We’ve all been there — you’ve tried every love potion on the market (even your mother-in-law’s horrifying concoction of Mountain Dew and toad legs), and none seem to bring back the spark that you and your Valentine found back in 1252. Things were going great: You spent your days terrorizing the locals with blasphemous femininist ideology while your Valentine tended to the fields. Though your relationship was largely peaceful, you went through the occasional rough patch. Luckily, any lover’s spat could be quickly solved with a trip to Eros’ temple, where he graciously offered free couples counseling and a warm cup of spiced wine.
But those were the old days; ever since he started working at that TJ Maxx on 5th Avenue to pay his rent, Eros has simply had no time for any of his loyal customers anymore. What’s a gal got to do to spice up her relationship these days? Until not too long ago, these anxieties overwhelmed me just as I’m sure they now consume you. I was in your same shoes, you see: sad, lonely and trapped by both a crumbling relationship and a deadly pandemic! The Black Plague, COVID-19 … a rose by any other name would smell as shitty. Though some things have changed since I was a youth — I’ve swapped my beak mask for an N-95 — one thing is for sure: The only thing scarier than a global pandemic is an abysmal love life.
After exhausting every reputable potions-master in Northern Africa to no avail, I thought for sure that my marriage was a goner. That is, until one fateful trip to Brazil forced me to swallow my pride and give mortal love potions a shot. You may have heard them called by their more scientifically palatable name: aphrodisiacs.
During my time in Brazil a couple hundred years back, I stumbled upon the catuaba plant, which locals told me would increase blood flow to the genitals. In an instant, my eyes were opened to the huge variety of aphrodisiacs present in almost every human society. The Oxford English Dictionary describes aphrodisiacs simply as “[drugs or preparations] inducing sexual desire,” though certain aphrodisiacs are also said to increase sexual pleasure or even cure male impotence. Though many aphrodisiacs produce similar results — a heightened sexual experience — the ways that they go about stimulating libido differ greatly depending on the substance.
Panax ginseng, for example, has aided suffering Chinese men throughout antiquity with its antioxidants that increase nitric oxide synthesis, an important part of maintaining an erection. If you’re looking to skip the Viagra, just hop on a quick flight to Africa; the Yohimbe evergreen tree of West Africa improves symptoms of erectile dysfunction by dilating blood vessels, thus increasing blood flow to the genitals. Other, more accessible aphrodisiacs in the Western world include strawberries, oysters, and chocolate. Though we lack much scientific evidence to back up claims that these three foods will drastically improve your sex life, they are not entirely without basis. The zinc content in oysters has been linked to higher testosterone production in men and women, a key contributor to a healthy sex drive.
It’s easy to understand why aphrodisiacs are so prevalent throughout the world. Hunger and sex are very naturally connected; they are primal instincts which societies must accept in order to propagate the community and ensure continued survival. Humans are starving not just for food but for the comfort, connection and safety of a sexual relationship. The acts of eating and sex heavily rely upon themes of consumption, as both require welcoming a foreign thing — whether that be a food or another’s physical body — into ourselves. Through digestion, a food is broken down into nutrients which fuel our bodies and literally become part of us. You truly are what you eat.
Narratives around sexual relationships similarly center around the unification of two bodies. Married couples “become one” upon consummating their marriage, or having sex for the first time as a married couple. There is even a case to be made about the shared prefix “con-” present in both “consume” and “consummate,” which is often added to indicate that multiple objects are coming together and uniting.
Various mythologies centered around food can be interpreted with sexual meaning; Adam and Eve’s tasting of the forbidden fruit represents, in some circles, more than just the knowledge of good and evil. Instead, it can symbolize the broader desire to indulge in illicit and taboo acts. Persephone feels this same tantalizing pull towards the pomegranate — uncoincidentally, also an aphrodisiac associated with fertility — during her time in the Underworld. In some versions of Persephone’s myth, the pomegranate seed’s taste is so divine that all who taste it must eventually return back to the Underworld or be consumed with longing. The fruits in these myths represent fulfillment and satisfaction, yet are accompanied by undertones of shame and guilt. Sound familiar?
Associating food with sex is an easy connection to make, considering their multitude of symbolic similarities. Delicious food, like good sex, makes us feel like we’re doing something wrong in the most thrilling way. “Guilty pleasures” refer both to chocolate cake and sexual fantasies, destined to never be spoken aloud for fear of social retribution. Yet despite this shame, nothing can draw our minds away from the desire we feel for an exciting encounter with a greasy burger or a tall, dark and handsome stranger. This Valentine’s Day, if you’re anything like me, you’ll give some of these mortal remedies a try. Who knows? You just might just like what you discover.
Amelia Clute is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.