I assumed that writing about horny goat weed would cure me of my curiosity about aphrodisiacs. But when the results of that experiment were too nebulous to confirm my suspicion that aphrodisiacs are a bunch of hooey, I tried again to cure myself, this time by writing about Sex Dust for my newsletter. Sex Dust might have given me colon failure, but that wasn’t enough to convince me that there wasn’t something to this pseudoscience that has persisted for all these millennia. I mean, they can’t all be true aphrodisiacs, but does that mean that none of them are?
So I decided to undertake a more exhaustive survey of some of history’s fouler aphrodisiacs, with the Cleveland Clinic as my guide. Best-case scenario was that I had a new pre-sex ritual, and the worst-case scenario was… poisoning myself, maybe?
Step number one was to go shopping for the oddest array of groceries ever seen by God or man:
Pictured above are:
- A Watermelon Wedge: Valuable in this case not for its fruit but for its rind, a supposed aphrodisiac
- Strawberries: Less classical aphrodisiac, more retconned into the canon due to the horny modern symbolism of a strawberry dipped in chocolate
- The Darkest Chocolate at the Supermarket: I don’t know whether it has to be unsweetened to unlock its full horny potential but I decided that would be appropriately unpleasant — the aphrodisiacs on this list are mostly pretty unpleasant
- Honey: An old-school prescription for ED from no less an authority than Hippocrates, and not a very unpleasant aphrodisiac unless you eat a lot of it, which I did
- Hot Peppers: Per an old wives’ tale that claims the same capsaicin that gives peppers their spice is also good for giving your, uh, dick some spice
- Pistachios: One of few aphrodisiacs with any scientific backing to it — a study claims that men who ate 100 grams of pistachios for three weeks saw improvements in their erectile function, possibly because pistachios contain an amino acid called arginine that can widen blood vessels
- My Much-Despised Sex Dust: It contains maca, a root vegetable that studies suggest can bolster erectile function
I am, of course, obligated to mention oysters. They’re by far the most famous aphrodisiac, and they look like little vaginas, which you’d think would be a slam dunk for my purposes. The thing is, I participated in an oyster community-supported aquaculture last year, and as much as I enjoyed sampling a variety of oysters from all up and down the Northeast, 12 weeks of oysters is a lot of fucking oysters. I still can’t touch them. But I look forward to joining you all again for oyster shooters and shuck-your-own happy hours sometime in 2025.
Anyway, I sat down and got to horny work.
Who among us hasn’t enjoyed a thick, fibrous slice of watermelon rind at a cookout? I haven’t, because like most humans with taste buds I favor the part of the watermelon that’s both tasty and chewable, but I’m sure someone out there prefers the rind, and that person might not even necessarily be a serial killer.
The rind is the aphrodisiac rather than the fruit itself due to its high levels of citrulline, which supposedly opens your blood vessels, allowing for greater blood flow to your genitals and (theoretically) a more satisfying erotic experience. The rind is also woody, full of fiber and basically flavorless.
I approached my boyfriend with some watermelon rind deviously disguised as Granny Smith apples and seductively fed him a couple matchsticks. He gnawed it like a cow working over its cud, struggling to chomp through the fibers. “What is that?” he asked evenly. It was a testing moment in our relationship.
“Watermelon rind,” I said. “It’s good for your dick.”
He continued chewing pensively but didn’t ask for a second helping, which he would have needed to induce even the slightest effect on the ol’ blood vessels — per the Cleveland Clinic, “You couldn’t possibly consume enough watermelon to make it worthwhile.”
Good for his dick (and my clit) though it may be, we found it tough to eat. Watermelon is typically so soft, and given that, the sturdiness of the rind was unexpected. It had no flavor of its own, though under different circumstances (like when I wasn’t expecting something that tasted like watermelon), I might have enjoyed the crunch and the cool freshness.
Neither of us became horny as a result of these gnarly little matchsticks, even after I tried quick-pickling them to break them down a bit.
I’m not gonna lie — I included strawberries in my research because so many of these other aphrodisiacs are gross, and I wanted to eat one good-tasting thing along the way. I saw that the Cleveland Clinic has conclusively declared strawberries not-an-aphrodisiac, but I didn’t care. Or maybe they are an aphrodisiac but only if you eat the tops, or only the seeds, or whatever other nasty shit they’re cooking up down there at the National Institutes of Health.
To the extent that nice-tasting food might make a person want to fuck, the strawberries worked like gangbusters. To the extent that aphrodisiacs are fake and strawberries aren’t even a real one to begin with, no, they did not.
Chocolate has had sexy connotations for me ever since I kept going to Blockbuster specifically to look at the poster for the movie Chocolat, or maybe even before that, who knows. Minimal (but still sort of existing!) science backs up its role as an aphrodisiac — chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a stimulating compound that can improve your mood, as well as tiny quantities of a cannabinoid called anandamide. This left me with the incorrect impression that chocolate is essentially a speedball, perking you up and chilling you out all at once, a potent erotic combination.
Phenylethylamine and anandamide notwithstanding, eating chocolate only improves my mood because I like eating it. It doesn’t contain enough of either item to give a Viagra-like boost to one’s erection. Most of the phenylethylamine in chocolate gets metabolized during digestion before it can jolt your boner; the compound is also present in sauerkraut, but is cabbage breath an aphrodisiac?
As for the pick-me-up I typically expect from my chocolate, the punishingly bitter unsweetened stuff I got for this project wasn’t up to the task. If I wanted to feel chipper enough to fuck, I probably could’ve just eaten some Hershey’s.
Hippocrates once wrote, “Honey and pollen cause warmth, clean sores and ulcers, soften hard ulcers of lips, heal carbuncles and running sores.” I know that because if you Google “Hippocrates honey,” the entire first page of results comprises raw honey vendors exploiting the hell out of that quote. The good doctor prescribed honey for “sexual vigor,” too, and considering how horny the ancient Greeks were, he might have had a point — right?
It’s a fun example of a principle you rarely see in Western medicine anymore: finding balance between one’s hot and cold, tampering with one’s humours in an effort to achieve equilibrium. That was all well and good for Hippocrates, who couldn’t avail himself of MRIs or blood analysis and was limited to what he could observe bodies doing. I didn’t personally find my blood pumping any differently after a hefty dose of honey (and strawberries!) in my yogurt, not even after eating it for nine days in a row.
It’s also been said that a bee sting is the best way to induce this particular aphrodisiac effect, but I don’t have a bee, and am not that committed to the bit.
Supposedly, the capsaicin in hot peppers that fires up the inside of your mouth when you eat spicy food is also capable of stimulating nerve endings all over your body — hence peppers’ reputation as an aphrodisiac. I bit into one of my peppers expecting a fiery explosion… and realized that I fucked up and bought mini bell peppers instead. (I fully blame my grocery store, which didn’t have any fucking chilies anywhere.) Plan B: I diced up some of the bell peppers and tossed them with my hottest hot sauce, plus some chili oil that I found in the back of my fridge, plus some cayenne for good measure, to produce a sexy little dish I like to call “Aphrodisiac à la Bootleg.”
After eating this, my mouth and stomach both stung to the point that I couldn’t imagine having sex. Do the people who get off on capsaicin mouth not have reflux? Am I the problem?
The Kama Sutra advises men to rub their dicks with a mixture of two different powdered hot peppers and honey (hey!), but my boyfriend vehemently refused to try this for some reason.
The above-referenced study that has led some people to call pistachios an aphrodisiac hinges on evidence of improved blood flow in men who ate 100 grams of the nuts for three weeks. Time being of the essence, I suggested to my boyfriend that he should eat the entire bag in a single sitting, the erectile equivalent of cramming for a big exam.
Then again, maybe not.
Most other aphrodisiacs’ reputation seems to be wholly spurious, but pistachios were different — the arginine in them really does open up blood vessels, and the boosted blood flow really is good for sex, so sparks should have been flying. Alas, it wasn’t to be. After all that rind and capsaicin, we didn’t feel so good, and a mixing bowl full of not-yet-shelled pistachios wasn’t what the doctor ordered. In the moment, the greatest aphrodisiac I could imagine was to lie down immobilized for an hour.
Gwyneth drinks hers blended up in a morning smoothie. Shailene incorporates hers into a sesame oil gargling routine. Rax King can’t recommend highly enough the procedure of indelicately scooping a tablespoon of Sex Dust into a mug of lukewarm tap water and making your boyfriend drink it.
Sex Dust contains a number of ingredients I’d never heard of, including maca root, the much-touted Peruvian aphrodisiac that appears on the Cleveland Clinic’s list. Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon claims that the powder’s throw-everything-at-the-wall-til-something-sticks approach will “help the body adapt to stress and encourage hormonal balance to ignite desire.” What about the stress of coughing up a mouthful of chalky fake Yoo-hoo with a fungal afterglow? Does that inhibit desire, or are we talking about a different type of stress?
Sex Dust is disgusting. I tried it in an attempt to understand what all that Paltrow-inflected hype was about, and thought: Gwyneth Paltrow is disgusting. She must be, because she claims to ingest this stuff on a daily basis, and this can only be done by someone who has committed to the art of being disgusting. I mean, God, what must this woman’s farts be like?
Also present in the powder are cacao powder, horny goat weed, schisandra berry and shatavari — a root used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote fertility and reproductive health in women. As I stirred some powder into my Paul Walker mug for my boyfriend, I looked forward to getting him pregnant later.
Looking at the lumpy mixture, he recited that famous refrain of this column: “That doesn’t look good.”
I was about to hand it to him when I noticed a foreign object in the mixture and fished it out. And… what the fuck?
Is that one of those do-not-eat silica gel packets? Since when do we put those in comestibles?
I remember that when I tried Sex Dust, I didn’t hate the taste initially — it was like Swiss Miss that had been left to decompose in the desert. My boyfriend described it in the same way, as most akin to crappy hot chocolate. But the mushroomy aftertaste hit hard, and he ran off for a chaser of watermelon and honey.
“What’s in that?” he asked in a voice that was polite enough to almost disguise his rage. He was no clearer on the properties of what he’d just drunk after I recited the list of ingredients, but was relieved to hear that they were all highly beneficial to one’s uterus.
In order to experience any aphrodisiac effects from Sex Dust, we would have needed to consume a much greater quantity of it than is possible. It’s harder on the stomach than it is beneficial to the reproductive system. When I tried it, I was barely able to move for hours afterward. He didn’t fare much better.
So What Did We Learn Here…
I hope that this is the end of my fascination with aphrodisiacs, which don’t work, no matter how superstitious I continue to be. I’m pretty credulous and think that the more gross and obscure a so-called aphrodisiac is, the more effective it must be, because why else would generations of ancient peoples have eaten such gross and obscure stuff? Well, generations of ancient peoples also refused to wash their assholes and smoked opium when they had a headache.
Maybe this is just one more instance in which modern medicine, which prescribes Viagra and calls it a day, is king.