The History of the Amorous Oyster

| by Ocean Wise

Two thousand years ago, the Roman Emperor Vitellius gorged on a thousand oysters in one sitting. That slurp fest went down in history, sealing the bivalve’s fate as an aphrodisiac for the ages. Casanova also played a part. Every morning, the world’s most famous lover ate 50 oysters on the half-shell supposedly to boost libido.

The thirst for a love drug stretches back thousands of years of human history and spans all varieties of animals, foods and cultures. In Asia, tiger penises and rhino horns are favoured. In North America, the drug of choice is a little blue pill called Viagra.

Some say that avocados, bananas, red wine and chocolate amp the love juice, while scientists continue to maintain that there’s simply no proof. But the masses don’t need scientific proof; it’s enough to trust Casanova’s morning regimen.

“In the oyster’s case, the delicate folds evoke female anatomy.”

The whole concept of an aphrodisiac tends to ignore the fact that sexual desire is complicated and individualized. To make a shopping analogy: boosting one’s sex drive is like buying the perfect pair of jeans, not a one-size-fits-all Snuggie. And yet, we still long for a quick fix. 

A food’s appearance plays a big part in earning it aphrodisiac status. (Just look at the attention the banana’s phallic shape has garnered over the years.) In the oyster’s case, the delicate folds evoke female anatomy and the act of slurping one down is more than enough to get the gutter-minded in the mood. 

Crassostrea Gigas, Photo: Pierre Dow
Photo: Pierre Dow

In 2005, the oyster received an unexpected nod from the scientific community when a team of American and Italian researchers discovered a link between oysters and sexy time. 

After the study was published in The Biochemical Journal, one researcher found himself inundated with journalists, all clamoring to report that the oyster was the real deal.

But there’s a hitch: the study didn’t even include oysters. It showed that octopuses, cuttlefish, and squids, related to oysters, have an amino acid in their eyeballs that has been shown to increase hormones in lab rats. That’s a tenuous link at best and raises the still-unanswered question: are oysters actually an aphrodisiac?

The answer is a resounding maybe. If the oyster raises your heart rate a few clicks, order a dozen and call them an aphrodisiac. But don’t expect the science to back you up just yet.