This isn’t one of those articles that tells you what to eat, or what not to eat, for better sex — there’s already plenty of that on the internet. Instead, this article will explore a few ways our bodies interact with our food, and how these interactions might manifest as more or less interest in sex.
Champions of the Bland
The Victorian era was not a good time for anyone with a sex drive. Masturbation was seen as the cause of a disease, spermatorrhoea, which depleted men’s vital energy (carried by sperms). Curbing masturbation was thus absolutely necessary, so a variety of means to do so were devised, including the horrifying jugum penis.
Food was also seen as a way to control the urge to masturbate. According to this delightful video on Victorian anti-masturbation devices, the Kellogg brothers, founders of the famous cornflakes, developed a cereal meant to be so bland, the patients at Battle Creek Sanitarium, where one of the brothers worked, would lose all desire to masturbate. Thinking along the same lines, Reverend Graham invented the graham cracker in 1829 as a health food that was part of the Graham Diet, which was meant to suppress “unhealthy” carnal urges like the one for “self abuse” (masturbation).
It’s interesting, now, to consider the effects of blandness on sex. If we eat the same things every day, how does this affect the ways we have sex? If we only stick to familiar foods, a similar attitude could be working against our finding new ways to experience pleasure in bed. The dinner table could be a great place to practice being more experimental.
When we act more experimentally in one area of our lives, we are developing a capacity that can carry over into other areas. This, it seems, is how willpower works. According to a well-known study conducted by Roy Baumeister, “Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?”, people who had to eat radishes rather than freshly baked cookies quit trying to solve a difficult puzzle sooner than those who got to eat cookies rather than radishes. In other words, those who had to exert willpower not to eat what they wanted lacked enough willpower to finish a subsequent frustrating task. (There were other experiments in the study, too, that yielded interesting findings, like how making a decision to act in a way that goes against something we believe also depletes willpower.)
Following Baumeister’s study, an experiment conducted by two researchers demonstrated that the act of dieting is a form of resource expenditure that can similarly undermine cognitive abilities like willpower. Other studies have found that since the brain requires glucose to exercise self control (as well as to do anything else), when blood sugar is low, willpower (along with other cognitive abilities, like controlling anger) is low too.
The implications of these studies on sex aren’t explicitly mentioned by their authors, so it may be interesting to do your own experiment: how does exercising willpower in one area of your life affect your desire for sex? It makes sense that if you feel depleted by resisting temptation (to eat certain foods, for instance, or engage in certain behaviors), your energy for sex may be diminished, or more difficult to control.
Because the thyroid gland is so essential to how our bodies use energy and respond to hormones, it seems worth mentioning in an article about sex. Having an overactive thyroid (an autoimmune condition known as hyperthyroidism) or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can drastically change how you feel and behave. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue and poor concentration, which would have obvious implications for one’s ability to enjoy sex.
There is the notion circulating on some health and diet-related blogs (such as this one) that some of us have dietary deficits that make our thyroids underactive and we suffer skin issues, low energy, and cold limbs as a result. Whether or not this is true, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all desire issues are “all in your head” — they can be in the rest of your body, too. We’re each living in an incredibly complex, sensitive biological system of chemicals, and how one small part of that system performs can affect how other parts perform.