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«by Dr. Heinz Gruber by R.J.Rodrigues, MD This is the monstruosity in love, lady - that the will is infinite and the execution confined; that the ...»

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Aphrodisiacs through the Ages: The Discrepancy

Between Lovers’ Aspirations and Their Desires

Three Millenia of Search and Experimentation

A Historical Review Especially Researched for the

Enlightenment and Entertainment of the Participants of the

Amazon 2000 Boat Cruise, Organized by Dr. Heinz Gruber


R.J.Rodrigues, MD

This is the monstruosity in love, lady - that the will is infinite

and the execution confined; that the desire is boundless

and the act a slave to limit.

William Shakespeare (1564 -1616) Troilus and Cressida, act 3, scene 2.

Introduction Thou treacherous, base deserter of my flame, False to my passion, fatal to my fame, Through what mistaken magic dost thou prove So true to lewdness, so untrue to love?

John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1647 - 1680) Love and its many forms of physical expressions are core human drivers. This is evidenced by the history, arts, and folklore of every human group, which invariably possess a great deal of myth and facts regarding the feeling of love and about those conditions believed to enhance of inhibit the attainment of the physical expressions of love.

Men, and women, have long aspired the possibility of increasing their sexual capability or arousing, by a variety of means, the sexual desires of sexual partners. Oral tradition and written texts relate a truly bewildering variety of concoctions made of an even more perplexing diversity of sources.

Throughout the ages almost every culture has used various natural substances, usually herbal in origin, to put some zip into their love lives or in an attempt to cure the impotent.

Methods for overcoming loss of libido and impotence have been the object of considerable experimentation. An authority can be found for almost every folk belief about the sexually stimulating qualities of certain foods and natural extracts from plants and animals and hundreds of quack medicines and devices have been devoted to stimulating the sexual drive.

Little is known concerning the physiological mechanisms involved in the supposedly aphrodisiac action of certain foods and drugs, but both, since the ancient past, have been associated in people's minds with the increased capacity for love. Though the physiological effects may be doubtful, the ultimate effect in terms of one's feeling of love is probably a potent incentive for the repetition of the experience and for those conditions believed to have produced the experience.

Aphrodisiacs! The word itself can send a tingle of anticipation down your spine. The types of preparation employed as aphrodisiacs ranged from the useless, except perhaps for their psychological effects, to the extremely dangerous, some being toxic enough to cause damage and even death. Before we turn to examine the use of aphrodisiacs a few words about the origin of the word – and for that we travel three millenia back in time… The word "aphrodisiac" stems from Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, also called Cytherea. The great epic poet Homer who lived circa 850 B.C., author of two great works of Western literature, the Iliad and the Odyssey, so did write of Aphrodite in his


–  –  –

Aphrodisiacs are any of various forms of stimulation thought to arouse sexual excitement. Aphrodisiacs may be classified in two classes: psychophysiological (visual, tactile, olfactory, aural) and internal (stemming from food, alcoholic drinks, drugs, the mythical "love potions", and pharmaceuticals).

This review will describe six categories of aphrodisiacs:

–  –  –

Of the psychophysiological aphrodisiacs, scents and perfumes occupy a prominent role and we will initiate our review by them. Although visual, tactile, and aural stimuli have important role in sexual stimulation they were considered to be outside the scope of this review and will not be discussed. Also seducing small talk might perhaps be the most efficient aphrodisiac excluded from this overview.

Internal aphrodisiacs are the largest and most important group. Despite long-standing literary and popular interest in internal aphrodisiacs, few scientific studies of them have been made. Research in the past was often limited to occasional tests of drugs or hormones for the cure of male impotence and most writings on the subject up to very recent years are little more than unscientific compilations of traditional or folkloric material. Most unfortunately, with the exception of certain drugs and other psychothropic substances such as alcohol or marijuana, which may lead to sexual excitation through disinhibition, modern medical science recognizes a very limited number of aphrodisiacs.

Foods, natural products such as animal parts, plants, and botanical preparations form the oldest and very large categories of this class of aphrodisiacs. Drugs, of natural or synthetic origin, for millenia have also been used by humankind. However, it was the systematic scientific research in the fields of physiology and pharmacology that led to the development of potent and effective pharmaceuticals, of which Viagra is the most recent and celebrated.

There is great expectation that new drugs, more specific and devoid of secondary effects, will be developed in the near future. Will this accomplishment realize the great dream of humankind – a real aphrodisiac? The answer may lie in the comment of the

great English author and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784):

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Small, volatile organic molecules are of extreme importance among many animals for the transmission of information on sexual availability to members of the opposite sex. Such molecules are called pheromones, after a Greek word meaning "to transfer excitement".

As examples of pheromones among animals, female butterflies of the genus Bombyx release a chemical called bombycol - as little as 100 molecules is sufficient to evoke a sexual response from a Bombyx male. For comparison consider that one million molecules of botulinus toxin, the most toxic substance known, is required to kill a mouse.

Some flowers fool insects by using pheromones. The orchid Ophrys insectifera releases a mixture of chemicals which attracts male hymenoptera insects of the genus Argogorytes. Because of the odour the males believe the orchid flowers are females of their own species, and they try to copulate and pollen grains of the orchid attach to them. The next time they try to copulate with an orchid flower, the pollen grains are transferred and they succeed in pollinating the flower even if not in impregnating a female of their own species.

Pheromones among humans?

The human body secrets several compounds with strong scent, as well as compounds which can be transformed by bacteria into chemicals with a strong and lingering odor. Just think about how bloodhounds can follow human scents left just by a person passing by an area.

Humans have glands at the base of the hair follicles, especially in the armpits and in the genital region, which produce chemicals, the odor of which might affect members of the opposite sex. The chemicals are spread over the hair surface and then very efficiently dissipated. Volatile aliphatic acids occur in the normal vaginal secretions of many primates, including humans. Their strong odor (e.g., butyric acid with its smell of rancid butter) have been shown to stimulate male monkeys to increased sexual activity.

Many steroidal hormones and related chemicals have a noticeable odor, including chemicals called androstenones. In one experiment, some seats in a theater were sprayed with one androstenone. The study showed that women among the audience showed a statistically significant preference for those sprayed seats. In another trial, men and women subjects had to choose the most attractive women from a collection of photographs. It turned out that when a subject could smell an androstenone at the same time as he or she regarded a certain photo, it increased the probability that the lady on the photo would be selected.

One interesting phenomenon in this context is the "women's dormitory syndrome", a condition in which women living closely together after a while begin to synchronize their menstrual cycles. This has been attributed to the effect of a pheromone present in the underarm sweat of women.

Sweat, tobacco, and horse smell are traditionally considered masculine odors - an old American custom, was for the man to keep a handkerchief in his armpit while dancing. After the dance he would present it to his partner. Supposedly the anticipated effect was that of an aphrodisiac. Probably many times the lady was literally stunned by the odor…Maybe the arrival of easily available soap has changed the perception of human pheromones?

As one can easily imagine, there is great commercial interest in studying human pheromones and there are already two compounds isolated from female and male sweat respectively being marketed as perfumes with real activity as sexual pheromones. The price tags are, however, almost prohibitive and their effects unproven.

Perfumes Man has probably always used various odorous preparations to increase his or her attractiveness to the opposite sex. Perfume bottles made to hold scent have been discovered in ancient sites. The earliest example is Egyptian and dates to around 1000 B.C.

The Egyptians used scents lavishly, especially in religious rites; as a result, when they invented glass, it was largely used for perfume vessels. The fashion for perfume spread to Greece, where containers, most often terra-cotta or glass, were made in a variety of shapes and forms such as birds, animals, and human heads. The Romans, who thought perfumes were aphrodisiacs, used not only molded glass bottles but also blown glass, after its invention at the end of the 1st century B.C. by Syrian glassmakers. The Romans used perfumes lavishly, including perfumes based on civet and ambergris. The former is derived from the secretion of the civet-cat, and the latter from the sperm whale. Ambergris is more a carrier of scents than a perfume of its own.

Is it possible that this actually is an attempt to mimic "human pheromones" or is it just to create an atmosphere of positive associations? One of the most popular perfume smells, that of musk, has been shown to resemble closely the smell of testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Musk Musk is obtained from the musk pod, a preputial gland in a pouch, or sac, under the skin of the abdomen of the male musk deer. Fresh musk is semiliquid but dries to a grainy powder. It is used in the highest grades of perfume because of its ability to remain in evidence for long periods of time and ability to act as a fixative. In India and parts of the Far East, aphrodisiac, stimulant, and antispasmodic effects have been attributed to musk.

The odorous principle of musk is muscone or 3-methylcyclopentadecanone.

Muscone and other compounds that produce musk odor have been synthesized and used in perfumes.

Other Scents Even the smell of food can act as an aphrodisiac. Studying response to various smells by measuring changes in penile blood flow have found that certain foods outperformed perfumes. The food highest on the rating list included cinnamon buns, roast meat, and cheese pizza. Less surprisingly so, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and peppermint showed a positive response. In some cases the average increase of penile blood flow was forty percent over basal values, although no evidence of actual sexual excitation was demonstrated.

Food as Aphrodisiac

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Of the various foods to which aphrodisiac powers are traditionally attributed, fish, vegetables, and spices have been the most popular throughout recorded history.

None of these foods, however, have any identified chemical agents that could effect a direct physiological reaction, and it must be concluded that the reputation of various supposedly erotic foods is based not upon fact but upon folklore.

In most cases, foods of an uncommon variety are somehow associated with sex.

Eggs and caviar (fish eggs), for example; or foods which suggest or resemble sex organs (asparagus, celery, onions, carrots, clams, oysters, and so forth).

Man's universal attribution of libidinous effects to certain foods originated in the ancient belief in the therapeutic efficacy of signatures: if an object resembled the genitalia, it possessed, so it was reasoned, sexual powers – thus, for instance. the legendary aphrodisiac powers of ginseng root and powdered rhinoceros horn.


When Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love, sprang forth from the sea on a shell and promptly gave birth to Eros, a working aphrodisiac was born. Already during the time of the Roman Empire oysters enjoyed a randy reputation, which increased over the ages and during the so-called Golden Century in the Netherlands (the 17th century) oysters were the symbol, the very incarnation of an aphrodisiac.

It has been recommended that oysters should be eaten au naturel, best served simply with crushed ice and seaweed. Some recommend a topping of sea urchin roe, which is also considered to be aphrodisiac, and caviar to amplify the effects.

Casanova is said to have been a firm believer in oysters, eating 50 of them raw every morning in the bath together with the lady he fancied at that moment.

Is this reputation based on physiological facts? Well, oysters are low in fat and high in minerals, and thus a quite healthy food. Phosphorus, iodine and zinc can do a lot of good, especially zinc, which is said to increase both sperm and testosterone production as well as the secretion of a vaginal lubricant.

On the other hand... According to Norman Lewis a group of male pearl-divers on the island of Kamaran (off the Arabian coast) get most of their nourishment from oysters

- and have very low sex drives. Go figure it out… The Onion Onions have, almost since prehistoric time, been attributed aphrodisiacal properties.

They are mentioned in many classic Hindu texts on the art of making love and they were the most used aphrodisiac in ancient Greece, and they are frequently included as an ingredient in Roman and Arab recipes.

During Pharaonic times, celibate Egyptian priests were prohibited to eat onions because of the potential effects. Much later on, in France, newlyweds were served onion soup on the morning after their wedding night to restore their libido.

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