"Into the dessert he slipped chocolate pastilles so good that a number of people devoured them... It proved to be so potent that those who ate the pastilles began to burn with unchaste ardor and to carry on as if in the grip of the most amorous frenzy. The ball degenerated into one of those licentious orgies for which the Romans were renowned. Even the most respectable of women were unable to resist the uterine rage that stirred within them. And so it was that M. de Sade enjoyed the favors of his sister-in-law."
– Louis Petit de Bachaumont in
Secret Memoirs for the History of the Republic of Letters
That most notorious of Frenchmen, the Marquis de Sade, not only appeared to be addicted to chocolate but believed it to be a powerful inducer of lust. Historical records show that he hosted a ball in Marseilles in 1772 at which he provided chocolate pastilles laced with Spanish fly (cantharsis - believed to be an aphrodisiac). De Sade fled the scene and took refuge at the estate of the King of Sardinia who had him arrested. This was not the first nor the last time that the marquis was arrested. In fact, it was he who, while imprisoned in the Bastille, incited the storming of, and subsequent destruction of, the Bastille on the 14th of July 1789.
From the many prisons in which he was incarcerated de Sade would beg his wife, Renée, to bring him chocolate goods including boxes of ground chocolate, Crème au chocolat, half pound boxes of chocolate pastilles, large chocolate biscuits, Vanilla pastilles au chocolat and chocolat en tabblettes à l’ordinaire (chocolate bars), as well as cacao butter suppositories for his hemarroids.
He continued to crave the chocolate that had contributed to one period of incarceration, and Sophie and Michael Coe, in their book The True History of Chocolate note that it is little wonder that he “became grossly obese in his long captivity." While his writings were full of cruel sex and debauched carnal appetites and proclivities, it would seem that his greater lusts involved chocolate. In May 1779, he once again implored his wife to assuage these desires. He wrote to her from his cell in Vincennes requesting “…a cake with icing, but I want it to be chocolate and black inside from chocolate as the devil’s ass is black from smoke. And the icing is to be the same."
They are sexual stimulants. Sex makes us feel good; endorphins that are released during physical stimulation and exertion create a feeling of well-being, a sense of relaxation, enhanced mood and increased sensitivity to touch.
But there are other benefits to a happy and satisfying sex life. Regular and satisfying sex boosts immunity by increasing the number of natural killer cells. These specialised immune cells are responsible for targeting and eliminating viruses, bacteria and other disease causing pathogens. They are stimulated by endorphins and oxytocin, another hormone released during sex. In fact, it is the 500% increase in oxytocin levels during sex which makes us sleepy, ensuring a good night’s sleep after love-making.
Down through the ages we have spent huge amounts of time, money and thought trying to improve the sexual experience. We are masters at discovering and inventing, not to mention believing in, all manner of substances and items used to enhance our passion, performance or pleasure. From drugs to dildoes, from fantasies to food, there is little that we have not tried, and throughout history an incredible number of substances have been peddled as aphrodisiacs.<…>
Aphrodisiacs take their name from the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Reference to aphrodisiacs is found in every culture and they form a part of the folklore and myths of many racial and cultural groups. ‘Knowledge’ about aphrodisiacs has been passed down in oral histories and can be found in the earliest writings from around the world.
One of the earliest records of an aphrodisiac comes from the oral poems of the Hindu, particularly the Samhita of Sushrata from India in about the eighth century BC. The Samhita included this remedy for impotence:
“Powders of sesame, Masha pulse, and S’ali rice should be mixed with Saindhava salt and pasted with a copious quantity of the expressed juice of the sugar cane. It should then be mixed with hog’s lard and cooked with clarified butter. By using this Utkarika a man would be able to visit a hundred women.”
“Powders of dried Amalaka successively soaked in its own expressed juice should be licked with honey, sugar and clarified butter, after which a quantity of milk should be taken.”
An external remedy comes from an ancient Arabic medical formulary from between 700 and 900 years before the birth of Christ:
“Throw in good oil of jasmine and asafoetida and leave for some days. Then the male organ is oiled with that oil of jasmine at the time of intercourse.”
Interestingly, aphrodisiacs are strongly masculocentric. Most of the texts on aphrodisiacs, both ancient and modern, focus on the male’s ability to perform, whether it be in terms of simply achieving an erection – the issue of impotence is a concern that was recorded as early as three or four thousand years ago – or his ability to service vast numbers of women. Although a woman’s passion and pleasure has received greater attention over the last few decades, particularly since the age of female sexual liberation in the 1960s, enhancing one’s sex life seems to still be largely the domain of men. After all, both sex and conception are possible irrespective of a woman’s desire or satisfaction, albeit the act may be far more enjoyable for both when a woman’s desire and satisfaction are heightened and matched to her partner’s.
However, men living from the 13th century to the end of the 17th century could be forgiven for being somewhat obsessed with their performance. Among the upper classes of Europe, impotence was the only grounds for divorce, and Jyoti Shah, writing in BJU International, says that it was regarded as ‘a deadly sin’ for an impotent man to marry. If impotence was suspected, the afflicted couple were made to have intercourse in front of expert witnesses, and in some cases men were required to ejaculate in public to prove their virility. Shah goes on to say that:
“Impotence trials became more frequent from the end of the 16th century, with reports on trials widely distributed. Such public trials continued until 1670, after which they were thought to be too scandalous, and were therefore abolished.”
Chocolate and sex
Here it is. You could be forgiven for forgetting that this book is about chocolate, but at last we get to the bit that explains why chocolate is considered an aphrodisiac.
Chocolate is inextricably connected to sex. The romantic act of giving chocolates, whether it be on Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year, is part of the sexual communication in many relationships, and chocolate has long enjoyed a reputation as being an aphrodisiac.
The question, “is chocolate better than sex?” has been asked with rather interesting results. In a 1998 Mori survey, half of the women surveyed preferred chocolate to sex. In another survey it was reported that some people, given the choice of chocolate or sex, said “I’d rather have the chocolate,” while others actually said “I’d rather have the sex”. However, some respondents wanted to know who they were to have sex with before they decided if they would rather have the sex or the chocolate; interestingly the kind of chocolate on offer was not a concern for those who preferred chocolate over sex.
Giving chocolate to someone you are attracted to seems to increase the chances of a sexual encounter, or at least that is what many people think. In 1999, the second Annual Boxed Chocolate Holiday Survey found that 29% of American men and 8% of American women believe that giving a box of chocolates as a gift will increase their chances of getting sex. Admittedly men might think that about any gift they give to a woman.
On the internet, the terms chocolate and sex together get a huge 1,400,000 hits on google – an indication of just how strongly chocolate is linked with sex.
So, just where did chocolate and sex become partners and how did chocolate get its reputation as an aphrodisiac? As always, we need to start in ancient central America with the Aztecs.
In the centre of the island city of Tenochtitlan – a city of towers and temples, bridges, canals and gardens, an aqueduct and grand public market – lay the palace of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin, the last of the great Aztec emperors. Surrounded by his army, and with his house servants in attendance, the great man sat before a plenitude of food, more than a thousand dishes in all. Motecuhzoma dined on the rich tapestry of Aztec cuisine, choosing from many delicacies and from the vast quantity of fruits and breads. From time to time, with great reverence, his attendants brought him, in cups of pure gold, a beverage made from the fruit of the divine tree; a bitter, frothy potion of ground cacao beans and water, seasoned with chillies, achiote, vanilla and maize. All in all the women brought to Motecuhzoma a good fifty large jugs of chocolate, all frothed up, from each of which he would drink a little. When Motecuhzoma had eaten his fill the great many courtiers and guards in attendance at the banquet would take their turn to eat. At last the great emperor Motecuhzoma rose from his place, and with a final draught of bitter chocolate from the golden vessels, he left to visit his many, many wives…
Chocolate has long been believed to be an inflamer of passions, a delicious aphrodisiac. The Aztecs believed that it invigorated men and made women less inhibited. Chocolate was a favorite drink at Aztec weddings and it was valued as a nuptial aid. Along with gold and other treasures, Spanish explorers of the New World took home with them the notion that chocolate could enhance their sex lives. Hernán Cortés, the Spanish explorer who was initially welcomed to the court of Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin by the great Aztec emperor himself, was an eye witness to the fantastic banquets at which the frothy chocolate beverage was consumed in great quantities. The memoirs of conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo, upon which the above account is based, record that Motecuhzoma drank from “more than 50 great jars of prepared good cacao” before he consorted with his harem, reputed to run to several hundred women.
Some historians reject the idea that Motecuhzoma needed any sexual stimulants, saying that the Spanish were obsessed with aphrodisiacs and the connection was merely temporal; that is, they assumed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac because Motecuhzoma consumed it before making conjugal visits to his many wives. However, with as many wives as he said to have had, it is possible that even the great Emperor may have had need of an energizer, if not a sexual stimulant, and we have already discovered that chocolate was used by the Aztecs to provide energy in many situations.
Bernal Díaz was not the only man to suggest that chocolate had aphrodisiacal qualities. There were numerous manuscripts from the earliest contact with the New World that recorded its use in such a way.
Francisco Hernández, in his 1577 text Historia de las Plantas de la Nueva España, wrote of a medicine called atextli, a thin paste of cacao beans and maize to which mecaxochitl (Piper sanctum) and tlilxochitl fruits (Vanilla planifolia) were added, which was used to excite the “venereal appetite”.
In 1631, Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma wrote in his treatise on chocolate, Curioso Tratado de la Naturaleza, that chocolate “...vehemently incites to Venus, and causeth conception in women, hastens and facilitates their delivery…” This was not the only reference to chocolate as a medicine to aid conception and a healthy pregnancy. Henry Stubbe wrote (in The Indian Nectar or A Discourse Concerning Chocolata [sic], 1662) that chocolate, when combined with vanilla, strengthened the womb. William Hughes, in 1672, cited two physicians who claimed that chocolate “is very good for women with childe, nourishing the embryo, and preventing fainting fits, which some breeding women are subject unto”.
Dr Giovanni Bianchi, advised mid 18th century sufferers of impotence to “take chocolate often with a good dose of vanilla and aromatics.” In his treatise of the uses, abuses, properties and virtues of tobacco, coffee, tea and chocolate (Tratado de los Usos, Abusos, Propiendades y Virtudes del Tabaco, Cafe, Te, y Chocolate, 1796) Antonio Lavedan said that chocolate increases virility. Pedro Felipe Monlau produced a manual for married couples (Higiene de Matrimonio: El Libro de los Casados, 1881) in which he said that “cacao paste and cocoa butter enhances sexual desire”. Even Linnaeus believed that chocolate was an effective aphrodisiac.
Chocolate, Passion and Science
We saw at the beginning of this Chapter the amazing hold chocolate had over the Marquis de Sade, how it not only contributed to his downfall on at least one occasion but sustained him during his many incarcerations in French prisons. He has been followed by many who have been held in its thrall.
With a reputation as the greatest lover that ever lived, Casanova thought that chocolate was the “elixir of love”. He preferred chocolate over champagne and, believing it to be an aphrodisiac, was said to have drunk chocolate daily to increase his amorous energy. French courtesan Madame du Barry was well aware of the stimulating effect that chocolate had on her lovers and King Louis XV is said to have relied on hot chocolate to arouse the amorous inclinations of his mistresses.
The reputation of chocolate as an aphrodisiac took on a bizarre twist in the early 1970s. Robert MacGregor writes in his article “Chocolates as an Aphrodisiac: Are Green M&Ms Randy Candy?” that in the 1970s Green M&Ms were believed by some to possess aphrodisiac powers and they were being hoarded by college students eager to feed them to the objects of their sexual desires. He went on to say that “in 1976, when the American Food and Drug Administration banned the use of red dye number 2 another related rumor spread. This time it was believed that red M and M’s were such a powerful aphrodisiac that Mars Company employees had stolen all red M and M’s off the production on line and kept these candies for their own use.”
The belief that chocolate can inflame desire and arouse passion persists to the present day. Is there any solid scientific reasoning to support this belief? Or is a centuries old eye-witness account of Motecuzhoma swigging vast quantities of chocolate before consorting with his harem women where chocolate as an aphrodisiac starts and ends?
Analysis of chocolate has found that it contains hundreds of compounds and substances, including phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan. These substances trigger the release of mood enhancing chemicals in the brain resulting in feelings of giddiness, attraction, euphoria and excitement.
Theobromine has diuretic effects and stimulates the kidneys. Other foods that have a reputation as aphrodisiacs, such as asparagus, have a similar diuretic effect and this irritation or stimulation of the urinary tract may have contributed to the aphrodisiacal reputation of chocolate. Theobromine together with caffeine also increases the heart rate, again contributing to an overall stimulating effect.
And we already know that these two compounds provide chocolate with a powerful energising effect.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that controls the production of the mood-modulating chemical serotonin. Serotonin has a calming effect, is essential for balancing the mood and acts to relieve anxiety – all the effects that you need to put you in the mood for love-making.
Dr John Gray, author of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, says that a woman’s wellbeing is tied to her levels of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for progress in labour and childbirth. It is also released during breast-feeding, has a role to play in a woman’s overall sense of wellness and happiness, and is intricately tied up with her serotonin levels.
Just looking at her baby, a woman’s oxytocin levels rise and Dr Gray says that this causes the “glow” on her face. Touch and massage, a compliment and eating chocolate all cause a rise in oxytocin, leading to the release of endorphins in the brain. In fact, the chocolate works by increasing the serotonin levels, and in turn oxytocin levels rise. A rise in serotonin may stimulate a woman’s interest in and response to sex and the rise in oxytocin causes a reduction in stress. In as much as stress reduces interest in sex, any reduction in stress will make a woman more likely to be interested in sex and more able to respond.
And then there is phenylethylamine!
Phenylethylamine – The Love Substance
As we have seen in Chapter Six, phenylethylamine, a potent mood regulator that has been dubbed the love molecule, was discovered about 100 years ago. It is a key ingredient in chocolate and possibly responsible for chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Phenylethylamine is a natural chemical similar to amphetamine and is produced in the brain when we experience pleasure and happiness. Phenylethylamine can causes rapid mood change, a rise in blood pressure and increasing heart rate. It releases dopamine into the pleasure centres of our brains and peaks during an orgasm!
Simple experiences such as the meeting of eyes or the touching of hands can trigger the brain to produce phenylethylamine. The familiar feeling of a racing pulse, sweaty hands and heavy breathing that we experience when we fall in love, or in lust, is all due to our brains being awash with this love substance.
What more decadent and delicious way to get high doses of phenylethylamine than to eat chocolate!
When consumed in unusually high doses, phenylethylamine can have the same effect as amphetamine – increased confidence, exhilaration, lowered fatigue, and general sense of well-being. At least this tells us why Motecuhzoma drank so much chocolate in one sitting.
Most of the love substance is metabolized before it reaches the brain. However, it seems that some people are sensitive to its effects even in small quantities, and recent research has shown that women are more susceptible to the effects of phenylethylamine than men.
While the scientists continue to debate whether or not chocolate is truly an aphrodisiac, there is no doubt that the rest of us have made up our minds. In what appears to be the only research of its type on the subject, The Annals of Improbable Research conducted a survey on the efficacy of chocolate as an aphrodisiac. Analysis of the questionnaire responses showed that 54.83% of men and 50% of women said that chocolate was an effective aphrodisiac. Interestingly some five per cent of respondents were more concerned with how the chocolate was administered – internally or externally!
Chocolate is a favourite for spicing up the sex life: it is used to flavour sex aids and lubricants, and is available in liquid form as a body paint for lovers. Most kits sold for that purpose come complete with paint brushes.
A May 2004 report suggest that chocolate may be about to get a whole lot sexier. The UK newspaper, The Sun, reported that chocolate bars that could help men and women to achieve more or better orgasms could soon be on the way to a store near you. These new chocolate bars will contain higher than normal levels of phenylethylamine. Currently chocolate contains up to 660mg of phenylethylamine (depending on the size of the bar), but the new orgasmic chocolate contains far higher levels of phenylethylamine since it was found to give an orgasm-like high without having sex. Sex expert Dr Trudy Barber told the European Federation of Sexology Conference in Brighton that the chocolates could be available in five years and could bring new meaning to the statement that “chocolate is better than sex.”
Clearly, chocolate has enjoyed a reputation as being a potent and delectable aphrodisiac. No doubt scientists continuing to make new discoveries about chocolate will, in years to come, add to the debate regarding this particular use of this uniquely seductive candy. However, it is significant that the gift of choice for lovers on St Valentines Day is not boiled sweets.
If you want to beguile, entice and seduce the object of your desire on St Valentines Day, or any other, the way to his or her centre of pleasure might just be with chocolate!
“Twill make old women young and fresh,
Create new motions of the flesh.
And cause them long for you know what,
If they but taste of chocolate.”
James Wadworth, 1768-1844, A History of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate
... the taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex... For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate... entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better. – Dr. Ruth Westheimer
“Chocolate is good for three things. Two of ‘em cannot be mentioned on public television.” – Unknown
“Chocolate goes well with sex: before, during, after – it doesn’t matter.” – Helen Gurley Brown
“Here a beverage coming from the remote worlds, undoubtedly excellently selected for the intimate love. It excites courage and renews strength. Drink my love and I will benefit from it too. I offer it to you with my heart, because we must still give heirs to the world to come.” – taken from a Martin Engelbrecht engraving of a couple in love (1750).
“People always say my truffles are better than sex.” – Gayle Steinhardt, American Chocolatier
“I am a chocoholic and, as it happens, I do have a favourite chocolate fantasy. It is this – I would like to be presented with a beautiful red-headed young woman in the nude who is covered with a thick layer of bittersweet chocolate. I then remove the chocolate as any red-blooded chocoholic male would. Not practical, I admit, but a nice fantasy.” – Isaac Asimov, in Honey and Larry Zisman, Chocolate Fantasies, 1988
“I shall also advise my fair readers to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with romances, chocolate, novels and the like inflamers, which I look upon as very dangerous to be made use of…” – Joseph Addison, social satirist in the Spectator, 1712