Recently, a good friend who I've collaborated with on research proposed to me that we should stop studying gossip and sex, and start to study food. Everyone eats, she argued. Women know that one way to a man's heart is through his stomach, she said. Men look sexy when they cook, I thought, regardless of whatever they are making.
I was immediately intrigued.
There is a very close relationship between love, sex and food. It's hard to feel romantic if you're starving. On the other hand, when you first meet someone and are completely infatuated, often you lose your sense of hunger. Our bodies produce a chemical stimulant, phenylethylamine (PEA) as well as norepinephrine. They make our bodies feel alert, alive, giddy, excited - and many of us lose our appetite. The human need for food and sex are basic, part of the foundation of our nature, which makes it sensible that they are so closely knit together.
Another way to look at it is that when you eat, you're using many of your senses. Obviously, you are using taste, but also sight, smell and touch. These sensations are the same ones used during sex. And, if you feed your lover, sensually, these sensations might be heightened.
You can also eat certain things to increase your feeling of wellbeing or increase your sex drive. Some foods you just have to smell or see to think about sex, according to some researchers. Here are a few to consider:
1) Chocolate has long been thought to be an aphrodisiac - in the 1600s it was considered such a powerful one that religious leaders banned monks and nuns from consuming any! It contains the chemical PEA, which creates a rush or feeling of euphoria. It causes the release of dopamine, which is the same chemical that is released during all sorts of "highs" including orgasms, gambling, and drug use. Dark chocolate contains the most. Other foods that also increase PEA are apples, avocados, tomatoes, almonds, and cheddar cheese. While we're on the topic, the mere scent of almonds is supposed to increase women's sex drive - with the added bonus of potentially improving heart health.
2) Some foods might be considered sexy because they are make us think erotic thoughts. Asparagus and avocados resemble certain male attributes, so they might be an indirect way to make your lover think of sex. Banana flowers have a rather phallic shape, which might be why some people consider them aphrodisiacs. Bananas themselves are thought to be important for sex hormone production because they contain high levels of potassium and B vitamins.
3) Let's not forget spices. Ginger and ginseng increase circulation - ginseng in particular it thought to increase libido by exciting the central nervous system. Cinnamon and nutmeg are also rumoured to stimulate sexual feelings. And, since we're talking spices, this might be a good time to mention that some additives are supposed to improve the taste of semen - cardamom, peppermint, lemon and pineapple, for example, while garlic and onions are thought to cause it to taste unpleasant. (more suggestions for food can be found on the web, including: http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Nutrition-Health-Food-Labeling-646/aphrodisiac-foods.aspx)
4) If you're planning a romantic evening, you might try to find on a good bottle of wine with the hopes that it will make your lover (and you!) more relaxed. Drinking wine in moderation might serve that purpose well, but drinking too much can be problematic. Aside from the commonly discussed results, such as not remembering one's behaviour, or not being able to sexually feel much (if anything), excessive alcohol consumption can decrease women's DHEA, which is related to sex drive. In men, it decreases testosterone, which is the backbone to male sex drive, and can make vasopressin plummet, meaning it might be difficult to achieve an erection. Even touching your lover can lose its magic because alcohol reduces oxytocin, so the sense of touch is not as sensitive.
5) Then there's using food for play - whipped cream, honey, jell-o and all the usual ones to consider. After hearing some very humorous and sticky stories from girlfriends, I'll pause here to remind you to examine expiration dates, and to beforehand clean-up issues.
Food, love and sex have a long history, and one that is rooted in our biology. If you're thinking of a romantic gift for a lover, why buy just the usual box of chocolates? Instead you could make an "aphrodisiac basket," or make a meal that incorporates many of the foods mentioned.
Want to know more about what happens to your body, chemically when you're in love? Victoria Costello, a fellow blogger here at Psychology Today, and I recently co-authored a slim sexy book called, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Chemistry of Love."