Aphrodisiacs: A science-backed, curated guide to stimulating all your senses

Aphrodisiacs: A science-backed, curated guide to stimulating all your senses

By Cristina Bagozzi

When it comes to aphrodisiacs (substances and experiences that promise to boost pleasure and desire), it's often hard to separate myth from reality. The term has long tantalized our imagination and inspired countless searches for creative ways to evoke pleasure (some, unfortunately, high on promise but short on performance; sorry, chocolate).

Yet when you peek behind the romance, you'll be delighted to discover some profound (and fascinating!) science. So if you've ever been curious (or simply confused) by the world of aphrodisiacs, you're in the right place.

This thoughtfully-curated (and, most importantly, scientifically-supported) guide is the perfect place to find inspiration and practical applications for harnessing the power of aphrodisiacs to stimulate all your senses, one by one.

Are you ready to incorporate a little more pleasure into your everyday life? Read on.


1. Smell & the aphrodisiac power of scent

Our sense of smell is so powerful and unique that I've dedicated my brand EMMOTIV to it. So it only seems fitting to start here. As explained in countless publications, including National Geographic, our sense of smell is the only one "directly linked to the memory and emotional learning centers of the brain." This is why we have such instinctual, visceral reactions when we smell certain odors. 

Furthermore, through aromatherapy and aromachology (the study of the link between emotion and scent), we have learned that certain aromas are especially effective at stimulating and supporting pleasure. The list is long, but some of the most well-studied aromas with aphrodisiac qualities include:

  • Rose Oil: Sweet with a delicate touch of spice, it has been shown to release of dopamine, help boost mood and ease feelings of depression (learn more here)
  • Jasmine Oil: Rich, warm and sensual, it has been shown to increase physical signs of arousal (learn more here)
  • Vanilla: Comforting and creamy, this powerhouse aroma bodes many benefits, including helping to ease feelings of anxiety (learn more here), critical to supporting feelings of pleasure 

With this wealth of knowledge, it is no coincidence that our perfume creation, Love Euphoric, blends all three of these ingredients (along with others) into a beautifully layered composition—equally vibrant and sensual—intentionally designed to amplify feelings of passion and adoration.  

Emmotiv Love Euphoric


2. Taste & the stimulating power of food

Although the aphrodisiac potential of chocolate, a Valentine's Day staple, is more myth than a fact (learn more here, and sincere apologies if you read it here first), there are plenty of other foods with studied aphrodisiac abilities. Below are three to consider sampling for their novelty and versatility, complete with links to recipes:

  • Maca: This root vegetable from the radish family, typically consumed in powder form, can be a great alternative or addition to your morning coffee or dessert. I enjoyed these recipes from Good Food Baddie. (Learn more about the science of maca here.)
  • Saffron: Extracted from the flower Crocus sativus, it may be a bit too bitter in pure form, but delightful when used as an accent in savory dishes like these from Insanely Good Recipes. (Learn more about the science of saffron here.)
  • Ginseng: Not to be confused with Peruvian Ginseng (which is another name for maca), this adaptogen root vegetable pairs well with soups and teas, adding a touch of bitter sweetness. (Learn more about the science of ginseng here.)

When it comes to food, remember to have fun and experiment. Although associated primarily with taste, food engages all our senses in a way few other things do. My take? Even though chocolate may not have the chemical components to qualify it as an aphrodisiac on paper, the mere sight (and scent) could compensate for that if you are a chocolate lover. Read more about proven (and debunked) aphrodisiac foods in Time.


3. Sound & the sensual power of music

Profoundly human and universally emotive, experiencing (and creating) music feels so good, it's increasingly being used as a form of therapy and healing. But why does music evoke such a powerful physiological response? As explained in National Geographic, listening to music "activates the brain's 'pleasure center', a deep region of the brain that connects to dopamine neurons and is activated during eating and sex."

It's no wonder music is a staple component of curating an atmospheres designed to evoke pleasure. While this transcends genres, I invite you to experience our new (and first!) Spotify playlist Love Euphoric. Equal parts vibrant and sensual, this indie-inspired curation is a perfect complement to an intimate dinner sampling aphrodisiac dishes served up above. Open in Spotify

Love Euphoric - Spotify Playlist


4. Touch & pleasure-boosting massage

At a fundamental level, physical touch is, in and of itself, an aphrodisiac. Human touch simultaneously increases oxytocin (the "love hormone") and lowers cortisol (the "stress hormone"), as explained here. This means that simply holding hands can evoke feelings of sensuality and passion. We are just starting to understand the healing capacity of touch in promoting overall health and well-being.

And one quite literally exciting area of practice is that of sexual reflexology, which singles out specific pressure points believed to evoke arousal. This guide from Healthline details the best points to start with, summarized below:

  • Start by massaging the top of the head and skin above the ears (this helps calm an overactive mind).
  • As a counterpoint, follow by massaging the bottom of the feet, which helps stimulate blood flow and energy. Target two areas on the feet: (1) on the sole of the foot, about one third of the way down from the toes and (2) at the base of the toe.
  • Then travel up to massage the inside of the calves, about two fingers above the ankles. This continues to promote a sense of balanced calm and warm energy.
  • Now, with the yang (top) and yin (bottom) energies balanced, proceed to more central areas of the body, including the belly (about two fingers below the belly button) and the point where the hip hinges.

As with all physical touch, comfort and trust are uncompromising prerequisites for pleasure.


5. Sight & the stimulating power of visual arts

You've heard it before: beauty is in the eye (and mind) of the beholder. But did you know science backs it up? Studies have shown that seeing something beautiful, whatever that may be to you, activates the pleasure-boosting areas of the brain and releases dopamine (learn more here)

In a way, looking at a work of art you love can feel like falling in love. Take this as a not-so-subtle hint to visit a local gallery, watch a romantic movie, flip through an art book or even create art yourself. My take? What could be more stimulating than the freedom of self-expression? I especially loved this short and sweet article from Messy Ever After about how to create art even if you're not an artist. 

While certain colors (especially of the red variety) are often associated with sensuality and libido, there is a bit less definitive proof here, though some studies do show a promising link. Ultimately, how it makes you feel is more important than any study. 


About the author

Cristina Bagozzi is the founder and owner of EMMOTIV, a brand dedicated to celebrating the beauty of human emotion through the art of scent. Learn more at emmotiv.com. You can also follow @emmotiv on Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and LinkedIn and @emmotivbeauty on Facebook.

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