"Sex is kinda like pizza," the movie Threesome taught us. "When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good." Think about it: Food and sex are intrinsically linked in our lives. We go out to eat on dates when we meet someone new. We give our special someone chocolates as a sign of affection. And it’s often nearly impossible to think about making out — let alone having sex — if we’re starving.
According to the experts who study the way our minds work, sex and food also engage the same areas of the brain — that complex network of neurotransmitters, nerves, hormones and other chemicals that are responsible for not only sexual desires but other powerful physical responses, such as how you taste and react to food. The brain is the biggest sex organ after all.
Sex and food both cause cravings. They both trigger the same reward centers in our brain, especially when we enjoy them. And they both involve all five of our senses, making them a fully encompassing activity for the whole body. All these things mean that food can also have a powerful positive — or negative — impact on our sex lives. The following foods are ones you should definitely be wary of eating before any sexual encounter.
Low-carb veggies could give you big time gas
We all know that a bowl of chili or a burrito stuffed with refried beans is a terrible idea anytime you’re out with someone that you plan to spend the night with. That’s because legumes are packed with oligosaccharides — indigestible sugars that the body can’t easily break down. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the extra digestion needed to process these foods is what makes them such known fart factories.
Outside of beans, what you may not know is the humble broccoli and its sister, the cauliflower, are equally potent date-night stink bombs once they enter your stomach. That’s because the human body doesn’t produce the enzymes needed to break down something called raffinose, a type of sugar found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, clinical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta explained to Eat This, Not That. Once raffinose gets into your system, there’s no easy way for your body to get rid of it. So it just sits there in the lower intestine, fermenting and producing "methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, which leads to gas."
Garlic is the ultimate bad breath purveyor
Vampires aren’t the only ones who can be scared off by a big clove of garlic. Your new Tinder friend definitely isn’t going to like you chowing down on it either. And it’s not just because of what garlic can do to your breath. Garlic actually makes your whole body — including your sweat— stink, Michigan State University revealed. Yes, when you eat a big chunk or garlic bread or a spicy garlic-packed bowl of spaghetti, the oils present in the garlic don’t just stay in your mouth and intestine. These oils also make their way into the lungs, affecting your breath, and emanate from your pores, causing particularly funky body odor.
"When you eat garlic you produce several sulfur-containing gases," physician and researcher Fabrizis Suarez from the University of Minnesota told WebMD. And they’re almost impossible to get rid of. Your best bet if you’re desperate to banish the odor? Research published in the Journal of Food Science suggested that eating either an apple, lettuce, or mint may be the most successful trick to help make garlic breath and garlic sweat disappear for good.
Alcohol may be ruining your sex life
Many people call alcohol the ultimate social lubricant. Throw back a few beers or a of couple shots and you’ve got more game. You’re calmer and more secure with people you don’t know that well and you’ve got fewer inhibitions. But all the factors that make alcohol seem like a perfect option before sex obscure the fact that, after a drink or two, alcohol can spell trouble for your sex life. After all, no matter what you think it does to your mood, alcohol is a depressant. It impairs your judgement. It separates you from reality. And it leads to poor sexual performance. As Psychology Today highlighted, "Too much alcohol often causes poor erectile functioning. For women, it can dehydrate the vagina, causing penetration to be uncomfortable, even painful."
Just how bad is it, really? As part of a study published in the journal AIDs and Behavior, researchers tracked nearly 2,000 individuals over a 10-year period, asking them to evaluate the quality of their sexual encounters. They also recorded the sobriety level of the individuals. The startling conclusion: People’s sexual experiences were "generally less positive" when they’d been drinking compared to when they were sober.
A dip in libido could be the result of your daily cup of coffee
Coffee may be the one thing capable of getting you out of bed in the morning — but it could also be the very thing preventing you from having any fun when you get back into bed in the evening. According to Reuters, 64 percent of Americans have a cup of coffee at least once a day. But all that coffee we’re pounding back has some drawbacks.
For one thing, coffee raises levels of a stress hormone in the blood known as cortisol. Since cortisol is typically produced when our bodies are agitated, the more of the stuff you have in the system, the harder it is for you to relax, Nicole Kasal, a health and wellness coach explained to Good Housekeeping. "What happens with that morning cup of coffee is that you end up disrupting your blood sugar all day," hormone expert Alisa Vitti told Prevention. As a result, your adrenals underperform, and you wind up with too much cortisol and not enough of another hormone called DHEA, which is linked to testosterone. And when DHEA drops, so, too, does your libido.
That fancy steak dinner won’t seem so romantic later on
Whether you’re ordering from your favorite local restaurant down the block or grilling it up yourself at home, a huge Wagyu steak or Kobe rib-eye is the epitome of fancy date-night fare. But indulging on a huge chunk of fatty red meat may be setting you up for trouble later in the evening, warned Shari Lieberman, New York City-based nutrition scientist and exercise physiologist, in an interview with Men’s Journal. "Most men know that saturated fat and cholesterol narrow the arteries that nourish the heart and increase risk of heart attack," she said. "But they also narrow the arteries that carry blood into the penis, which contributes to erectile dysfunction [ED]."
For women, a large serving of meat can also be problematic, Dr. William Chey, a professor at the University of Michigan and advisor to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, pointed out to Cosmopolitan. "Gas associated with red meat is more odorous because of chemicals it produces in the colon," the expert cautioned.
Even a small order of fries can be a major buzzkill in the bedroom
Next time you and your significant other are craving some late-night fries, consider this: A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat French fries regularly don’t live as long as those who eat them less often. Seriously! Scientists tracked 4,400 men and women over eight years and found that eating fries twice or more per week more than doubled an individual’s risk of death — even when accounting for other factors like smoking.
In addition to negatively impacting your longevity, fries can also wreak havoc on your sex life. Since most fries are cooked in hydrogenated oil, they’re likely to spike cholesterol. When researchers at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine cross-checked cholesterol levels and sex life data from 3,200 men, they found that as test subjects’ cholesterol levels went up, so too did their risk for erectile dysfunction.
Women aren’t immune to crispy, delicious death sticks (aka French fries) either. Fries and other salty foods increase water retention and bloating, cautioned Good Housekeeping. "Blood flow is what makes an orgasm possible, and too much salt will make it more difficult to get to that point, health and wellness coach Nicole Kasal told the magazine.
Microwave popcorn may be nuking your sex drive
Who doesn’t like to snuggle up on the couch with Netflix and a bag of freshly popped popcorn? But before you zap another kernel, you might want to check the label for compounds called perfluoroalkyl acids (PFASs). These anti-stick "grease- and water-proof substances" (which are also found in nonstick pots and pans) are supposed to help keep fresh popcorn from sticking to the bag as you pop it.
However, a Danish study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives warned that the compounds can also make their way onto food. This risk "increases with higher temperatures" and "longer contact time." And as Healthline summarized, "The findings suggest people who frequently ate out or consumed microwave popcorn had significantly higher levels of PFAS."
PFASs can affect fertility as they’ve been found to lower sperm counts and worsen the quality of the sperm cells that remain, especially in young men. Unless and until the FDA bans PFASs, you’re going to want to be extra cautious when buying microwave popcorn.
Chewing gum can leave you feeling bloated before sex
You might think popping a piece of gum before any sort of make-out session is a smart thing to do. But, well, you’d be wrong. As WebMD explained, the simple act of chewing a piece of gum repeatedly can cause you to also swallow air. That can leave you feeling bloated and gassy — two things nobody wants to experience before sex.
Mint gum, in particular, may be a bad idea since some rat studies point to potential problems. A study published in the medical journal Urology found that male rats who were gibven herbal mint teas experienced a drop in their testosterone levels. A later study of male rats published in Food and Chemical Toxicology also found that spearmint led to "decreased sperm density."
Despite being good for digestion, these studies show that mint may not be the best choice for all situations. If you’re concerned about having bad breath in the bedroom, there are options other than gum. Focus on your oral health regime and make sure you are brushing your tongue as well as your teeth since a number of odor-producing molecules can hang out there. Dentist Michelle Chan advised Cosmopolitan readers to drink more water, since bad breath is often a sign of being dehydrated.
Spicy peppers can cause a fire in your stomach — and other sensitive areas
Chili peppers have a reputation as an aphrodisiac — and there is some truth to that. In one study, 114 men were given a plate of mashed potatoes and a bottle of chili sauce and instructed to flavor the potatoes to taste. The researchers then compared the amount of hot sauce consumed to the men’s testosterone levels. Interestingly, the men who used the most hot sauce had the highest testosterone levels (via Self).
Before you douse your — or your partner’s — plate with Sriracha, consider that more than 60 million adults experience acid reflux every month, and hot peppers and other fiery foods can be a major culprit. "If you’ll be reclining during intimacy, the last thing you want is stomach acid [backing up and] interrupting things," dietitian Keith-Thomas Ayoob told Livestrong.
If you still plan on cooking with hot peppers before a night of sex, be especially aware of another problem pointed out by Cooking Light: "[The oil in chili peppers] spreads like wild fire (literally) along whatever it touches, and water won’t help in the slightest." If you’re not careful, you can get this fiery oil in your eyes, on your face, or on any number of other sensitive spots across your body.
Tonic water can pummel testosterone levels and sperm count
The T in a G&T could be a no-go in the bedroom, especially for couples who are attempting to conceive. It turns out that the popular cocktail mixer known as tonic water contains a compound called quinine (which comes from the bark of a central and South American tree called the cinchona). Quinine isn’t just used to give tonic water its bitter taste — it’s also a drug. It is still used to treat malaria around the globe.
While generally considered safe by the USDA in small doses, large amounts of quinine can cause a host of ills ranging from blurred vision and vomiting to cold sweats, confusion, and even chills, according to data from the Mayo Clinic. It can also be a vibe killer in the bedroom, Yvonne K. Fulbright, a certified sex educator told Woman’s Day. The quinine in tonic water could temporarily lower a man’s testosterone levels and sperm count, she cautioned. Plus, the carbonation in the mixer can lead to gas and bloating.
Black licorice can end more than your sex life
Black licorice seems to be one of those unusual foods you either love or hate. Even if you dislike it, though, a survey conducted by CandyStore.com revealed black licorice is the most popular jellybean flavor in eight states.
Even if you do love it, there’s ample scientific evidence that proves may want to avoid it. The main compound in black licorice that gives it its unique taste is called glycyrrhizic acid. And glycyrrhizic acid is no friend to the human body. In a study conducted at Osaka General Hospital in Japan, researchers found that regular consumption of black licorice can impair testosterone production in men with the underlying health conditions type 2 diabetes and chronic hepatitis.
The FDA has even cautioned, "If you’re 40 or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia." Excessive consumption of black licorice can even lead death, such as in the case of a 54-year-old man from Massachusetts who suffered cardiac arrest in 2019 and subsequently died after eating one to two large bags of black licorice daily for three weeks.
Eating lots of oatmeal can pump the brakes on morning sex
Oats are often called a nutrition superfood — and they are in many ways. Harvard’s The Nutrition Source confirmed that these flaky grains help lower your risk of heart disease. That same potent fiber found in oats is also useful for helping people to lose weight or avoid overeating. But there’s a downside to a diet filled with multiple bowls of oatmeal — especially if you’re the type of person who likes to eat breakfast and then crawl back into bed on the weekends for a romantic encounter.
According to Jacqueline Richard, California-based certified sex therapist, eating oatmeal causes your body to produce a natural stress-reducer known as serotonin. In small doses, serotonin is good, and it can even boost your libido. However, the expert told Woman’s Day, when you eat a lot of oatmeal, you end up producing high levels of serotonin, which causes a drastic drop in sexual desire. Additionally, oatmeal contains a lot of fiber, which can trigger gas and bloating. And nobody wants to feel that way before sex.
Too much sugar can cause quite a few problems in the bedroom
"Sweets for my sweet," the classic oldies song goes, "sugar for my honey." That’s all fine and good — just as long as you’re not about to hit the sheets. In addition to triggering a surge in blood sugar levels followed by that inevitable crash, diets that are high in sugar can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular health, cautioned Joshua Gonzalez, a urologist specializing in sexual medicine, in an interview with Men’s Health.
Poor cardiovascular health means poor sexual performance since orgasms and erections depend on proper flow of the red stuff. High sugar diets also appear to slash testosterone levels in men by more than 25 percent, according to a Massachusetts General Hospital study. And women don’t get off much better (no pun intended).
In an interview with Redbook, Dr. Yvonka De Ridder, a clinical sexologist with the American Board of Clinical Sexology, warned that diets high in sugar can lead to yeast infections and unpleasant vaginal odors.
Your favorite takeout foods may lead to fertility problem
Bad news sushi and Chinese food lovers: Soy (think edamame, soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, et cetera) can dull your sex drive. In this situation, the harm comes from what are called phytoestrogens. According to Healthline, phytoestrogens are naturally occurring compounds found in a number of plants that function similarly to the hormone estrogen once they enter the body. Although these phytoestrogens are present in many foods including fruits, veggies, legumes, and some grains, soybeans contain among the highest levels. So what do they do?
A study conducted by Harvard researchers have found that just half a serving of soy daily can cut sperm production by 40 percent (via New Scientist). A study of women in The Journal of Nutrition warned that high levels of soy can decrease estrogen and alter ovarian function. Whether you’re just hoping to get it on or grow your family, you may want to reconsider your takeout meal.