Good Food for Better Sex?

Last Editorial Review: 10/19/2004

Are some foods better than others for fueling good sex? It could just be that a healthy diet is healthy for your sex life.

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

If you want good sex, take care of your heart. That's what author Lynn Fischer advises in her book The Better Sex Diet. She's not talking about looking after your emotional state (although that could be the subject of another book), but minding the system that runs the muscular organ inside your chest. After all, she says men and women of all ages need good blood flow to the genitals for arousal and erections. Many people with clogged arteries may, well, have trouble.

To prevent such a misfortune, Fischer prescribes a low-fat diet that is based on the medical findings of Dean Ornish, MD. His research has shown that heart disease can be reversed with a low-fat diet, moderate exercise, and stress management.

Fischer's diet follows Ornish's vegetarian 10%-fat diet, but adds some meat to the regimen. Overall, a week of the Better Sex Diet would involve eating lots of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, getting 10% of calories from fat, 5% from saturated fat, and 75% from carbohydrates.

Six weeks of this can reportedly enhance your sexual vitality, potency, and health. Sound too good to be true? Maybe not. While none of the experts contacted by WebMD endorsed Fischer's diet, all of them said that a program that's friendly to the heart should also be good for sex. In fact, anything that promotes whole body health can apparently also enhance action in the bedroom.

"A diet that's healthy for you overall will be healthy for your sex life -- period," says Julie Walsh, MSRD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Myths and Truths

People throughout history have used aphrodisiacs, believing that certain edibles heighten pleasure between the sheets. Oysters and alcohol are two popular examples in today's society. There are also reports, such as a recent MensHealth article, that single out foods such as eggs, vanilla ice cream, and celery as helpful aids. Another television news piece from Florida says grapes, cereal, and blueberries can do the trick.

Many of these claims are based on the idea that particular vitamins and nutrients in some foods can boost an aspect of sex. For example, the vitamins in eggs can supposedly reduce performance anxiety and premature ejaculation, the calcium in vanilla ice cream evidently makes orgasms more powerful, and the folic acid in cereal keeps arteries clear, enhancing blood flow to the right places.

Food science professional Mary Ellen Camire, PhD, encounters all sorts of theories about why certain edibles improve sex life, and sometimes she just has to laugh. She says it's true that some vitamins and nutrients have particular benefits, but too much of one thing can also have a negative effect on the body. Blueberries, for instance, has been touted as a good aid for improving blood flow to the genitals. Consuming too much of the fruit, however, can cause diarrhea.

Camire recommends a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a good attitude. "If you're having a nice meal and you're with a partner you like, that's all you need," she says. "It's as much in the mind as with anything else."

Barnaby Barratt, PhD, president-elect of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, couldn't agree more. He says a happy sex life ultimately depends upon ridding oneself of shame, guilt, anxiety, and inhibition. "Sex is first and foremost a psychological issue," he says. "Above and beyond that, things to do with food, diet, and so forth will be useful, but they're not going to provide magical answers."

Psychology is so powerful, notes Barratt, that for some people who believe in aphrodisiacs, specific foods may very well make them feel sexually alive and vigorous. Others may also find great pleasure in playing with food (such as licking whipped cream off of a partner's body) that it enhances the sexual experience.

The Sweet Smell of Sex

The mere scent of food and other items may be enough to sexually arouse men and women, according to research by Alan R. Hirsch, MD, FACP, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Hirsch conducted two studies that measured men and women's reaction to different smells. One study measured blood flow to the penis, and the other to the vagina.

The results: Men appeared to be turned on most by a combination of smelling lavender and pumpkin pie, and women by Good and Plenty candy and cucumber.

There's no surefire explanation for the findings, says Hirsch, who theorizes that the favored smells may remind people of their childhoods. Such nostalgia can supposedly reduce anxiety and inhibitions, thereby increasing blood flow to the genitals.

Previous research has shown that smells are important in attraction, says Barratt, but those studies have mainly focused on people's scents. "Clearly, we do know that how people smell has an effect on the sexual desire of a partner," he says, noting that a body's scent has a lot to do with the person's diet.

Originally published March 24, 2003.
Medically updated May 10, 2005.

©2003-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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