The ABCs of Aphrodisiacs

By Joy Nordenstrom

The ABC’s of aphrodisiacs is simple: it starts with understanding the fact that the food you eat and the order in which it is consumed directs your internal chemistry. From the first bite, be conscious of how you want your date night to end. The foods you eat direct your body to unwind or, on the flip side, have the energy to make it long past dessert, sharpen your five senses and help you remember the juicy details.

An aphrodisiac is an agent that intensifies sexual desire and increases behaviors that make sex attainable and pleasurable. These agents should assist you in entering the right frame of mind to feel and act sexy. As Dr. Ruth says, “When it comes to sex, the most important six inches are the ones between the ears.” Thus the first step toward a night of passion begins by mentally getting ready to receive the full affect of your aphrodisiacs.

There are three categories of aphrodisiacs. Before diving into them, it is imperative to lay some groundwork on the chemicals at play in our bodies when we are “in love.” Essentially the role of aphrodisiacs is to heighten the chemical cocktail of love drugs in your body. To fully understand their effects, it is important to have a rudimentary understanding of these chemicals, hormones and neurotransmitters.

The Chemistry of Love

The scientific fundamentals about the chemistry of love are fairly recent discoveries. In 2005, Dr. Helen Fisher, PhD and Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University, was one of the first people to study the brains of individuals who said they were “in love,” by putting them in a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner). Dr. Fisher and her colleagues found when someone is in the initial phases of being in love, the motivation and reward areas of the brain light up more often and their system has an increase in certain hormones produced in those regions. During the attraction phase of love, individuals experience a high, much like the high of someone addicted to cocaine. There is an increase in endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and a decrease in serotonin.

To get fully revved up from your aphrodisiacs, you will need to engage your brain. The imagery and stories you etch into your psyche based on your environment, employing all five senses and being aware of your emotional state will begin the production of an internal chemical cocktail of good body drugs. The music and atmosphere alone can start your endorphins flowing. Because of the profound pleasurable effects they produce, endorphins are called the brain’s natural opiates.

Dopamine helps you perceive and respond to the sensual messages from your senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell; allowing you to be fully present in the moment. Research has also shown that the release of endorphins, in turn, stimulates more dopamine production. These two neurochemicals then work in tandem, each supporting the other’s activity to ensure that meaningful behaviors will elicit a powerful and steady stream of pleasurable feelings.

Norepinephrine boosts memory, learning and our ability to pay attention and stay focused on a task. It is also involved in arousal, reward system, mood and blood pressure. When your body is depleted of norepinephrine, the negative effects of stress are magnified. However, a boost in norepinephrine may help an individual temporarily put aside their worries and distractions to have a more rewarding sexual experience with their partner.

Both dopamine and norepinephrine are synthesized in the body by the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine. By eating protein rich foods like red meat, poultry, seafood or cheese, we boost our levels of tyrosine aiding in our metabolizing of norepinephrine. Tyrosine is an amino acid that is found in most proteins and readily converted from the essential amino acid phenylalanine in the human body.