How Aphrodisiacs Work

Other Types of Aphrodisiacs


Scents have a powerful affect when it comes to romance. The memory of a scent of a romantic partner can stay with us long after the romance is gone -- so much so that when we run across the scent years later, we're immediately taken back with a flood of feelings and memories. Does that mean that scent is an aphrodisiac?

In a way, yes, in that scent can evoke desires -- but typically not in an otherwise unwilling partner. For example, Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, conducted a study that looked at how different smells stimulated sexual arousal. He found that several scents were effective -- some more than others. The smell of cheese pizza, for instance, increased blood flow to the penis by 5 percent, buttered popcorn by 9 percent, and lavender and pumpkin pie each by 40 percent. For women, lavender and pumpkin pie also had a stimulating effect; however, the smell of Good & Plenty® (licorice) combined with the scent of cucumber created the greatest increase in blood flow to the vagina.


Human pheromones, which still carry some weight in the field of love research, may actually create sexual interest. The word "pheromone" comes from the Greek words pherein and hormone, meaning "excitement carrier."

In the animal world, pheromones are individual scent "prints" found in urine or sweat that dictate sexual behavior and attract the opposite sex. They help animals identify each other and choose a mate with an immune system different enough from their own to ensure healthy offspring. They have a special organ in their noses called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) that detects this odorless chemical.

Scientists at the Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and its counterpart in France discovered the existence of human pheromones in 1986. They found these chemicals in human sweat. A human VNO has also been found in some, but not all, people. Even if the VNO isn't present in all of us -- and may not be working in those who do have it -- there is still evidence that smell is an important aspect of love (note the booming perfume industry). Researchers conducted an informal experiment using identical twins. Both twins sat at a bar for an evening, and one of them was sprayed with manufactured pheromones. The result was that the twin who got the pheromone boost was approached three times more often than the twin who didn't.


Music can set the mood, carry the mood and ruin the mood. What appears to be the most effective element of music is the memory we associate with it. If you have fond memories of slow dancing to a special song with someone you loved in the past, it's a good bet that same song will have an effect on you later in life. After all, the dance is a bit of a mating ritual that most of us have experienced at some point in our lives.


Not only is it good for your health, but it's also good for your sex life. According to Discovery Health, the aphrodisiac qualities of exercise are associated with the endorphins that are released in the brain with vigorous activity -- like the runner's high. Endorphins are those "feel good" chemicals. Other aphrodisiac affects of exercise come from exercises that increase blood flow to the genitals. These exercises position the body in various ways that stimulate blood flow and can improve sexual abilities and desire.

Exercise and building muscle mass usually increases testosterone levels, too, which may be another reason why exercise increases sex drive.

So is there really something to aphrodisiacs, or is it all in our heads?