Aphrodisiacs: do they really make you horny?

The definition of Aphrodisiac states that it is an element that evokes or stimulates sexual desire. Named after by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility, aphrodisiacs are substances that supposedly cause arousal and sexual desire, increase libido, improve sexual “performance” and extend sexual energy. They have been used widely to increase sexual desire by all the cultures from the ancient Persians to the Aztecs.

Human sexuality

Your sexuality is a very complex system (biological, psychological and social), but behind your sexual desire is a strong biochemical element – the body’s hormones (specifically testosterone). They control your libido. With a slight disruption in the hormonal balance, the whole sexual process can go astray.

When you are healthy, the sexual process is like a chain reaction: when the object of passion is perceived (observed, touched, felt, heard or smelled) signals are sent from the nervous system to the pelvic area. Blood vessels expand and there is blood flow to the penis or clitoris. Neurotransmitters are released, the heart rate increases, and you immediately feel more pleasure.

If you do not have enough testosterone your interest in sex may diminish. Other factors that can have a big effect on sexual interest are stress, fatigue and depression.

Aphrodisiacs, according to studies act in two ways.

  1. They increase sexual desire by acting on the mind, like drugs or drinks, because they help reduce inhibitions and produce pleasurable feelings that could lead to becoming sexually aroused.
  2. They can act on the body – some of them can increase the production of chemicals associated with the process of sexual intercourse.

It is believed that the following are aphrodisiacs:

Spanish Fly

This most famous aphrodisiac of all is made from beetles of the species Lytta Vesicatoria. Its active ingredient is cantharidin, that can cause increased blood flow to the genitals, causing sensations of heat.

Its use dates back to Roman times when Roman empress Livia (58 B.C. – A.D. 29) put it into the food of her regal relatives. She was hoping that cantharidin would make them perform certain indiscretions that she could use against them.

Later on, it was usually added to sweets (called pilles galantes) and ingested by aristocrats (think the infamous Marquis de Sade) and kings.

Using cantharidin though you have to be really careful as if overdosed it can provoke burning sensations and abdominal pain. Occasionally it can also cause blisters on the mouth and intestines.

Yohimbe

Yohimbe is a prescription drug used for erectile dysfunction in men. It comes from the bark of a West African evergreen tree. Yohimbine, the primary active ingredient of Yohimbe, blocks alpha-2 adrenergic receptors in the brain and increases the dilation of blood vessels, which are both involved in achieving and maintaining an erection. It has to be used with caution because even though it’s an herbal drug it can be dangerous if taken in the wrong quantities.

L-Arginine

L-Arginine is an amino acid involved in the initial phase of the erectile response and transformed into nitric oxide and can thus increase erectile capacity.

Pheromones

The word “pheromone” comes from the Greek words pherein and hormone, meaning “excitement carrier”.

In the animal world, pheromones are individual scent “prints” found in urine or sweat that dictate among other things sexual behavior and attract the opposite sex. They help animals identify one other and to choose a partner with a different immune system to their own thus ensuring healthier offspring. They have a special organ in their noses called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) that detects this odorless chemical.

The existence of human pheromones was discovered in 1986 by scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and their counterparts in France. They found these chemicals in human sweat. A human VNO has also been found in some people, but not all. Even though the VNO is not present in all of us – and may not work in those who have it – there is still evidence that smell is an important aspect of love and attraction (hence the booming perfume industry).

Researchers conducted an informal experiment using two me who were identical twins. Both sat in a bar one evening, one of them having been sprayed with manufactured pheromone. The result was that women approached the twin who had been sprayed with the pheromones three times more often than his brother.

Myth or truth?

Exist scientific results which show that indeed exist plants and chemicals that have an effect on the sexual desire. What continues to be still subject to study is the quantity of these products that one needs to use in order to make a difference.

On the other hand, some scientists believe that aphrodisiacs have a greater effect on your head than on other parts of your anatomy. In other words, a placebo effect – if you think something is going to get you in the mood for love, you may well get aroused. Aphrodisiacs that you consume may or may not have had something to do with it.

After all, the most powerful sex organ of your body is the brain. If your head is not in the right place, nothing will help.