In ancient India, a young man who proved passionless in the sack might have tried goat testicles boiled in milk.
The Roman satirist Juvenal was the first to note the seductive qualities of oysters. In The Arabian Nights, coriander was a quick fix for a merchant who’d gone childless for 40 years. Honeyed mead was the medieval equivalent of Bud Lite for loosening up carousing swains. Fresh snake blood is still revered as a stimulant in parts of Asia, as are bat blood, reindeer penises, shark fins and ground rhino horns. And what sad-sack hasn’t at least contemplated Spanish Fly — no fly at all, actually, but the dried remains of beetles that irritate the urogenital tract.
Beyond their collective exoticism, the only thing the above have in common is that they don’t work. Named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and beauty, an aphrodisiac is just about anything that awakens or increases sexual desire — be it your own, or the object of your desire’s. In reality, however, aphrodisiacs are folklore at best and hazardous to your health at worst. As the Food and Drug Administration has declared: “There is no scientific proof that any over-the-counter aphrodisiacs work to treat sexual dysfunction,” while acknowledging that its findings “clash with a 5,000-year tradition of pursuing sexual betterment through use of plants, drugs and magic.”
Despite five millennia of misses, however, humans still yearn for an aphrodisiacal quick fix because inciting arousal can be so tricky. Contrary to the ease with which bacchanals seem to unfold on reality television programs such as Temptation Island, sexual desire is a confusing issue for many, with complex psychological and physiological aspects and different solutions for just about everyone. “We’re all unique individuals and we all respond differently to different things,” notes Dr. Beverly Whipple, a professor emerita at Rutgers University and president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, who co-coined the term “G-Spot” back in 1980.
Forbes Ten aphrodisiacs
• Barry White tunes
• A few stiff drinks
• A dozen oysters
• Promises, promises
• A little skin
• Manolo Blahniks
• A diamond engagement ring
At the root of human sexual desire is the “core erotic personality” — a.k.a. “sexual template” — which, in a nutshell, is whatever gets you off. “Everyone has in their mind an image of someone or thing they find sexually desirous,” explains Dr. William Granzig, dean of clinical sexology at Maimonides University in North Miami Beach and president of the American Board of Sexology. That image might be a person of specific age, race or hair color, or it might be every person. It could be a fondness for a particular style of dress, objects such as women’s shoes or fur-lined handcuffs, or behavior such as cross-dressing or exhibitionism. Whatever it is in particular, the sexual template is believed to develop early on during a childhood erotic experience — perhaps as early as age three or four — and it sticks with you for life.
The difficulty of maintaining sexual desire over the long term, of course, is that if your partner falls outside of your sexual template — or you fall outside theirs — sooner or later one of you is going to lose interest. “Many people whose template is not, say, age-specific can have great sex throughout their lives,” notes Granzig. “But if you’re only attracted to 20-year-olds, once your partner hits 30, your desire will decrease. Unless, of course, you can figure out some ways to spice things up.”