prowess is ebbing or unreliable.

In 1989, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that there was no scientific proof that any over-the-counter product then being sold as an aphrodisiac could cure sexual dysfunction. The FDA's position was that the supposed efficacy of foods, drinks, drugs, scents, or devices that had been touted as aphrodisiacs was based on folklore, not fact. But this hasn't stopped enterprising capitalists from coming up with new products, packaging, and sales pitches. The sex organs or other parts of animals, chili and other spices, white chocolate, ginseng and other herbs, synthetic hormones, oysters, and dried and powdered insects have found their way into aphrodisiacs. And the FDA claim side-steps the fact that yohimbine, compounded from the bark of an African tree, showed promise as a treatment for male impotence until Viagra swept all competitors off the map. Yohimbine had been used to boost erections for centuries in Africa and West India.

Testing an aphrodisiac is complicated by the fact that the human brain influences the sexual experience. If we believe a given pill, powder, tea, tantric position, acupuncture point, or amulet will make us potent or enhance our pleasure, it often does, in much the same way that any other placebo works. (Alternative medicine is often written off by skeptics as 100% placebo, but many people feel that checking out these resources does them as much or more good than Western medicine.) Then there's also the fact that any mind-altering drug, from alcohol to ecstasy, can change the way that a sexual experience is perceived, even if it doesn't alter genital functioning.

If you believe that the way to someone's heart is through his or her stomach, you'll get many useful and tasty suggestions for aphrodisiac dishes at www.mangiarebene.net/aphrodisiacs/. Harry E. Wedeck has written A Dictionary of Aphrodisiacs, published by the Philosophical Library in 1989. And amazon.com lists more than a hundred books on the same topic.