Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Sex, love and passion have been a secret (or not-so-secret) desire of many figures throughout history. Even the word aphrodisiac has its own ancient ties, originally relating to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess associated with love.
Now, of course, the word relates to any type of medication, substance or food that’s believed to excite sexual desire. Which might make you wonder what's considered an aphrodisiac? Which foods or plants? Is marijuana aphrodisiac?
While modern medicine has solved many sexual functioning issues, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and premature ejaculation (PE), there aren’t yet any reliable medications that boost sexual attraction and desire.
As such, many people have turned to natural aphrodisiacs -- foods and herbal extracts that you can often find in your own kitchen -- to give them a much-wanted bedroom boost. You may have even searched for other aphrodisiacs that improve sexual function, looking up "CBD for erectile dysfunction, can it help?"
Right now, research findings on the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs vary hugely, with some foods associated with real improvements in sexual function, albeit small, and other well-known foods thought of as powerful aphrodisiacs linked to, well, nothing at all. But you might still wonder: are there cayenne pepper benefits sexually? Can bananas or chocolate improve sexual stamina?
We've saved you the trouble of having to look up every obscure food under the sun, such as "tiger nuts benefits sexually". Below, we’ve covered the As to Zs of natural aphrodisiacs, from historical aphrodisiacs that are largely unsupported by scientific evidence to several more recently discovered ingredients that might offer real potential.
We’ve also discussed how modern medications for ED and PE are usually a more reliable and effective option than foods and natural products for boosting sexual function and desire.
Before we get into the specifics of natural aphrodisiacs, let’s get one important thing out of the way. Many natural aphrodisiacs, including lots of famous “foods that make you turned on,” are backed up by very little high quality scientific evidence.
Most studies of natural aphrodisiac foods are small in scale, and effect sizes -- at least when it comes to sexual benefits -- tend to be fairly modest. For example, the topic of benefits guava leaves sexually, although not on this list, needs to be explored more.
Some aphrodisiac foods aren't even directly linked to sexual function or performance. Instead, they provide effects that may have indirect sexual benefits, such as dilating your blood vessels or promoting small changes in testosterone production or other hormone levels.
In short, it’s best to think of aphrodisiac foods as a “maybe” when it comes to improving sexual function or increasing desire, not as a proven form of treatment for sexual health issues.
Still, research into the effects of many aphrodisiacs is ongoing, and we may eventually discover foods that offer large, measurable benefits for your sex life. One example, although not on this list, there may be celery benefits sexually but more research is needed.
In the meantime, the following 11 foods are often recognized as aphrodisiacs and sex-inducing foods, either due to their historical popularity or more recent scientific research suggesting they may offer real sex-related benefits.
Maca is a plant native to Peru that has a long history of traditional use for its nutritional benefits and supposed medicinal properties.
By the 1950s, researchers were starting to study maca as a potential natural food for improving fertility, albeit only in animals.
More modern research has found that maca may offer real benefits for improving sexual health in people who use medication to treat depression and others mental health conditions, including widely-used antidepressant drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
For example, a study published in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics in 2008 found that maca increased libido and and general sexual experience in people prescribed SSRIs who experienced sexual dysfunction during treatment for depression.
While this study is far from perfect, it’s a promising sign that maca may offer real advantages as a natural option for boosting sexual arousal and functioning.
Saffron is a strong-smelling spice that originates from Iran. Like maca, it’s been tested as a food for improving sexual performance in people on antidepressants.
In two separate studies, one among a small group of males, and one among a group of females, saffron produced favorable results. In the study involving men, it reduced the severity of erectile dysfunction caused by the antidepressant fluoxetine.
In the study involving women, it improved sexual arousal and lubrication while reducing the level of pain women reported during sex. The women that participated in this study were also actively using fluoxetine to treat depression.
While the results are encouraging, it's important to note that the studies were small in scale and were solely made up of people with depression. As such, we can’t be sure that saffron provides the same effects in people who don’t use antidepressants.
Still, it’s a great-tasting, versatile spice that might be worth adding to your pre-sex toolkit, even if only as a cooking ingredient.
Alcohol might not seem like the most obvious aphrodisiac, but it’s well known to make getting in the mood for sex, well, a little easier.
Drinking alcohol reduces control over your inhibitions, which may make you more likely to have sex if you’re already in the mood. It can also make socializing easier -- something that could be helpful if you’re getting to know each other and want to make opening up a simpler process.
While this makes a glass of wine or two a great option for enjoying a fun night with your date, it’s also important to keep in mind that drinking too much could also end up having a negative effect on your sexual function.
As such, it’s best to drink responsibly and aim for just enough alcohol to reduce your inhibitions, not so much that you’re unable to perform when the time is right.
Best known as horny goat weed, epimedium is a famous medicinal plant that grows throughout East and Southeast Asia. It’s long been promoted as a natural supplement that can assist with, err, romantic evenings, all while offering some other health benefits too.
Most of this popularity stems from epimedium’s long history as an erectile dysfunction treatment in traditional Chinese medicine.
Most research on epimedium comes from animal studies, and results are inconsistent. However, a few small-scale studies have found that it may offer benefits as a natural PDE5 inhibitor -- the type of medication that’s used to treat erectile dysfunction.
As always, it’s important to keep in mind that findings from petri dish and animal studies usually don’t translate directly into identical effects in humans, meaning it’s best to take a “wait and see” approach with this popular supplement.
Ginseng is a popular ingredient that can be found in countless supplements, including many for promoting a healthy sex drive.
Data from animal studies suggests a link between ginseng and sexual behavior, and a few small studies suggest that similar effects may occur in humans.
For example, researchers believe that ginseng may help to improve erections, sperm count and quality, as well as sex hormone production in men. However, as with most herbal supplements, many of these findings aren’t yet supported by a large volume of scientific research.
Recently, one small study from South Korea found that men who used ginseng showed improvements in erectile function after eight weeks of treatment.
Overall, ginseng definitely looks promising, and we may eventually learn more about its benefits and aphrodisiac potential as a supplement to consider before a romantic dinner.
Some foods may not quite qualify as aphrodisiacs, but they do have a sexy reputation that has given them lasting appeal as natural sex enhancers.
For the most part, the science on these foods is very much in the “maybe” category. However, many do offer real benefits for your general health, and it’s possible that a placebo effect may come into play when it comes to your sex drive and energy levels in bed.
Are Oysters an aphrodisiac? Although no scientists have found a direct link to oysters and sex drive, there might be something just sexy about oysters. It might just be how they look and feel, which could provide some sensory benefits.
Oysters are famous for their extremely high zinc content. A three-ounce serving of oysters has close to 300 percent of the recommended dietary intake for zinc, making oysters a great source of this important mineral.
Although research findings aren’t conclusive, some studies suggest that zinc may play a role in modulating the production of testosterone.
Testosterone is a vital hormone for healthy sexual function in men, and testosterone levels are often linked to good sexual health. However, it isn’t totally clear just how much of an effect zinc has on sexual health, or if it’s effective at increasing serum testosterone levels in men.
Maybe there’s a reason we all love chocolate on Valentine's Day, beyond the taste, that is. The history of using chocolate to promote sexual desire dates all the back to the Mayans, who were purported to view chocolate as having certain “powers,” including promoting sexual desire.
Today, scientists believe that the aphrodisiac quality of chocolate may come from an acid called N-acylethanolamine, or NAE, which is thought to activate cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and brain.
However, scientific research is currently inconclusive on whether this fatty acid amide may offer any sex-related benefits.
Remember the saying: the birds and the bees? Honey has a strong reputation as a natural food for enhancing sexual vigor and promoting sexual behavior, and this reputation goes back all the way to ancient Greece.
For some cultures throughout history, life really was largely about honey followed by sex. Some historians believe Hippocrates used to prescribe honey for sexual activity -- an assumption that may be gleaned from the fact honey was used to treat wounds and other ailments.
Although no research shows honey to be a proven aphrodisiac, honey does have many health qualities and contains nitric oxide, which some experts think promotes reduced blood pressure levels and improved blood flow.
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Phallic shape aside, there’s some evidence that bananas might offer benefits for your vascular health and function, which is important for good sexual performance.
Namely, bananas are rich in fiber and potassium. Research suggests that potassium can help with promoting good blood flow, which is important for maintaining an erection and enjoying a strong sexual response.
However, potassium supplementation tends to be slow to produce effects, meaning it’s usually better to make bananas part of your normal diet than to eat them as-needed before sex. You can read more about the sexual benefits of banana in our full guide.
Pomegranates and pomegranate juice are both rich with valuable nutrients that could improve your overall mood and promote healthy blood flow. For example, some research suggests that pomegranate extract promotes improved blood circulation in athletes.
Since erections and sexual function are all about healthy blood flow, this may help to enhance sexual function. However, there isn’t yet any scientific research that demonstrates sex-related benefits or aphrodisiac qualities from pomegranate.
Chasteberry is often promoted as a dietary supplement for improving sexual health and treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in women.
While there is some evidence that chasteberry may help to reduce the severity of PMS, there’s very little evidence that supplements containing this fruit offer any significant benefits for sexual health and function in men or women.
They say the way to the heart is through the stomach, and ultimately, your aphrodisiac of choice will likely depend on what matters most to you.
If you’re interested in naturally boosting your libido and enjoying a more exciting night with your partner, giving one of these foods a try could be an idea worth considering.
However, if you have a clinical sexual health issue, such as erectile dysfunction, you’ll likely get far better results by using FDA-approved medication.
We offer several of these medications as part of our range of erectile dysfunction medications, following an online consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Interested in learning more about improving your sexual health and function? Our detailed guide to having better sex goes into more detail about enjoying yourself in the bedroom, from the most pleasurable positions to exercises you can perform daily for better sexual performance.