There has never been a shortage of human imagination when it comes to making sex more exciting. The Egyptian queen, Cleopatra captured bees inside of a hollowed gourd to create the world’s first vibrator. In eighteenth century Russia, foot-ticklers were employed to arouse the royal Empresses while talking dirty to her. Small balls made of silver or led called rin-no-tama or “tinkling balls” in Japanese were inserted under the skin of sixteenth century men’s penises to add stimulation for female partners during sex—and yes, they did live up to their name, reportedly making audible tinkling noises when jostled around during sex.
Of course the most sought after sexual aid has always been the love potion—a concoction that if consumed will make the consumer so physically aroused that they cannot resist their own romantic urges. Today we call these sexual enhancers aphrodisiacs.
Most alleged aphrodisiac ingredients are the products of folklore passed down from generation to generation and have little scientific claim to them. Many, in fact, are potentially dangerous to digest or are harvested from vulnerable animal populations.
Other ingredients like ground deer antler, which the ancient Chinese believed causes longer lasting erections, can still be found on the popular market today. Ambergris, the waxy and foul smelling byproduct of a whale’s digestive system, even has research linking it to libido-enhancing hormone production in our brains. But finding yourself a clump of ambergris won’t be simple: it’s illegal to buy or sell (and can be extremely expensive even if you manage to find a source).
Of course you don’t have to scour the dark web for whale vomit tinctures in order to find a good date night snack that will set the mood for romance in the bedroom! Some of the best aphrodisiacs can be found at most restaurants, local grocery stores, or already at home (hint: not all aphrodisiacs have to do with your digestive tract).
So without further ado, here are the 10 best aphrodisiacs according to science and leading sex experts.
These little sea creatures are perhaps the most widely known aphrodisiac out there.
When I first started working in the field of sexuality, I was surprised by people’s fascination with the slimy critters. “Do oysters really make people horny?” became one of the favored dinner party questions. The short answer is yes, but it’s probably not why you think.
First some history: It was said that the 18th century playboy, Giacomo Casanova ate upwards of 50 oysters a day to keep his libido on high all times of the day. Long before Casanova, the Greeks and Romans associated the shell fish with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and desire, who was birthed in the foam of the sea and arose from out of a seashell. In fact, the word aphrodisiac is a derivative of Aphrodite’s name.
The constant presence of oysters in the folklore of aphrodisiacs is in itself the most likely reason we tend to get frisky after slurping down a couple. People tend to believe things that are repeated, especially when passed down from previous generations. Sex-inducing oysters are practically a vestige of our cultural history at this point.
But it is not just the long history of shelled aphrodisiacs that cause us to instantly associate oysters with sexual desire; their appearance and texture are often major turn on’s as well. Oysters have a fleshy taste and look similar to female genitalia. We even contort our tongue to slide their wet bodies down our throats.
Oysters are a classic example of “like leading to like”—the oyster has a lot of sexual symbolism and therefore we associate it with having sex. That coupled with their aphrodisiac lineage make oysters’ libido-boosting powers more of a placebo effect, but why not take advantage of such a great mind trick!
Generally, I suggest the smaller oysters (like kumamotos) because of their sweeter taste and more delicate feeling meat. When paired with a nice champagne or rosé, these little fellas become a succulent and romantic date night addition.
Speaking of champagne…it’s on the list too! Alcohol helps loosen our inhibitions. We become more social and open to our sexual desires. And the great thing about champagne is that you don’t need much to start feeling a romantic buzz thanks to the carbonation which helps it enter your bloodstream faster than most other alcoholic beverages.
The main hypothesis on why fizzy drinks get you intoxicated more quickly has to do with the carbonation forcing the alcohol to enter your small intestine faster (the place where most alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream).
Now for clarification: no one is arguing that you should binge drink and expect a romantic evening to follow, but a glass or two over dinner will help you and your partner get into the mood quickly. It will also help open up conversation faster, especially for more erotically charged topics!
Good news: chocolate is a go on date night. The delicious sweet makes our body release serotonin—a neurotransmitter that has been found in the female genital tract and is suspected to impact female sexuality, including desire.
But the effects aren’t exclusively female: the famous Aztec emperor, Montezuma, was quite a fan of cacao beans, eating gluttonous amounts of them to energize his libido. The increased vigor was probably a byproduct of phenylethamine, a constituent of chocolate that is associated with increased levels of endorphins (our bodies’ locally produced “feel-good” drugs).
If all the talk about neurotransmitters wasn’t enough of an excuse to indulge, the flavors and textures of chocolate are deliciously sensual—sweet, earthy, and melt in your mouth.
The blood sugar rise and caffeine spike also gives us a bit of a mental boost too. Something much appreciated after a long day at work. Plus, chocolate boxes and treats are perfect Valentine’s Day gifts and dessert ideas, making it quite the efficient multitasker in the aphrodisiac world.
Also known as lepidium meyenii, maca is an Andean root that has recently taken off in popularity here in the U.S. It’s reputation as an aphrodisiac began in the Andean region of South America where shepherds fed the root to their herds to increase their fertility.
Many of maca’s aphrodisiac affects may be due to its high nutritional content. The root contains multiple essential amino acids and minerals, so even if you aren’t taking it for sex you will likely see some other great results too. Postmenopausal women, for instance, reported less anxiety and depression after taking maca, and athletes have shown higher physical performance after taking a maca-extract supplement.
The research is not as plentiful as with some other physical enhancers, but so far the studies are promising. Maca can also come in powders which are easy to add into smoothies and protein shakes, making it perfect to use as a duo sexual booster and physical performance booster in your post-workout shake!
Epimedium Species (aka Horny Goat Weed)
Originating in traditional Chinese medicine, this leafy plant has been hailed for its effects on male sexual desire. Epimedium’s layman name, “horny goat weed”, was actually first coined when Chinese shepherds noticed their goats became especially frisky with their fellow herd mates after grazing on the plant.
You may have noticed a pattern by now: many aphrodisiacs were first used on herd populations. This is because during the agricultural era the population size of a shepherd’s herd was the primary factor determining his income and the community’s food supply. If feeding his animals a specific weed or root increased his potential yield, a shepherd was sure to take note. From there, it was only logical to test the aphrodisiac on humans too—we were an expanding species, dependent on large pack populations as well.
In more current times, laboratory tests found that the active ingredient in horny goat weed does indeed increase sexual performance and frequency among male rats. Clinical trials (i.e. experiments on humans) have also found sexual benefits from the weed—one such study even determined that the plant may be more effective at improving sexual satisfaction than Viagra!
Most research on the epimedium species is still in its preliminary stages, and those clinical trials that are done have been with small sample sizes. But most findings have been relatively promising. Perhaps horny goat weed can be a natural substitute for erectile dysfunction medications one day. For now, the herb is available online in both capsule and powdered form.
If you’re a male (or a woman looking to boost your man’s libido), Viagra and other sildenafil prescriptions should definitely be on the list of sex-enhancing products to try. Thanks to the massive popularity and public acceptance of the erectile dysfunction (ED) drug, most already know what this wonder drug does: help men get and sustain erections.
Of course preexisting medical conditions and medications must be thoroughly reviewed by any doctor deciding whether to prescribe an ED medication for their patient. Fortunately, most men are eligible for Viagra and experience pronounced sexual benefits from it with little or no side effects. This is especially true for older men who are the most likely population to experience some degree of ED.
I am a firm believer in the power of this root. Ginger is a circularity booster, meaning it makes blood flow to every part of your body faster (including our sex organs). And it also has a spicy aromatic smell when cut and soaked in hot water, making ginger an amazing natural tea.
Ginger is in the same plant family as cardamom and turmeric and has been used medicinally by a multitude of cultures for over 5,000 years. Not only does it help circulation of blood to our peripheral body parts, ginger also is known to alleviate nausea and aid in digestion. It’s my go-to natural remedy anytime I am feeling a bit bloated before sex or a romantic night out.
My favorite way to prepare ginger for consumption is to peel the skin, thinly slice up about 2 tablespoons of the plant, pour over some boiling water, and add a squeeze of lemon juice and dash of honey (for extra digestive benefits and a deliciously tangy-sweet flavor). Check out other Jen Reviews’ ginger recipes here!
So this one isn’t going to boost your libido per se, but it will make oral sex a bit more fun!
Our bodily secretions (including semen and vaginal fluids) tend to have distinct tastes and smells. Often the olfactory (scent) and gustatory (taste) sensations turn people on, but sometimes they can be fairly pungent and bitter. If you want to try out a new scent-taste profile, try pineapple juice and other fruity beverages (like the grapefruit-watermelon detox mix found here).
Although the concoction of bodily ingredients that make up semen and vaginal fluid are generally static, it has been widely reported by porn actors, sex bloggers, sex therapists, and—yes—even myself that having a diet heavy in fruits and sugar-latent veggies really does improve the taste of our sexual fluids. In contrast, spicy and savory foods tend to make the excretions a bit more…salty, to put it nicely.
Now don’t go chugging juice right before a hook-up or date night. The effects take time as your body continues to produce its sex-specific fluids, but after a few days you (and/or your partner) should notice a slight, sweet difference.
Read more about the physical benefits of pineapple (including some delicious recipes) here.
Speaking of sweet, try ginseng! The herb is usually found in delicious teas and tonics, but make sure you are getting Korean red ginseng for aphrodisiac effects.
As it stands, research is scant but very promising when it comes to red ginseng’s ability to improve erectile functioning. Additionally, in one small-scale study this strain of ginseng even helped improve sexual arousal in menopausal women.
Be diligent with this one though; a proper dosage for sexual purposes is still unknown. My advice: try it out in moderation. Buying capsules or individually sealed red ginseng beverages that may help prevent overconsumption of the active ingredients extracted from the plant!
Some time apart
I did say that not all aphrodisiacs on this list were going to be edible! The ultimate erotic booster is going to be a bit of separation from your partner.
It is not uncommon for couples to become so enmeshed with one another that they start losing the passion and tension that was once so present in their relationship. Sex can become rare or ritualistic and less enticing (something called habituation).
If you are looking to amp up the passion and excitement in your relationship, it would be a good idea to reassert your autonomy—something that can produce a lot of sexual tension between you and you partner by reigniting mystery and intrigue into each other as individuals rather than as an established couple.
Psychotherapist and acclaimed author, Esther Perel writes at length about how more individual autonomy in relationships often leads to sexually beneficial consequences. In her New York Times Bestseller, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, Perel explains that our need for connection (which we work so hard to obtain early on in our relationships) often overtakes our just-as-important need for autonomy or “separateness”. When we stop seeing our partner as a complex and independent person, they can become predictable and less arousing to us.
But the truth is we never know everything about our partners. How could we? Humans are not simple creatures and no one is a mind reader. By deploying a degree of separateness in our relationship that fact can become more obvious to us. Our partner will suddenly seem more mysterious and we’ll want to seek them out.
There are tons of ways to do this: role play on date nights (then you’ll really be a new person!), go to new environments that bring out sides of our personality rarely seen (like a new bar or a new group of friends), abstain from constant text updates or calls (let the silence build desire), and take time to admire your partner “in their element” (maybe while they play the sport they love, chat up coworkers at a business dinner, or while they cooking up a gourmet meal for you two). For even more suggestions, pick up a copy of Perel’s book.
From magic potions to scientific ones.
The science of sexual desire is fairly new—there’s still much that we just don’t know. Other readily available ingredients that have been reported aphrodisiacs include honey, matcha, Himalayan salt, asparagus, lingzhi mushroom, beets, and pomegranate. However, the science behind these “aphrodisiacs” is less clear and researchers consider claims about any aphrodisiac incredulously.
It’s important to remember that no food is going to be a panacea for long-standing sexual dysfunctions, and if you and your partner are experiencing sexual turmoil it would be smart to seek out a couple’s and sex therapist. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a fun way to spice up date nights try out some of the items on this list!