But is chocolate an aphrodisiac or is its reputation as a sweet love potion more influenced by the power of persuasion? We've already established chocolate's impact on our happiness; now, let's look at how it may affect our love lives and sexual health.
What’s an Aphrodisiac?
Simply saying “aphrodisiac” is an almost sensual play of the tongue in itself. Just as cacao's official name, theobroma, is derived from Greek (meaning “food of the gods”), so is aphrodisiac, a word in honor of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, sex, and fertility. An aphrodisiac is any substance that can increase sexual desire, pleasure, or behavior.
Many ancient civilizations believed certain plants (like ginseng) and animals (especially their genitals) could help stimulate, arouse, and improve sexual desire and performance. Cacao has also long been touted as an aphrodisiac, going back to its Mayan and Aztec days when it was both a delicacy and form of currency.
But so far, there's no solid evidence that, biologically, natural aphrodisiac foods of any kind even exist at all and that includes chocolate. Still, we can't ignore cacao's myriad potent properties that could potentially pique your sexual pleasure.
Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac: What Does the Science Say?
Sex and chocolate do have some similarities when it comes to their physiological effects. They both release “feel-good” hormones in your brain, cause your blood vessels to dilate, and reduce stress. A few notable compounds in cacao stand out when seeking its libido-boosting potential: phenylethylamine (aka the “love drug”) and tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin).
Fermenting cacao beans brings out trace amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA), an amphetamine-like substance dubbed the “love drug.” PEA raises blood pressure and heart rate and triggers the release of hormones like norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, all strongly linked to our brain's pleasure system.
A person in love may have higher levels of PEA in their brain, so why not consume more chocolate to replicate those feelings? The big problem with this theory: blood levels of PEA don't increase after eating chocolate, meaning you're not absorbing much if any of it, no matter how much chocolate you gobble up.
Dark chocolate contains small quantities of tryptophan, a building block of serotonin, which is one significant hormone released when you're attracted to another person and after you reach climax during sex. That said, too much serotonin can actually inhibit sexual desire, which is why a loss of sex drive is a common side effect of serotonin-boosting antidepressants.
But don't worry, you'd never build up that much serotonin just by eating chocolate—the amount of tryptophan is too small. What should concern you more is sugar, which can decrease the libido. Yet another reason to opt for dark chocolate.
Cacao’s Other Potential Love Compounds
While PEA and tryptophan are often connected to the myth that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, most people ignore cacao’s many other health-, mood-, and potential libido-boosting properties. Eating chocolate has been shown to reduce stress, which can greatly affect your sex drive.
Dark chocolate is a rich source of zinc (linked to virility), magnesium (a mineral that helps us relax), and quercetin (an anti-inflammatory flavonoid that can improve blood flow). Still, none of these components directly offer aphrodisiac effects—at least individually.
Chocolate and Sex Drive: The Study
One well-covered Italian study from 2006 tried to put the long-held belief to the test. The researchers focused on chocolate's impact on women's sexuality. They found that women who ate chocolate daily appeared to have a higher libido than those who didn't eat chocolate at all. But when they adjusted the data for age younger women ate more chocolate they discovered no difference in the groups.
Of course, this was a tiny study of 163 women, many of whom were likely eating sugary forms of chocolate. There haven't been any other significant studies like this since. In other words, we're not quite ready to give up on the idea that chocolate—especially its purest, darkest forms—is indeed an aphrodisiac!
The Psychology of Sex and Chocolate
If anything, we can't ignore the uncanny power of our minds, especially when it comes to love and your sex life. Back in the early chocolate consumption days, cacao was reserved for the elite and associated with money and power, both of which have their own aphrodisiac appeal.
Much later, Richard Cadbury of the English confectionary empire can be attributed to inextricably linking chocolate with Valentine's Day when, in the 1860s, he began creating heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates.
Today, if you mention chocolate in your dating profile, you may get twice as many messages. Give your favorite chocolate lover a heart-shaped box of chocolate-covered strawberries or something a little more luxurious on Valentine’s Day and they may find you more attractive. Take a bite of chocolate and let it melt in your mouth—slowly, almost sensually coating your tongue—and tell us that’s not a turn on.
If chocolate makes you happy, who’s to say it can’t make you a little horny as well?