Yes or No Sexy: Debunking the Valentine's Day Aphrodisiac

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Ah, Valentine's Day. The celebration of love, romance, and doin' it. And according to Internet, there's one surefire way to score big: with food! Sexy, sexy food.

My boyfriend and I are coming up on our six-year anniversary, and though we love each other dearly, we seem to have left the honeymoon phase of our relationship back in college (along with countless lost socks and empty beer cans). Would a single aphrodisiac be powerful enough to combat our five-plus years of accumulated farts, burps, and dissipating sense of mystery? I did some highly scientific calculations and concluded that our chances of, erm, success would be exponentially improved if we force-fed ourselves all the aphrodisiacs.

So I read through every Cosmopolitan-style listicle I could find (like this one, this one, and this one) and came up with a selection of ten foods that promised to transform us into shining specimens of our respective genders. Veritable GODS OF SEX, if you will. (And, just in case, I invested in a plan B of cheap Prosecco and a six-pack of beer.)

The Rules

In order for us to properly tackle the venerable aphrodisiac, we needed a game plan. How would we measure the impact of each food with the rigor of the scientific method? (We couldn't.) How would we know if the presumably imminent rise of our libidos was caused by a single ingredient or a cumulative effect? (We wouldn't.) But what we did know is how to create a completely arbitrary system of evaluation which we have dubbed—with all due gravity—The Sexometer.

After some quiet reflection, we each determined our starting level of "sexy feelings," on a scale of one (ugh, get away from me) to ten (take me!). That way, we'd be able to monitor the rise and fall of those feelings with each dish.

Starting Sexometer Status
Niki: 3
Josh: 1 (claims it's because he's sick)

Next, we had to set the mood. We went with a White Castle-themed Valentine's Day décor, our pink plastic tablecloth generously strewn with doilies, hearts, and fake flowers. I popped on some heart-shaped, rose-tinted glasses (literally) and we set off to blow that baseline to kingdom come.

So please, join us on an epic culinary ride through the hedge maze of sexual desire in a blindly probing attempt to locate our libidos.

Oysters

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Internet says: Most sources point to the high level of zinc content in oysters, which apparently helps boost testosterone production and increase sex drive. Others claim that they resemble female genitalia.

Niki says: I...am not one of those people. But I am an oyster freak—the mere prospect of a dozen on the half-shell gets me pretty euphoric (think clapping hands and bouncing up and down in my seat like a demented baby-woman). Two oysters in and I was ready to call the whole project off and let Josh sweep me off my feet and into the boudoir. Too bad he wasn't exactly on the same page. [+Infinity!]

Josh says: I like oysters but am not really an "oyster guy." On the one hand, they are tasty in a way that reminds me of getting wiped out by big waves and crying. On the other hand, you are wrenching a precambrian creature bodily from its carapace and swallowing it as fast as you can before it corrodes in its necrotic mucus.* Kind of metal. But not sexy.

Wait. Do oysters have sex? [+1]

*Is this when I mention that Josh is a Sociology PhD student?

Asparagus

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Internet says: Should its phallic shape (seriously, internet?) not prove sufficiently suggestive, focus instead on the nutritional profile. Between folic acid, vitamins, postassium, and fiber, asparagus supposedly raises histamine production. Therefore, orgasm!

Niki says: We both love asparagus, but having that pointy tip seductively waved in our faces did more to confuse us than put us in the mood. Let's just say it's not exactly the phallus dreams are made of. And even after crushing a whole bundle—quickly sautéed with olive oil, salt, and pepper—neither of us was feeling more climax-inclined. Mainly, I just kept thinking about how asparagus makes your pee smell weird. [-2]

Josh says: I sort of love the way that asparagus makes my pee smell. It is like how sometimes I am very proud of my farts. But I don't think I've ever farted and then thought that it smelled like I wanted to have sex. At any rate, I am pretty sure that Niki is wrong that these things are supposed to be aphrodisiacs. Sometimes she confuses "eating delicious food" with "having sex." Guess which Seinfeld episode is her favorite. [0]

Avocado

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[Photograph: Carolyn Cope]

Internet says: Look past its scrotum-like exterior to the sorta-kinda-maybe vagina-shaped interior! Plus, there's lots of vitamin E to help maintain energy levels and a certain brand of "youthful vigor" (wink wink).

Niki says: Smooth, creamy, and ripe? I'm pretty sure that these are all exceedingly sexy words. But avocado? No matter how much I love my avocado sliced, diced, and guac-ified, sexy isn't really the first descriptor that leaps to mind. But hey—placebo effect or no, this guy definitely worked some magic. Creamy, creamy magic. [+3]

Josh says: I guess avocados kind of look like vaginas when you squint and tilt your head and squint some more and have your girlfriend explain to you why they look like vaginas for the fourth time. And they're a nice addition to salads and have fat that is good for me. Sexy, sexy sex fat. Oh man, Niki, that is going to be my new thing. "I'm not letting myself go I am cultivating my sexfat" BOOM WHO'S THE SEX GOD NOW?! I JUST MADE MY BEER GUT INTO A SEX ORGAN. [+2]

Basil

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[Photograph: Maggie Hoffman]

Internet says: Well hello, basil. This minty herb is said to increase blood circulation. Plus, one source said the scent will simply "drive men wild."

Niki says: We decided to aim high and go for maximum...circulation. So rather than cook with the basil, we took a more direct route and munched on handfuls of the fresh stuff. It was definitely intense, but really invigorating. And it made me feel like I'd have extra fresh breath for all the making out we were definitely-most-probably-going-to-do-later-if-we-weren't-too-tired. Suffice it to say, we were both pleasantly surprised to find that it gave us a noticeable boost. [+2]

Josh says: Eating several handfuls of basil leaves is a surprisingly bitter and minty experience, and at first I was not having it. But after the third or fourth handful I started feeling an odd visceral sensation. A stirring, as it were. As though I was munching on the earth itself, its fecund power imbuing me with a primal desire to go forth and multiply. So yeah, I guess eating weeds that act above their station makes me want to do it. What does that say about us? Are we not all weeds in the vast unknown? Oh god. Are we alone? [+3]

Almonds

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[Photograph: Shutterstock.com]

Internet says: Not only are these nuts "feminine" in shape, but their delicate, nutty aroma on the lips of my "lover" was supposed to send me into throes of passion. Plus some stuff about vitamin E, magnesium, and fiber making us feel all strong and filled with sex powers.

Niki says: Tip: Do not, even jokingly, ask your significant other to alluringly blow their almond breath into your face. It is not alluring. Especially after they've first consumed a disjointed menu of oysters, asparagus, avocado, and basil. (I take back the thing about basil breath. It was lies.) I was not feeling very wooed after this round. On the bright side, I was feeling quite proud of my iron stomach, which was holding up admirably to the onslaught. [-2]

Josh says: Niki said that these look like genitals. I still don't know what she is talking about. They definitely didn't remind me of anything sexy as I crunched away at them. They reminded me of things that I snack on when I remember not to kill my arteries. So I guess they remind me of not having heart attacks. That's sort of sexy in a meta way. Like circle of life or something? Gaia? Gaia is a sexy goddess, right? I dunno, I am really reaching here.[-2]

Banana

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Internet says: There's a reason these fruits are used in condom demonstrations. And it gets bonus points for high potassium, which translates (rather generously, in my opinion) into stronger muscles. Therefore, better orgasms?

Niki says: Not only do I really, really, really, REALLY not like bananas, but I (a) have yet to note their resemblance to the male anatomy and (b) am not buying the whole potassium logic. Americans would be in way better shape. I could make just as convincing an argument for their tantalizingly smooth texture and enveloping sweetness. But you would still see the needle on my imaginary sexometer take a Kamikaze-style nosedive. [-5]

Josh says: Bananas are things that my mom force fed me on the way to school. I refuse to contemplate the Oedipal implications of that statement (I am contemplating the Oedipal implications of that statement). [0]

Pomegranate

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[Photograph: Shutterstock.com]

Internet says: Talk about chain reactions—pomegranate's high volume of antioxidants protect the lining of blood vessels, which allows more blood flow, which in turn increases "genital sensitivity."

Niki says: I get the feeling you'd need to consume a LOT of pomegranate for a long, long time to derive any of these benefits. Of course, the same goes for our entire menu. At least our shooters of Pom were sweet, refreshing, and a decided relief after The Dreaded Banana Incident. [+1]

Josh says: "I couldn't get a good pomegranate so we are just going to drink shots of Pom juice." Okay, well juice is delicious, but, again, something I associate with childhood WHICH I MAINTAIN WAS NOT A SEXY TIME FOR ME. [0]

Chocolate

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Internet says: Sources seem split between references to dopamine and seratonin. I'm no brain chemist (that's totally what it's called, right?), but either way, consensus points to chocolate boosting happy feelings. From there, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to sexy land!

Niki says: Science! Even our drug store Russell Stover chocolates had me feeling a little tingly. But the best part of this "course" was watching Josh get swept up in the current of chocolatey love feelings. [+2]

Josh says: At this point in the sexperiment, I asked Niki if I could break out the sociologist card and talk about the very unsexy history of chocolate and the current political economy in which its cultivation occurs. I was getting ready to be a snarky killjoy (every sociologist's favorite thing) but I was brought up short. Chocolate apparently does things to me. I don't want to talk about it. Now I know things about my body that I did not know before. That is all I will say on the subject. [+4]

Honey

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[Photograph: Niki Achitoff-Gray]

Internet says: Honey contains chrysin, which is said to stimulate estrogen levels in women and testosterone in men. Some even reference the Viking tradition of a couple going into seclusion and drinking a whole lot of mead for a month after their nuptials, known as—you guessed it—the honey-moon!

Niki says: No doubt about it—honey definitely has its sensual traits. And of all the aphrodisiacs, its more...unorthodox...uses are the easiest to imagine, which definitely wins it some bonus points in my book. It doesn't hurt that it's also shiny and delicious. [+4]

Josh says: Yum! I like honey! DANCE, BEE MINIONS, DANCE FOR ME! Niki, this whole eating off each other's fingers thing is not working. I don't think we're coordinated enough for this wait hold on it is dripping OHGODITISDRIPPING. [+2]

Chili Peppers

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[Photograph: Ben Fishner]

Internet says: It's all in the capsaicin—the same irritant that gives peppers their fiery heat also releases endorphins, raises your heart rate, and gets you flushed and sweaty. Sound familiar?

Niki says: Allow me to set the scene. As with the basil, we figured we'd go for maximum impact, so we braced ourselves and each slammed a straight slice of hot chili pepper. Which was, hands down, THE stupidest thing I've possibly ever done (excepting the time when I was 12 and...did the same thing on a dare). Immediately followed by squeals (not mine), tears, curling up in fetal position on the floor, and a lot of jazz hands-meets-beauty queen hand fluttering. Also, definitely not sex. [-Tears and Misery]

Josh says: I tried to demonstrate my masculinity by pretending that I was not dying, but I failed. First I tried to drink milk, but that didn't work so well because Niki was straight pounding it and not interested in sharing. Finally, I tried to make the pain go away by drinking beer and champagne and whiskey. It "worked" in that eventually I couldn't feel my face but it also sealed the fate of our sexual liaison. Aside from the fact that I was a half-drunken mess of pain and weird food combinations, I was terrified of touching my lips to Niki's for fear that the raging fire housed therein would scald her precious flesh. If all of these aphrodisiacs turned me into some sort of sexual god, then it is one of the Greek ones that got sent to Tartarus because they were terrible at things. [-Coughs and Pain]

Alcohol

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[Photograph: Shutterstock.com]

Internet says: Too much, and booze will slow you down, but just enough and you'll find yourself relaxed and your inhibitions reduced. I believe it's a condition technically referred to as "beer goggles."

Niki says: This is the part where I tell you that we were actually drinking booze—Lagunitas IPA, Mionetto Prosecco, and a chili-chaser of Knob Creek, to be precise—throughout the whole experiment, thereby throwing the entire (again, highly scientific) validity of our findings into the doubt. On the bright side, we got kind of drunk and therefore managed leave the experience much as we left it—happily in love and really sleepy.

Josh says: First, I bought the beer because I am a MAN. Second, beer was the driving force behind me and Niki becoming an item. But it is a fickle mistress because, while it induces the lack of reasonable inhibitions that set the stage for certain "activities," it also makes me full and sleepy. And Prosecco makes me drunk for ten minutes and then gives me a bad headache for hours. LIKE LOVE AMIRITE?! *drops the mic* *looks at Niki* *Niki is not smiling* *Gets nervous* "It was a joke! You know I was joking, right?

"Niki? NIKI? NIKI I LOVE Y--" [Cut to black]

About the authors: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry. Josh Scannell is a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center, and an adjunct instructor at Queens College and Hunter College. He is nervous that his students will find this post. He also likes food a lot.

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