You can typically find oysters on Valentine’s Day menus as they enjoy a reputation of putting the hubba in hubba-hubba. Their popularity as an aphrodisiac is long standing.
An aphrodisiac is substance that increases sexual desire. The name derives from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sensuality and love. Throughout history, many foods and substances are notorious for making sex more attainable and pleasurable. Foods like bananas, asparagus, carrots and avocados were labeled aphrodisiacs because they resemble the penis. Others like oysters resemble a vagina. According to legend, Casanova would eat 50 raw oysters for breakfast.
Chemical analysis of oysters shows they consist of water, protein and carbohydrates, plus small amounts of fat, sugar and minerals. None of these is known to affect sex drive or performance. The psychological impact of believing that oysters is sometimes strong enough to produce, at least temporarily, greater sexual desire or performance.
Other substances that have been reported to increase sexual desire are ginseng root, powdered rhinoceros horn, animal testicles, and turtles' eggs. However, according to modern science, there is no evidence an actual aphrodisiac response occurs with these.
Eating certain foods to increase sexual power, while ineffective, is generally harmless. Other rumored aphrodisiacs are not so innocuous. Spanish fly is one such substance. Beetles found in southern Europe, are dried and heated until they disintegrate into a fine powder.
When taken internally, the substance causes irritation of the bladder and urethra, accompanied by a swelling of associated blood vessels. This can stimulate the genitals and cause an erection which is interpreted by some men as a sign of lust. Usually it doesn’t come with an increase in sexual desire. Furthermore, if taken in excessive amounts, it can cause violent illness and even death.
It would appear most claims about aphrodisiacs are based on myth rather than scientific evidence. Generally, Western medical science has no substantiated claims that any particular food increases sexual desire or performance.