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As long as man has been aware of the powers of certain foods and herbs to alter or enhance the body's mood or function, he has searched for those substances that will lead to heightened sexual desire or performance. Known as aphrodisiacs, from the name of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, over the centuries these substances have been as much legend as fact. However, as scientists have begun to gain a better understanding of human sexuality and function, they have found scientific evidence that shows that although aphrodisiacs may not directly affect the sex drive of every person, they can certainly enhance it indirectly.

By making connections to past experiences, adding to comfort levels or increasing general physical enjoyment, aphrodisiacs can increase the enjoyment of the physical sensations of the body as you engage in sensual, sexual acts. Yet scientists have also begun to realize that there are some substances which can affect your hormone or brain chemical balance so that they influence your sexual appetite as well. However not all of these substances work the same for every person. The key is to find the ones that work for you and your lover. Aphrodisiacs must also be used responsibly and with caution. Ingesting any foreign substance can be dangerous if you are not entirely aware of what the side effects may be.

Over the ages, proposed aphrodisiacs have come from some rather odd sources. Some civilizations believed that a mixture such as ram's testicles mixed with honey was a powerful love-enhancing mixture. Luckily for those of us in current times, we have the benefit of scientific studies that examine what impact different substances actually have on our hormones and sex drives. To understand this process, it's important to realize that hormones and neurotransmitters are the chemical background to sexual arousal. The release of these brain chemicals is triggered by certain stimuli, leading the brain to signal the body to increase blood flow to the pelvic region of the body. In men, this results in an erection. In women, it results in the release of vaginal lubrication.

Over time, due to age or illness, a person's ability to generate and release these chemicals can become diminished. That's why many people now use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or pills such as Viagra in order to stimulate or simulate the release of these body chemicals. However, if you learn about the naturally occurring products that can release the chemicals that lead to arousal, you may be able to avoid turning to pharmaceuticals, at least for a period of time. Only you and your healthcare professional can make this decision regarding your sexual health.

So what causes these chemicals to be released? The question depends on the person, but can happen in response to two major forms of stimulus - either mental or physical. For example, the memory of a particularly erotic encounter can cause this arousal. Or, any physical sensory experience can also trigger arousal. The strongest and most common of these is physical contact. Someone kisses you or touches you and you become sexually aroused. But what about your other senses?

Think about when you see a good looking person on the street or watch a particularly steamy scene on a television program or movie. Or hear a song that was playing the last time you made love to your partner. Or the smell of the perfume or cologne that your lover wears. The same type of connection can be made with certain tastes as well. Not only might they connect you to a past, pleasurable experience, but they also generate their own physical enjoyment by either simply tasting wonderfully or because during their digestive process, they cause some of those chemicals related to arousal to be released into your system.

So what foods or substances should you try? First, let's examine the foods that you may have already heard about and whether or not they have the libido-enhancing characteristics that you have heard about. Oysters have often been referenced when people talk about aphrodisiacs. Supposedly Casanova himself was a great proponent of their use, ingesting dozens of them a day. It turns out that there may be a reason that he found them to be successful in helping his love life; oysters are rich in the mineral zinc which is vital to the production of testosterone. This sexual hormone not only increases a man's libido, but has been shown to increase a woman's sex drive as well.

Certain foods are just sexy because they suggest sexual acts. Peaches are ripe, firm and fuzzy, suggesting breasts or even the mons mound of a woman's pelvis. Ice cream cones require licking and sucking. Bananas are perhaps the most obviously phallic fruit. In addition to having a phallic like shape that is suggestive of sex, asparagus is loaded with vitamin E, another stimulant of sex hormones. The substance in hot and spicy foods such as peppers and curry, capsaicin, can increase the heart rate and blood flow, which may in turn increase the release of endorphins into the blood stream. Endorphins are the "feel good" chemical in the brain. A similar chemical, phenyl ethylamine is found in chocolate. No wonder lovers have been bringing them to each other for centuries. Wild yams, also called damiama, have been shown to contain chemicals that enhance your genital sensitivity.

There are three commonly marketed aphrodisiacs that should be taken with particular caution because of their potential side effects. Ginkgo is seen everywhere as being a memory enhancing agent, but can also stimulate the release of nitric oxide. This chemical widens the blood vessels in the genitals. But it should not be taken by someone who is taking blood thinners or who has heart disease. Yohimbine is an extract that stimulates blood flow to the genitals but can also have the side effect of raising blood pressure or increasing the heart rate, so it should only be used with a doctor's permission and supervision. The last, Spanish Fly, similarly increases blood flow to the genitals. But be warned; it is a poisonous substance and in the United States it is completely illegal.

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