People who suffer from a low libido can find a world of reasons to blame for it: stress, a busy work schedule, kids and family responsibilities, and that occasional, unavoidable dark cloud called "not in the mood." Knowing what's behind your losing streak doesn't make it any easier to bear.
It's easy to laugh at aphrodisiacs and other seemingly simple solutions to reignite the spark, but who can blame someone for eyeing them, if the only other solutions are things like "Get a new job" or "Drop 30 pounds?" As every successful fitness professional and bodybuilder can attest, food is one of the things you can control. Feeling like you're in control, well, that's sexy.
With modern science's ever-deepening understanding of food and nutrition, we've been able to learn which foods have the most potential to put a quiver in your liver (that's a good thing, by the way), and also how they do it. Here are a few arrows to keep in your arsenal.
1 / Watermelon
Watermelon made big headlines a few years back when a study conducted at Texas A&M University compared it to Viagra in its ability to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. The key, researchers said, is the fruit's high levels of the amino acid citrulline, which when converted to arginine in the human body, can boost nitric oxide synthesis and vasodilation.
If some of those aminos sound familiar, it's probably because you read similar claims on the label of your favorite pre-workout supplement. Most of them contain both citrulline and arginine in one form or another to help you chase the pump—the type of pump that won't get you kicked out of the gym. But it can help the other one, too, according to a 2011 study at the University of Foggia, in Italy, which found that 24 out of 24 middle-aged male patients improved their "erection hardness score" after supplementing with citrulline for a month. No word if the testing involved bouncing quarters.
Before you run to the nearest fruit stand, there's a small catch. Most of its citrulline is located in the rind of a watermelon. Now what? Well, you can eat the whitish inner portion of the rind. It doesn't taste that bad, after all. Or you could juice the flesh and rind together into a sexy watermelon concoction that would make Jack LaLanne blush. Those naughty Texas A&M researchers did just that in 2007, and found that after four weeks of daily juicing, rats experienced improved vascular dilation and raised blood arginine levels. Lucky rodents.
If you don't have a juicer and don't want to gnaw on watermelon rinds in front of your sweetheart, but still covet the benefits of citrulline and arginine, consider purchasing them as supplements.
2 / Oysters
You've no doubt heard by now that adding seafood to your diet on a regular basis is a great way to ensure you get adequate protein and healthy omega fats.
Oysters may not look much like salmon or tilapia, but to people who have a taste for the mollusks, they offer fish-like benefits, along with high levels of vitamins A, B12, D, iron, calcium, selenium, copper and zinc.
What, those vitamins don't turn you on? They at least help make arousal possible. Deficiencies in vitamins D, B12, and zinc in particular can bring you to your knees—and not in a good way. Low levels of these crucial nutrients can decimate energy levels in everyone, testosterone levels in men, and negatively impact blood flow—and don't forget, blood is what makes you feel all tingly.
A study from Turkey in 2000 found that zinc and selenium both had the potential to help restore nitric oxide activity, um, down south in men. That means more blood where you want it, when you want it.
Oysters' zinc content, along with their reputed resemblance to certain sexy parts, has fueled the shellfish's reputation as an aphrodisiac for centuries. Some researchers have even theorized that our ancestors were chronically zinc-deficient, in which case a blast from an oyster could theoretically boost their sexual health.
A study in 2005 added some credibility to the legend, when Italian researchers found that oysters were rich in the amino acids D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate. In previous animal studies, both of these substances had been shown to increase testosterone levels in males and progesterone in females. Both of these hormones are crucial to maintaining a healthy libido.
3 / Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is probably the most famous, and exhaustively researched, of the reputed aphrodisiac foods. Researchers have known since the 1990s that dark chocolate in particular can increase serotonin levels in the human brain in a way that can mimic the effects of marijuana, and the ensuing years of research have only added to chocolate's list of potential benefits.
In 2006, a group of Italian researchers took more direct aim at the idea of chocolate as an aphrodisiac when they measured daily chocolate intake against markers of sexual health in women. They found two things: first, women who ate chocolate daily tended toward higher sexual functionality, and second, older women were both less sexually functional, and less prone to eating chocolate daily. As academics, they were hesitant to draw any grand conclusions—after all, to be young is to be frisky. The rest of us can be a little more abrupt. What are you waiting for, ladies, a golden ticket? Unwrap and enjoy!
In recent years, a number of studies have chipped away at chocolate's sexy powers. A 2006 study out of Australia hypothesized that if you eat chocolate merely out of "comfort eating," it can actually prolong a bad mood. Others have placed the benefits of chocolate more squarely on its high levels of the antioxidants known as flavonols, which, like the citrulline in watermelons, can boost nitric oxide levels and blood flow. Unfortunately, these are often destroyed when raw cocoa is converted to chocolate, and they can be blocked by milk and other foods.
The lesson here is clear: Don't gorge on chocolate out of desperation. Track down one of the new flavonoid-rich bars for a special date, and enjoy it sensually, like a fine wine. Get that serotonin a-flowin' and turn off the cell phone.
4 / Fruit
Fruits are colorful, sweet, and you can feed them to your amour with your fingers. What more do you need to know? Peaches boost sperm count. Blueberries improve blood flow. Avocados (yes, they are a fruit) encourage testosterone and estrogen production for men and women, respectively. Fruits with vitamins C and E support a healthy libido.
One of the best things about fruits: They require little preparation in order to be ready to eat.
5 / Anything Out of the Norm
In general, science is unkind to supposed aphrodisiacs. We can sit here and say "eat this, and so-and-so vitamin will supposedly do that," but the truth is that arousal isn't a math problem.
Want to know how to make food sexy? It's easy enough.
First: Make it at home. This is the single best reason there is to finally learn how to cook. You've heard the saying that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but I've yet to meet a woman who doesn't love walking into a house that smells like a warm, savory meal cooked just for her. Citrulline and other nutrients may increase her blood flow, but they're not going to stimulate her hunger, then satisfy it, all while making her feel special and loved.
Second: Make it unique. Lose the skinless chicken breasts and stinky broccoli, and opt for something unexpected and full of flavor. Let her peek into the pot while it's cooking for a quick sniff and a single tantalizing taste. Serve small, flavorful portions that leave her wanting more—but also make sure there's enough! Don't count the calories, and don't feel bad about it. If you can't justify a cheat meal for your loved one, then you need to loosen up.
Third: Make it sensory. You may remember a recent study from the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago that said men responded more viscerally to the scent of baked cinnamon buns than to high-end perfumes, and that women like banana nut bread.
This doesn't mean you should gorge on baked goods on Valentine's Day, but rather just that our non-taste senses have a mysterious power over us. They bring back old memories and put us at ease in stressful times. Use these to your advantage. Sex is best when it is a blissful vacation from everyday life.