Do aphrodisiacs like oysters and chocolate actually work?

Do aphrodisiacs like oysters and chocolate actually work?

Looking to get in the mood? For centuries, many foods and herbs have been thought to boost libido by acting as natural aphrodisiacs, substances believed to increase sexual desire, arousal or pleasure.

Lisa Davis, host and producer of the Health Power podcast and author of Clean Eating, Dirty Sex: Sensual Superfoods and Aphrodisiac Practices for Ultimate Sexual Health and Connection, tells Yahoo Life that the key ways aphrodisiacs work are by increasing blood flow, balancing sex hormones and strengthening the walls of blood vessels. However, the research on the power of aphrodisiacs appears mixed. “While some individuals may experience heightened arousal or libido after consuming specific aphrodisiacs, their effectiveness is often subjective and influenced by factors such as the placebo effect, psychological thoughts and behaviors, and variations in individuals’ physical reactions,” Julie Pace, dietitian specializing in functional nutrition for women, tells Yahoo Life.

Do aphrodisiacs actually work?

Possibly, and that may be because of the placebo effect, which experts say is real. Also, as Pace puts it: “Sexual desire is complex and can be influenced by numerous factors beyond food choices or herbal supplements. Other factors like stress levels, medical conditions, hormone levels, individual preferences and intimacy with one’s partner can impact sexual desire more than any potential aphrodisiac.”

For sexual health, Davis recommends including foods high in antioxidants, flavonoids, nitric oxide, zinc, magnesium and healthy fats in your daily diet. Antioxidants can increase testosterone, which is vital for sex drive and sperm production in men and plays a role in influencing mood and libido in women, while diets too low in fat may actually decrease levels of testosterone in men. Flavonoids and nitric oxide, a neurotransmitter, help relax blood vessels and increase blood flow, upping your chances of arousal.

In order for aphrodisiacs to make a difference in your sex life, Davis says you need to incorporate them into your diet regularly — not just on date night or Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to have fun and add them to a romantic meal here and there.

How do the go-to aphrodisiacs stack up?

Here’s what experts and science have to say about popular food aphrodisiacs.


Probably the most well-known aphrodisiac, oysters are high in zinc, which helps balance sex hormones, support both sperm and testosterone production and preserve prostate health. Particularly in postmenopausal women, zinc has been associated with improving sexual function, desire, satisfaction and testosterone levels.


With over 36 million chocolate-filled heart-shaped boxes sold per year, it might seem like chocolate is the ultimate romantic food. It’s also packed with nutrients, including antioxidants, flavonoids and the stimulant phenylethylamine, a chemical that boosts feel-good serotonin and endorphins. Serotonin is also known to increase sexual pleasure.

While chocolate certainly has the power to make you feel good, research remains limited as to whether chocolate actually supports sexual arousal. Interestingly, one study found that women who eat more chocolate reported less interest in sex, possibly because the chocolate fulfilled their need for it. If you want to test out chocolate, however, Davis recommends choosing dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao for the most benefits.


The color of love and even shaped like a heart, strawberries are often associated with romance. The high amounts of vitamin C help with increasing blood flow for heart health and sexual arousal. Strawberries are also packed with antioxidants and magnesium.


Champagne and wine are often linked to romance, with some believing their scents alone replicate those of human pheromones, hormone-like chemicals people secrete that can increase sexual attraction. When it comes to alcohol, moderate drinking has been linked to feeling aroused. That said, while alcohol may help you feel relaxed and more confident in mingling, too much alcohol has been linked to a decrease in sexual function and more difficulty achieving orgasm, especially in women.


Not only are figs high in flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, but they are also loaded with magnesium and essential amino acids — both linked to sex hormone production and improved circulation. As an added bonus, magnesium is known to help reduce anxiety (think performance here) and help improve sleep, leaving you feeling more rested and relaxed.


Long thought of as an aphrodisiac, honey has been used as a natural medicine for centuries. Newlyweds drank mead, which is fermented honey, during their first month (one moon cycle) of marriage to help their chances of conception. This post-wedding romantic celebration became known as a “honeymoon.” Some research shows that honey may increase testosterone levels and reduce oxidative stress, which can damage cells and tissues, in males.

Hot chilies

While hot to eat, there’s little evidence that capsaicin, the spice in peppers, heats things up in the bedroom. Capsaicin may help increase libido since it improves blood circulation throughout the whole body, though there’s not enough research to support claims it improves erections and orgasms.


Like many of the more common aphrodisiacs, apples also contain antioxidants and polyphenols, supporting increased blood flow. One study of more than 700 Italian women ages 18 to 43 found that those who ate an apple daily reported higher levels of sexual function and lubrication than those who did not eat apples regularly.


Rich in antioxidants, pomegranates have long been associated with fertility and Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. One small study showed that drinking pure pomegranate juice increased testosterone levels and lowered cortisol levels, that is, stress, in both men and women, helping to up sexual desire.

Should you try aphrodisiacs?

It’s important to note that most of the studies on aphrodisiacs and humans are small and lack quality evidence. There are certainly health benefits to consuming most of these foods, but more research is needed on how effective they actually are as a sexual stimulant.

“If you’re considering these options, start with a small amount and adjust based on your body’s tolerance and response,” Vandana Sheth, registered dietitian nutritionist, tells Yahoo Life. Also make sure to talk with your health care team if you’re taking any medications that these natural aphrodisiacs may interfere with. Whether they work for you or not, experts agree that food aphrodisiacs can be something fun and tasty to try.

Maxine Yeung is a dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach.