Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Love Better

The most interesting thing is that the very first aphrodisiac was produced from the human body itself. The pheromones, as we know them now, were the first signals for maturity of the body and hence readiness for sexual activity. Even as animals do till now, the earliest humans would identify a potential mate and his or her readiness and willingness. This order ruled till mankind started developing a culture and thereafter, the natural processes became more complicated. In fact, human body scents were far more significant in the process of reproduction before artificial perfumes like soaps, fragrances and shower gels came along. And much more effective too, it would seem. Today we have all but forgotten to use the natural smells of our body, more so because of the social taboos. Today we do know the power of the pheromones, but rarely use it.

There isn’t really much research done on human sexuality, and the biggest reason is the discomfort that sciences and scientists feel while dealing with any subject involving sex and sexual functions. It is absurd, but true. Besides, the field of human sexuality is made more complex by the involvement of scientifically unexplainable things like emotions, love, attraction and …chocolates. Most of the knowledge obtained is from research on animals, not humans.

An aphrodisiac, as we use the term today, is something that inspires lust, not meant to cure impotence or infertility. Very recently have we learnt that sexual dysfunction is a medical condition. Any lack of lust, potency, or fertility would have a common cure in an aphrodisiac.

Though the eastern cultures were in the forefront of the history of aphrodisiacs, the non-scientific evidence and knowledge about aphrodisiacs has existed for thousands of years in various societies. Some of it is true and some of it isn’t. And there’s no way to know, since science and sex have never been compatible partners.

Aphrodisiacs come in a surprising number of forms including animal, plant, food, and chemical substances, most with no scientific basis other than in folklore, anecdotal evidence, and common knowledge. Research conducted on ginseng, green oats, mauri, yohimbe, viagra, and other substances suggests a strong link between these substances and heightened sexual response.

Would you believe that oysters, potatoes, skink flesh, and sparrow brains were all once considered aphrodisiacs? In Europe, up to the eighteenth century, many recipes were based on the theories of the Roman physician Galen, who wrote that foods worked as aphrodisiacs if they were ‘warm and moist’ and also ‘windy’, meaning they produced flatulence. Spices, mainly pepper, were important in aphrodisiac recipes. And because they were reckoned to have these qualities, carrots, asparagus, anise, mustard, nettles, and sweet peas were commonly considered aphrodisiacs.

Mandrake root was eaten as an aphrodisiac as well as a cure for female infertility, because the forked root resembled a woman's thighs. Similarly, oysters looked like female genitals. Parts of the skink, a kind of lizard, were thought to be an aphrodisiac for centuries. Potatoes, both sweet and white, were once known as an aphrodisiac in Europe, probably because they were a rare delicacy when they were first transplanted from the Americas.

The ancient Greeks thought sparrows were especially lustful. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (from whose name, of course, ‘aphrodisiac’ is derived) was supposed to have held sparrows sacred. Because of the association with Aphrodite, Europeans were inclined to eat sparrows, particularly their brains, as aphrodisiacs.

St Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century friar, thought aphrodisiac foods had to produce ‘vital spirit’ and provide good nutrition. So meat and wine, considered to produce the ‘vital spirit’, were aphrodisiacs. While a little alcohol can lower inhibitions and get you in the mood, overindulgence can have the opposite effect on performance. "It increases the desire but it takes away the performance" comes from Macbeth.

In more recent times, Paola Sandroni, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic studied the scientific evidence on many supposed aphrodisiacs, and published her findings in the journal Clinical Autonomic Research. She said that to call coffee or anything that contains caffeine an aphrodisiac would be misleading. "I think the effect is much more general," she says. In the same way, cocaine and amphetamines may seem to be aphrodisiacs because they stimulate the central nervous system, but they have no specific effects on sexual desire.

Sandroni also looked at ambergris, which comes from the guts of whales and is used in perfumes. Some consider ambergris an aphrodisiac and there is evidence to support this notion. In animal studies, it increased levels of testosterone in the blood, which is essential to the male sex drive, and is thought to play a part in women's libido as well.

The most well known aphrodisiac is the fabled Spanish fly. Its active ingredient is the chemical cantharidin, which irritates genital membranes. It also causes kidney malfunction or gastrointestinal hemorrhages in people who ingest too much. A quick Internet search is all it takes to find some for sale.

Most over-the-counter aphrodisiacs are generally reliable to use in moderation. Fortunately, humans are born with the greatest aphrodisiac known to exist. The human brain is more potent than the strongest drug and more powerful than any known aphrodisiac. The human sexual organs pale in the shadow of the brain’s creativity. No matter how powerful or potent the aphrodisiac, the experience will always be less than it could be without a meeting of the minds and hearts of the partners involved, in any type of sexual experience.

As The Roman poet Ovid wrote in The Art of Love, "Prescribe no more my muse, nor medicines give / Beauty and youth need no provocative."