Stress and Sex

Helping women decrease stress and enhance desire.

Graham Crackers and the Mediterranean Diet: Sexual Functioning and Food

Enjoy your sexual appetite and eat a sex-healthy diet

My youngest daughter just returned from her freshman year at college, where she took an Abnormal Psychology class. I asked her to tell me something interesting that she learned. She told me a fact that, even as a psychologist specializing in sexual issues, I didn’t know. She informed me that graham crackers and corn flakes were originally invented to help curb sexual desire.

Intrigued, I conducted follow-up research on these foods and their inventors. Sylvester Graham and one of his followers, John Harvey Kellogg, believed that sexual desire in any form—but especially expressed through masturbation— led to a host of medical and psychological problems. According to one online source (The Straight Dope), Graham thought that “excessive carnal exercise” caused such physical ailments as indigestion, poor circulation, and epilepsy, and also led to insanity and early death of one’s children. According to Dr. Michael Ashworth, writing for Psych Central, “Mr. Kellogg thought sex was the ultimate abomination” and that “Masturbation was the worst sin imaginable.” Kellogg also preached that sex could lead to a host of problems, including, heart disease and insanity, and that “masturbation led to bashfulness in some people, unnatural boldness in others, a fondness for spicy foods, round shoulders, and acne.” Both men advocated a vegetarian diet as central to controlling lust. Graham promoted the consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains and seeds; he warned against alcohol consumption, fat, sugar, tobacco, and refined flour. Kellogg extolled the virtues of exercise.

Centerpieces of both men’s prescribed diets were foods invented to curb lust, that are still with us today: Graham Crackers and Corn Flakes Breakfast Cereal. In sum, Graham and Kellogg preached sexual activity was bad for one’s health and that a good diet could help control this unhealthy evil.

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Recent science tells us that these men had the first part of their teachings completely backwards, yet were on the right track in terms of the second aspect. Current-day science tells us that sexual activity—masturbation included— is good for one’s physical and sexual health. Recent research also informs us that a healthy lifestyle and good diet—similar to that prescribed by these men—can help increase sexual desire and enhance sexual functioning.

The health benefits of sexual activity—for men and women alike—are extolled in a variety of sources, including a White Paper published by Planned Parenthood Associate Federation of America, in association with the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (an international organization dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about sexuality). A second White Paper, also published by the Planned Parenthood Associate Federation of America, summarizes the health benefits of masturbation. In a Prior PT blog, I discussed some of the health benefits of masturbation, including its curative effect on insomnia, its ability to relieve stress, and its association with better heart health and a lower risk of Type-2 diabetes. My book, A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex, includes an entire chapter (“Sex: Fun, Free and Good for You!”) summarizing research on the physical and psychological benefits of sexual activity. Interestingly, sexual activity can boost the exact same physical functions that Graham and Kellogg thought it harmed (heart health, circulatory health, and skin health) and seems to prolong—rather than shorten or diminish—life. Again, Graham and Kellogg had it totally backwards.

Still, they were on the right track in terms of the relationship between diet and sexual functioning. While there is little data to back up specific foods as aphrodisiacs, there is research showing that a diet low in fat and high in soy, for example, can enhance sexual functioning (See Forbes, Better Sex Diet, for a good summary). In A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex, I state: “Common but little known causes of vaginal dryness include … overuse of caffeine and alcohol, cigarettes, lack of omega-3 fatty acids in one’s diet, and dehydration. If you are suffering from vaginal dryness, experiment with these causes. For example… try adding more foods rich in omega 3-fatty acids to your diet.”

A recent scientific study, published in the highly respected Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that for diabetic women, following the Mediterranean Diet improved sexual functioning. Research also shows that this same diet improves erectile functioning in men. Additionally, a host of research shows that exercise is good for one’s sexual functioning (see my Prior PT blog, Work Out to Rev Up). Graham and Kellogg were spot-on: exercise and what we now term a Mediterranean style diet (according to WebMD, “a reliance on plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, olives, and olive oil…”) are helpful in terms of sexual functioning.

The take-home message: For optimal sexual health, ignore Graham’s preaching’s about sexuality but follow his advice about diet and exercise. Enjoy your sexual appetite, and eat a sex-healthy diet.

 

Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., is the author of A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex: Reclaim Your Desire and Reignite Your Relationship.

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