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Many cultures’ folkloric pharmacopoeias feature aphrodisiacs. These substances lack a proven Viagra-style effect; they won’t magically cure any underlying medical issues, either. Regardless, users are convinced of their potency, perhaps because aphrodisiacs can stimulate the senses and the imagination, tapping into the excitement that taste, touch, sights, smells, and fantasies can bring to our libidos. Here are five fruits of the sea that humanity employs as passion enhancers—and the qualities that earned each one its sensual reputation.
Tiger Pufferfish (Takifugu rubripes)
Consuming a teaspoon of the pufferfish’s testes in a cup of steaming sake is supposed to be a turn-on, but you won’t likely find this beverage in any reputable establishment—the gonads, among other organs, contain the potentially fatal toxins tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin. F. rubripes’s nontoxic bits are served as a delicacy in Japan, and only specially trained fish cutters are licensed to prepare them. Even so, restaurants break rules, and brushes with death have happened, which means that indulging in this fish flesh is always at least a slight gamble. Diners consuming the risky fare might mistake their pounding hearts and spiked adrenaline for arousal—danger and desire provoke a similar reaction from the sympathetic nervous system. And some diners have reported that purposely leaving a tiny, non-lethal hint of toxins in the fish (not recommended) kindles a suggestive tingling on the lips.
Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica)
This endangered palm nut is the largest plant seed in the world, which might have been its claim to fame if not for its uncanny resemblance to a pair of plump female buttocks. It’s so graphic that it inspired Seychellois legends about the nut-bearing palms uprooting themselves to copulate on stormy nights. The provocative nut’s marine name—literally “nut of the sea”—originated because it often washed up on tropical beaches, titillating deprived sailors. The British general Charles George Gordon wrote in 1881 that the coco de mer “represents the belly and thighs, the true seat of carnal desires.” Over the years, its rarity and price earned it renown as an “aphrodisiac for kings,” so it was a fitting gesture when the Seychelles government presented one to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge during their tropical honeymoon.
In traditional Chinese medicine, seal schlongs purportedly provide a boost in bed; patients ingest them dry in pill form or combine them with powdered deer and dog members into a cocktail called three-penis wine. Traditional lore holds that consuming various animal penises can invigorate a man’s own member, with the choice of species depending on factors such as the man’s age and health status. This magical thinking may simply give believers more confidence in their prowess. However, the supply of powdered pinniped peckers may dry up, in part because citizens increasingly oppose the seal hunt in source countries such as Canada and Norway.
This substance starts out very un-seductively. Sperm whales make ambergris in their digestive tracts, and when they expel a fresh lump (or when it’s released from a rotting carcass, sometimes after having grown so large that it actually killed the whale) it smells fecal. However, after drifting at sea for a decade or two, ambergris takes on an alluring scent that perfumers describe as “woody” and “sweet.” While lovers know that scent can affect arousal, science backs up ambergris’s aphrodisiacal cred beyond just its smell: when injected, a derivative called ambrein causes male lab rats to make more passes at females—and at each other. Some perfumers claim to use real ambergris, but trade restrictions on whale products mean that they often evoke this mysterious fragrance with synthetic ingredients instead.
Irish Moss (Various Seaweeds, Especially Chondrus crispus)
Some Casanovas in the West Indies believe that tonics containing “Irish moss” or “sea moss” seaweeds enhance their virility. Bob Marley reportedly loved the stuff—quite the celebrity endorsement since Marley not only wrote sexy reggae songs but also fathered at least 10 children. For the rest of us, while there’s scant evidence that drinking seaweed tonic bolsters fertility, taste, like any other sense, can fire up the libido—especially if lovers couple it with a splash of inhibition-reducing rum and carefree island times.