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 "Food and Sexual Health Linked"

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Food and Sex Linked

Seafood and wine may not actually enhance the libido, but they're a tasty way to -- ahem -- "encourage" romance.

Health refers to a person's overall condition and implies a freedom from disease or at least a disease under control. Wellness is an amalgamation of physical and mental health promoted by proper nutrition, exercise and activities in general. When a patient asks their doctor about wellness, usually they start with nutrition. After all, food supplies all the necessary building blocks and fuel to run an organism.

Add sex to wellness, and the equation moves up a notch.

What is sexual wellness?

Wellness is as American as apple pie, but sex can be a prickly issue because it implies erotic activity.

The search for foods with aphrodisiac qualities started in the garden of Eden. Edible candidates through the ages included many foods, drinks, drugs and various love potions. More recently, fueled by the popularity of Viagra, the aphrodisiacs pendulum shifted from foods to drugs. It is time to look back and re-examine the links between foods and sexual health.

What are the myths?

A first-century B.C. Greek doctor recommended bulbs, snails and eggs to maximize semen production. A century later, Roman scholar and naturalist Pliny the Elder championed basil, pistachio nuts, turnips, lettuce seeds and river snails. Galen set the stage for centuries of aphrodisiac lore with his belief that effective semen delivery required foods with "windiness" qualities.

Near the beginning of the first millennium, life became more complicated. The ideal sexual stimulant was described as "nutritious, warm, and moist and that it generates windiness." This required the equivalent of ancient combination chemotherapy. Mixtures with multiple ingredients were popular.

The spice trade furthered this dependence on aphrodisiacs with multiple ingredients. Pepper and ginger led the list. "Spanish fly" became the street name for ground-up blister beetles. It supposedly causes sexual arousal by irritating the urinary tract.

In the dance halls of Louisiana towards the end of the 19th century, lusty young men would scatter dried chili on the floor in the hope of stirring the passions of their partners with the rising cloud of pepper dust. Today, chili is more of a cool-weather food with prodigious gas potential.

Columbus returned to Spain with all sorts of novel foods, including the sweet potato. The sweet potato took Europe by storm and became the Viagra of that period. By 1577, the English were calling it a "venereous root." In "The Merry Wives of Windsor," Falstaff fantasizes about being bombarded with sweet potatoes as he embraced a maiden.

In 1710, an English doctor advised boiling, baking or roasting sweet potatoes to "encrease Seed and provoke Lust, causing Fruitfulness in both sexes." As sweet potatoes became common, their attractiveness as an aphrodisiac vanished.

The Aztecs introduced subsequent Spanish invaders to chocolate, a New World food derived from cacao tree seeds. Chocolate contains several neurostimulants, including theobromine, caffeine and serotonin. Some folks describe a euphoria akin to effects from amphetamines and marijuana.

The Asian cultures are a graduate course in food and sexual stimulation. Chinese folklore recommendations for enhanced "sexual strength" include eel, raw egg, sake with turtle blood and garlic. Rhino horn and ginseng are Asian legends. Some garlic aficionados believe this "Italian rose" actually prevents sexually transmitted diseases. There is probably a grain of truth in this myth: It may be harder for heavy garlic eaters to find willing sexual partners.

Foods resembling male or female genitalia have always been favorites through the ages. Ancient favorites included carrots, orchid bulbs and our beloved oysters. As a food aligned with sex since the days of the Roman Empire, only the oyster still rates five stars.

Populations without oysters must make do. In the Bahamas, conch is the aphrodisiac food of choice. "You hear on the streets: `Hey mon, conch put lead in ya pencil.' People there eat it fried, diced in salads, ground in burgers and stewed all in search of better sexual health.

The bumper stickers say it all: "Eat fish, live longer; eat oysters, love longer."

Sam Fields

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