What is an aphrodisiac? An aphrodisiac is a substance or food that can provoke arousal, sexual desire, behavior and even pleasure. There are three typical usage types for aphrodisiac foods: increasing libido (sexual desire), increasing sexual potency and performance and improving sexual pleasure. Ultimately, aphrodisiac foods are typically consumed with the intention of finding more pleasure in sexual activities, but there is a lack of concrete evidence and research that truly proves the validity of these claims. With regard to the psychological effects of aphrodisiacs, one must recognize the placebo effect — believing that the effect of a substance is more beneficial than the substance itself — and understand that an individual’s expectation could manifest itself into successful results. Although there isn’t research to back the marketing claims of aphrodisiac foods, it does not discredit the fact that certain foods can stimulate an individual’s sex life. Some have specific properties, such as omega 3 fatty acids, that increase blood flow and can bring upon the label of ‘aphrodisiac’ as they have the ability to benefit sexual activities. 


An iconic Valentine’s Day staple, chocolate, has a mythical status in popular media and literature for being a food that can increase sexual desireand pleasure. Science suggests biochemical reasons for chocolate’s aphrodisiac label. Not only does it contain phenylethylamine, a chemical released during the early stages of attraction, but eating it also appears to release serotonin and dopamine, two mood-elevating chemicals. However, modern research suggests that chocolate’s reported effects on human sexuality have more to do with marketing-induced placebo than with physiological outcomes. One study conducted in Italy to assess the association between chocolate intake and sexual function in women found no statistically significant correlation between chocolate consumption and sexual distress and sexual desire. Women that reported eating more than one chocolate cube daily reported higher sexual function, but the researchers hypothesized that other lifestyle habits accounted for this difference. To this day, no studies have found a physiological effect of chocolate intake on human sexuality. 

Chili peppers:

Spicy and hot, the concentration of capsaicin is what makes chili peppers a spice delicacy. Chili peppers are considered to be aphrodisiacs that arouse desire due to their ability to increase body temperatures. A study focused on capsaicin and energy expenditure revealed that the thermogenic ingredient can promote fat oxidation and increase energy expenditure without significantly increasing blood pressure. Chili peppers have been claimed to also increase body sensations. In addition to increasing the body temperature, hot chili peppers are known to increase the libido and testosterone levels, but there isn’t substantial evidence to back this claim. 

Red wine:

A classic romantic dinner companion, red wine is another famed aphrodisiac. No studies have found causational evidence to support this labeling, but several have suggested a correlational relationship between red wine consumption and better sexuality. In one study sampling women, it was found that women who regularly drank a moderate amount of red wine had higher self-reported sexual desire and overall sexual function as compared to those who never drank red wine. In another study examining the effects of red wine on sexual function in men, scientists found that the antioxidant properties of compounds in wine may be beneficial to the reproductive system. However, they concluded that there is insufficient evidence to state that red wine consumption improves sexual function due to the lack of research on the precise role of polyphenols and the mechanisms of their action.


Unexpectedly, asparagus is an aphrodisiac that is filled with vitamin E, which is known to increase blood and oxygen flow, as well as potassium, a vitamin that is essential for the production of sex-hormones. The nutrients work to cleanse the kidneys and the urinary tract, while giving a boost of energy. In addition to the vitamins packed in asparagus, the vegetable’s aspartic acid alleviates excess ammonia found in the body, thus combatting fatigue and sexual disinterest. In one study, a group of male subjects took asparagus supplements for a two month period and the results showed improvements in erectile dysfunction in comparison to the control group. A great source for balancing hormone levels, asparagus is an aphrodisiac that can encourage a higher sex drive and improve sexual function. 

So, is there any definite scientific merit to aphrodisiacs? Not really. Many of them — berries, red wine, dark chocolate — may improve relaxation through increased blood flow, but there is no smoking-gun evidence linking any one food consumption to increased sexual desire and performance. Additionally, the concept of consuming something to improve a sexual experience may seem innocent enough, but indulging in the aphrodisiac market may actually have serious ramifications. For example, the fact that rhino populations have been driven to abysmally low levels is largely attributed to a myth that their horns have aphrodisiac properties. The pursuit of heightened sexual experiences should not come at the expense of endangered species and ecosystems. Therefore, when looking to enhance intimacy, be conscientious of the approach you take. A holistic look on lifestyle and health choices is a better indicator of sexual health, many experts say. Dr. Michael Krychman, a renowned researcher in the field of sexual medicine emphasized this in one interview discussing aphrodisiacs. “… People who exercise, have a healthy diet and lower stress, all these elements work together and they have better sex lives,” he said. So, next time you want to get the mood going, maybe try de-stressing through exercise before you reach for the oysters, asparagus or chocolate. 


A version of this article appeared on pg. 14 of the Feb. 15, 2024 print edition of the Daily Nexus.