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Arousal A La Carte

sex & food
Robert Scheer

Sticky Fingers: Things get a little gooey when these two start messing with honey, an ancient aphrodisiac known to increase virility and sexual appetite in both of the sexes.

Humans go to fantastic lengths to inspire passion and love

By Tracy A. Smith

THE SEARCH FOR APHRODISIACS is as old as our ancestors' bones and as current as today's paper. It has been suggested, for example, that the putrefied flesh of a human corpse mixed with animal and human ovaries and testes, alcohol, pimento and a dash of feces might fire up a sagging libido. Oh, and if you happen to have a crocodile penis, throw that in, too.

People will try anything to enhance their sex lives. "Anything" may include rhinoceros horn, historically considered an aphrodisiac--a notion that more than likely comes from the horn's phallic shape. The "law of signatures" is an ancient belief that if something looks similar to what a person needs--in this case, an erection--then that something is the ticket. Mimetic consumption applies to antlers, sea cucumbers, ginseng and snake blood, among other things.

Ingesting reproductive organs from various animals also follows this logic. The penis and testicles of tigers, elk, horses, dogs, seals and rabbits find their way into the Far East apothecary. Indeed, research has shown that there is some merit to ingesting hormones from animals.

Spanish Fly is a mythical aphrodisiac that just won't die. It supposedly turns innocent maidens into nymphomaniacs. In truth, Spanish Fly is a powerful poison. The active ingredient is the southern European beetle Cantharis vesicatoria. It contains a blistering agent used primarily to remove warts. It is so toxic that it can induce kidney failure. Authentic Spanish Fly is illegal--products that claim to contain it are useless and, one hopes, harmless substitutes. sex

So do aphrodisiacs exist? No and yes. Experts agree that there is no one prosexual that acts on men and women equally, but there exist countless means that can fire up a flagging libido legally, safely and cheaply. Some foods touted for centuries as sexual stimulants are now being corroborated as such by scientific research.

Since Pliny's day, for instance, oysters have enjoyed a randy reputation. Lots of zinc is found in this humble bivalve, and zinc helps the production of testosterone (too low a level and sexual arousal won't happen) and increases sperm production. For women, zinc helps sustain adequate lubrication.

Another ancient aphrodisiac, raw honey (think honeymoon), contains B-complex vitamins that enhance sexual health for both genders. The sugar helps manufacture sperm and provides quick energy for erotic exercise.

Legumes, noted for being one of many estrogen-replacement foods, were banned in Medieval convents not for causing flatulence, but because they seemed to make the nuns a bit squirrely.

Morton Walker, author of Sexual Nutrition, calls healthy foods "nutridisiacs." "It's sad," he says, "that people look for extracurricular items such as Spanish Fly and black rhino horn when certain nutrients in food are beneficial to healthy libido and genitalia." For example?

"Tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya, kiwi, mango, banana, citrus. These have oral chelating agents that help clean the arteries to allow for a good erection, as well as allow blood into the clitoris."

Jack Challem, editor of The Nutrition Reporter, reports that vitamin E, the so-called sex vitamin, has had its salacious status since 1922, when researchers found that its absence in rats caused sterility. However, it is the ability of vitamin E to stimulate the heart, and therefore circulation, that concerns us here. Blood flow again.

On natural remedies in general, Walker is encouraging. "If it works and there's no health risk, spend the money and have at it." There is only one prosexual he claims has any objective evidence for efficacy: yohimbe, a West African tree bark extract. "It helps erection by stimulating the vaso-dilators of the penis, as well as stimulating desire in the 'sex center,' wherever that is," he says. However, this "natural" herb can be highly toxic and should be administered only under a physician's supervision.

All manner of sexual stimulants are available across the counter, from the controversial Herbal Ecstasy to damiana sold in capsules, tea and tincture. And then there are pheromones. Pheromones act on the tiny vomerona sal organ inside the nose. Our noses hold some of the receptors that send sexual arousal signals to the brain. "The sense of smell cannot be consciously blocked," Walker says. "And the longer one is exposed to scent, the greater the state of arousal."

In general, it seems that women have more complicated wiring than men when it comes to arousal. Or do they? Sandra, 23, told me, "I just wear tight jeans and drink lots of coffee before I see my boyfriend." Tina, 26, answered that smelling her boyfriend's sweaters gets her hot and bothered.

Then there's Sara, 38, who dreamily replied, "I look at body language, facial expressions and attitude. I sense the vibes coming from the heart ... a nice butt doesn't hurt either."

"The only true aphrodisiac is the human mind," Challem says. "No matter how much one takes of a sex stimulant, if there isn't the mental desire, there won't be any interest in sex."

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From the February 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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