People have been enamoured with stimulants that boost libido right from the Ancient Greek period. The very word 'Aphrodisiac' comes from the Greek goddess of love - Aphrodite.

Typing 'aphrodisiac' into any search engine generates more than a million hits. Everybody from scientific websites down to lifestyle magazines offer advice on improving sex-drive, and if the current crop of advertisements on television is anything to go by, everything from mango juice to deodorants may be linked to sexual arousal. One look at your email's spam folder will offer you an astonishing number of discounts on Viagra.

While there are chemical variants available in the market, uncertainty and medical risk involved in their usage make people turn to natural substitutes.

The question is how effective are they really?

There are two sides to the debate. While some people swear by aphrodisiacs, others blow it all off as a farce. Given the low amount of research on sex and lack of verification, coming to a conclusion about the efficacy of aphrodisiacs seems impossible.

However, two things that researchers seem to agree on are the general health benefits of some foods that are indirectly linked to heightened sexual desire, and the placebo effect created by foods and scents that are touted to be aphrodisiacs.

Foods like dark chocolate, olives, strawberries, oysters, cheese, ginger, mint, and a variety of other items are often found on aphrodisiac lists. While many of them do not have proven associations with increased arousal, they do contain nutrients like zinc, Vitamin C, calcium, and other substances that improve health in general, energize, release hormones like dopamine and serotonin that are linked to sexual pleasure, raise body temperature, and therefore lead to a greater interest in sex. Many foods like almonds, figs, avocados and bananas are believed to be aphrodisiacs on the basis of their resemblance to different sex organs, in the way walnuts are believed to be brain food.Their usage as fertility symbols through history, cements this belief. Sex has as much to do with state of mind as with body. Stress, which is one of the most serious inhibitors of sexual drive, may be countered by a number of things like lavender, patchouli, jasmine scented candles, visually pleasing spaces with flowers and candles, soft music, etc. In turn, these variables develop a reputation as aphrodisiacs.

The placebo effect may also come into play by feeding anticipation. Foods and scents that are reputed to be aphrodisiacs may work simply by putting a person in the right frame of mind. Believing something to be sexually stimulating heightens anticipation and thus, is a turn on.

Individual associations with specific stimulants complicate matters. Visual cues like wearing red, olfactory cues like spraying on a favourite perfume, and other matters of individual preference play their part.

Desire and drive, being linked to overall physical and mental well-being, as well as a number of individual triggers, makes the business of pointing out specific aphrodisiacs difficult.

Either way, the next time you have a date, light some scented candles and bring out the chocolate covered strawberries. Can't hurt to try.

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