The Lure &Lore of Chocolate, Part One
Cioccolato. Schokolade. Chocolat. No matter the language, our obsession with chocolate has been an incredibly long romance and fascination. The birthplace of chocolate is Mesoamerica, placing one of the most revered and popular sweet treats at an age of 4,000 years, with a traced origin around 2000 B.C. in the Amazon.
For the Mayans in Guatemala, chocolate was originally produced in a bitter liquid form with the cacao paste mixed with water, cornmeal, and chili and ingested hot. Ek Chuah was the god of cacao who was celebrated yearly, and cacao was used for a variety of ceremonial, medicinal, and celebratory purposes within the culture around 450 B.C.
With the seeds carrying currency value, cacao was imported by the Aztecs who believed they were a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. From the beginning it was considered an aphrodisiac that gave those ingested its powers special strength. Unlike the Mayans, the Aztecs drank their cacao cold.
Chocolate didn’t become the sweet treat we associate it with until it migrated to Europe in the 1500s thanks to Christopher Columbus and the Spaniard conquest of the Aztecs, and it became a favored decadence for aristocracies. A century later, chocolate had made its way across Europe to become popular in other countries. Demand for cacao created a dedicated slave market due to the labor required to manually process the plant, and as the English, Dutch, and French colonized they enslaved Africans to bear the burden of this work. Even today, the Ivory Coast of West Africa is the largest producer of cacao, providing two-thirds of the world’s source.
Chocolate didn’t take the solid, modern form and flavor until the 19th century, when the Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten found a way to reduce the bitterness through the introduction of alkaline salts and created a machine that removed cacao butter from the chocolate liquor, allowing for molded chocolate to become the new shape and form. These processes created during the Industrial Revolution sparked the rise of manufactured chocolate from the late 19th to 20th centuries, including household names such as Nestle, Cadbury, and Hershey, segueing and securing its place as a solid edible replacing its liquid origin.
Early advertisement audiences for chocolate were primarily women, using marketing strategies that aligned chocolate with romance and dating, and targeting housewives by suggesting chocolate was something beneficial for families to indulge and consume. Thus, chocolate became threaded throughout the tapestry of our culture and cemented its place as a revered part of our history and future as a food associated with love, sex, and bliss.
In our next post, we will examine the science behind why chocolate entices, which type(s) of chocolate might incite our sex drive, how it interacts with the body to stimulate bliss, and its role as a libido enhancer.
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Sowing the Seeds of Orgastronomy
If science is the how and why of the relationship between sex and food, then culture provides the who, what, where, and when. Culture is the people, traditions, places, and times that we associate with food and sex, and then impact how we link the history of how we determine ‘what’ is sexy.
In thinking about my own history and culture, the images and links I make to food and sex actually take a more negative connotation than positive. Rather than encouraged to see food as a nourishing source of sexual power and joy, food in my family was often regarded as simple sustenance. Hailing from a family with a history of body dysmorphia and eating challenges, the experiences I remember the strongest are aligned more with how food could make me less sexy rather than enjoying food for the joy it could bring me as a source and appendage of pleasure. Considering the Catholic religiosity I was immersed in, it is not surprising that an environment of deprivation rather than celebration and indulgence was the narrative that I grew up immersed in.
However, I didn’t grow up in a bubble, and another factor of environment was the society I lived in, both locally and nationally. Exposure to media, such as television and movies, taught me that chocolate and strawberries were associated with sexual gratification and romance. Local journalism and other sources taught me that oysters were an aphrodisiac, and that herbs could be potent methods to stroke and enhance libido. Growing up in the rust belt during the 80s, alcohol was always a prevalent part of dating, romance, and relationships.
By the time I went to college, I magically thought that if someone bought me chocolate, strawberries, and champagne, and put on some music, that biology would take care of the rest. Of course, we all know there is more to sexual gratification than this, and the expectation that the mere presence of these foods would illicit what I thought pleasure should be demonstrates the strength of cultural history and exposure in our environment.
Culture is what we are taught to expect related to sex, sexuality, pleasure, and what will give us what we feel we need to experience gratification. It is our emotional connection to pleasure, and how we interpret and filter our expectations through our personal lenses.
So, if you were raised in a familial environment where the concept of food and pleasure was deconstructed through negative associations, what can you do to change that viewpoint? For one, our brains have the benefit of plasticity, which means we can create neural pathways with experience and association. If you have never seen food as a source of pleasure, but more something remembered as painful, working with a professional to help create re-association can assist with helping to overcome those associations to help create a way to find the joy in what food and sex paired has to offer.
Exposure is another way to create these links, by actively creating your own personal culture that allows yourself to lean into the pleasurable elements that linking food with sex can bring. For example, if you were always told that chocolate would give you bad skin, so you have associated to fear eating this, try bringing small amounts into your romance and sex life. This could be small pieces of chocolate brought into the bedroom for single or partner foreplay, or a chocolate dessert shared with a partner that you purchase specifically to share when preparing to enjoy sex.
Focusing on pleasure is what gives our life meaning and joy. Learning to love food not just as a source of nourishment, but a central tenant to the foundation of what makes us feel good, allows us to nurture our sexual appetites in expanded ways. By combining the ability to use science as a guide for how to trigger pleasure, and culture as the historical knowledge of what assists science, we can paint an anthropological and scientific picture of how to use food as an additional element of enhanced gratification.
Now that we’ve covered the bases of science, culture, and defining Orgastronomy, it’s time to have FUN! Next month we will be jumping in to explore that aphrodisiac for the ages: chocolate. Cum along for the journey!
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The Sexy Science of Orgastronomy
In my first blog entry, I discussed how food and sex access the same parts of the brain which is linked to memory and instinct, and how it stands to reason certain foods carry associations that have been categorized and passed down through our genetic luggage.
But what about the actual science behind how food gives us the same skin tingling excitement that we experience through sexual gratification?
At the heart of it all are neurotransmitters, such as endorphins: chemicals released by the body that have an impact on the emotions we feel. Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers and can improve our state of mind, and they are released during both experiences that enhance pleasure or pain (which can factor into enjoyment of BDSM). Endorphins are meant to help us manage stress and help elevate our moods. They are there as guides to let us know what we can expect to derive pleasure from, and to assist when we feel paralyzed by pain.
One neurotransmitter, dopamine, triggers emotions like love and lust: the anticipation alone can trigger your brain to respond by releasing dopamine when it expects to be ‘rewarded’ via an activity that brings gratification, be it sex, food, exercise, or anything else associated. Another is serotonin, which helps with regulating mood, blood flow, temperature, and digestion, and is released during sex with dopamine as a chemical balancer. It also plays a role in regulating appetite. Certain foods can increase serotonin levels, such as nuts and seeds, some of which are associated aphrodisiacs.
Like anything else, if we continuously flood our sensory systems or experience a deficit, we can experience withdrawal, which is why dopamine has been linked to food, sex, drug, and exercise addictions created by developing a ‘tolerance’. Low levels of serotonin can inhibit sexual libido while high levels can exaggerate it, and people often crave carbohydrates when experiencing a deficit as they seek to illicit a serotonin response. Neurotransmitters are powerful tools that enable us to understand how our interactions in culture and society impact our physical health and well-being.
Another hormone that assists in creating feelings of attachment and love is oxytocin. Known for ages to interplay in bonding between partners and relationships with our children, oxytocin is released in various ways: via touch, eye contact, and through the art and act of sharing. Something as simple as skin to skin contact, a communal meal, or feeding another in a loving way, can create associations of affection and pleasure toward that person AND what you are eating. This can create hormonal nostalgia for foods experienced with lovers that later induce the same reactions when presented for consumption. Our bodies have incredible capacities for cellular memory, and like anything else, these can change or morph over time depending on the circumstances.
Food, like anything else biological, is comprise of various compounds and chemicals, some of which can create the same physical triggers we experience in sexual gratification. For example, nitric oxide is released when we feel physically turned on, assisting with dilation and blood flow to our genitalia, and foods such as dark chocolate, watermelon, and pomegranates, all considered aphrodisiacs, contain this molecule.
It brings a whole new dimension of understanding how the biological influence of food and eating elicits emotional and physical responses to create a dynamic synergy that impacts how we engage in attachment, pleasure, and gratification. Even more fascinating is how we have the ability to choose what we put into our bodies to enhance and influence what we hope to experience. If we are influenced by the food we eat on a biological and emotional level, then the adage ‘We are What We Eat’ holds true. By that logic, I tender that we also 'Fuck Like We Eat’ too.
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Full Body Yum
Are there any greater sensory experiences than sex and food? Each tantalizes and teases for uniquely different reasons. Sex encapsulates the physical sensation of pleasure brought alive and heightened, accessible through all of our senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision. Food satisfies our primal desires primarily through taste, smell and vision, with hearing and touch incorporated under certain circumstances. And when you put sex and food together, you get a sublime experience that fulfills our deepest erotic cravings: Orgastronomy.
But what is it about food combined with sex that makes both even sexier? Throughout the ages, certain foods have stood as symbolic phallic totems (zucchini, banana, cucumber), vaginal/breast totems (peaches, papaya, melons) and elements of sexuality, such as virginity (cherries). Food has always stood as a representation of the physical and theoretical aspects of sexuality, so it stands to reason incorporating the additional sensory experience of flavors, texture, and temperature inherent to food would create an elevated, deepened ecstasy.
Beyond the symbolism, there is a scientific basis to why food and sex trigger the same carnal sensations: both the act of eating and sex engage the same part of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex. Whenever we taste something or experience orgasm, this section of the brain that sits directly above our eye sockets is keyed into our brain’s sensory sections, and tied to our limbic system, which houses our emotional and behavior responses. It is also associated with memory and learning, and as one of the least understood parts of the brain, it’s suspected that it builds the bridges that assist our bodies in developing its hedonistic concepts of pleasure and reward through sensory experience. It makes sense that our brains, channeling the perceptions created by eating or coitus, have developed a yawning library throughout the ages of what stimulates in a satisfying means, this information stored in a center responsible for our basic survival and remembrances.
We are walking encyclopedias of all that has come before, so it stands to reason that culture and customs around the relationship between food and sex have a long, deep history which informs why our brains employ physical responses to certain fare in the form of aphrodisiacs, and why we romanticize and develop legends around the impotence of certain foods.
Each month, this blog will seek out and delve into a different aspect of this fascinating relationship between our mouths, our bodies and our souls, and find ways that deepen our satisfaction for all. So sit back, relax, and let me seduce your senses on this savory, erotic ride…Orgastronomy is going to blow your mind.
-by Holly Lovejoy