Posted on July 29, 2011 by


The dust has settled on the great “Sex and Travel” event hosted in MoSex’s atmospheric OralFix bar, where I read with Elisabeth Eaves (pictured below, in a suitably grainy photo by my friend Erin Levi).

As the scale model of the legendary “sex chair” of King Edward VII was revealed (see the MoSex blog posting), delicious aphrodisiac cocktails were served (I sampled one with the slightly disturbing name of the Queen’s Knickers, although it was a delicious gin concoction)… so I made a few remarks on the strange history of aphrodisiacs…. I’ll post them below…


The idea that certain culinary ingredients are conducive to love dates back to the ancient Greeks, but their criteria was not some alluring taste or scent,  either its physical appearance (oysters and phallic-looking root vegetables) or some symbolic property.  The goddess of love Aphrodite had emerged from the sea, so Greek thinkers reasoned that erotic potions should be concocted from seafood; fish oil was a favored (if rather stomach-turning) ingredient..

The Greeks also believed that consuming human sexual fluids in meals would create a magical bond between lovers.  Women would bake their secretions into honey cakes for the men they admired, and men would try and slip theirs into lover’s wine.  The Roman scientist Pliny the Elder went one step further and argued that excrement was also a powerful aphrodisiac and should be hidden in meals: Even in the Renaissance, Nostradamus included “oil of faeces” as an ingredient for a love potion.  (The Romans had no shortage of odd tips: A magic spell suggests rubbing a tick taken from a dead dog on your genitals to inspire sexual desire, and “you will marvel at the results.”)

The most famous — and enduring — aphrodisiac was known as “Spanish fly” – a powder made from dried, ground green blister beetles.  The beetles contain the chemical cantharidin, which when ingested, cause the genitals to tingle and swell, which was mistaken for sexual arousal.   Unfortunately, cantharidin is also a poison and can cause kidney malfunction or internal hemorrhaging if consumed in large quantities – as the Marquis de Sade found in 1772, when he plied two prostitutes with larged quantities of aniseed sweets laced with Spanish fly and saw them collapse in agony, clutching their stomachs and vomiting.

The Marquis was charged with attempted murder and forced to flee France, mystified at what all the fuss was about.