Studying the Science of Sex

Every 9 seconds, someone in the world purchases Viagra. Available in over 120 countries, it confirms yet again that sex sells. Although medication used primarily to treat erectile dysfunction, Viagra is viewed by some as an aphrodisiac, even if medical science proves otherwise.

History is filled with food, drink, and behavior that enhances or even increases the likelihood of intercourse, although there are limited studies in support. A recent article in the journal Food Research International explores the effects of ginseng and saffron. Massimo Marcone, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Food Science, and master’s student John Melnyk, led the research.

“Aphrodisiacs have been used for thousands of years all around the world, but the science behind the claims has never been well understood or clearly reported,” Marcone said. “Ours is the most thorough scientific review to date. Nothing has been done on this level of detail before now.”

Marcone contends that natural products are superior to synthetic drugs because they do not have any direct impact on the libido. The researchers examined hundreds of studies on commonly used consumable aphrodisiacs to investigate claims of sexual enhancement — psychological and physiological.

The study concluded that panax ginseng, saffron and yohimbine, a natural chemical from yohimbe trees in West Africa, improved human sexual function. Chocolate, on the other hand, was not linked to sexual arousal or satisfaction (although there is some discussion whether the chemical phenylethylamine, often in chocolate, is an aphrodisiac). “It may be that some people feel an effect from certain ingredients in chocolate, mainly phenylethylamine, which can affect serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain,” Marcone said. Alcohol was found to increase sexual arousal (and perhaps reduce inhibitions) but to impede sexual performance.