By Jena Pincott
The biggies -- head, heart and hormones -- are in the right place. But these discoveries demonstrate how even tiny choices can play a role in the bedroom.
His Belt Size
Over the years, his waistline has stealthily expanded (whose hasn’t?), but you’ve never let it get between you and a great sex life. The surprise: His extra weight may actually have tipped the balance in your favor. <a href="http://www.nature.com/ijir/journal/v22/n4/abs/ijir201011a.html" target="_blank">Fat men last longer</a> -- so finds a study published in The International Journal of Impotence Research showing that men with a higher body mass could make love for more than seven minutes on average, versus less than two for their fitter and slimmer peers. Body fat may protect against premature ejaculation because it contains high levels of the sex hormone estradiol, which slows down a man’s ability to ejaculate. (Note: There’s a sweet spot -- levels that are too high may lead to erectile dysfunction, a condition more common in obese men.)
The Wrong Pocket Rocket
Your super-charged, jelly-rubber rabbit may be turning you off -- you just don’t know it yet. <a href="www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/7938.pdf" target="_blank">Some sex toys (seven out of eight in a study by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) contain dangerously high concentrations of phthalates</a>, which are new-car-smelling industrial chemicals that make plastic soft, squishy and easily molded into bumps, ridges and pearls. Problem is, phthalate exposure -- and the genital tract is especially vulnerable -- is associated with serious health problems, including <a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/phthalate-excretion-pattern-and-testicular-function-a-study-of-881-healthy-danish-men/" target="_blank">lower testosterone levels</a> (which may affect sex drive), <a href="http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2003/05.22/18-semen.html" target="_blank">lower sperm counts</a> and even certain cancers. The jury is out on the chemicals' exact toll on life and libido, but better vibes come from safer materials: medical-grade silicone, glass, metal and wood (or rolling a condom over a trusty old fave that you suspect has phthalates).
A Drafty Bedroom Window
Men aren’t the only ones whose extremities need warming up. Women’s do, too -- down there, <i>way</i> down there. In an orgasm study at the University of Groningen, half the couples were unable to make it to climax. <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4111360.stm" target="_blank">The problem was cold feet</a>, literally. Once socks were offered, the success rate shot up to 80 percent. <a href="http://crownpublishing.com/feature/excerpt-from-daniel-g-amens-unleash-the-power-of-the-female-brain/" target="_blank">Comfort is key</a> -- and the area of the brain associated with genital sensation is right next door to the one associated with feeling in the feet, writes Daniel Amen, MD, in his book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Unleash-Power-Female-Brain-Supercharging/dp/0307888940" target="_blank">Unleash the Power of the Female Brain</a></em>.
City Streets In Summer
More specifically, any foul odor -- a public restroom, old squeegees, fish bits or any other nose-wrinkler -- primes the subconscious to send you a message: "Protect yourself!" <a href="http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/02/23/0956797611400096.extract" target="_blank">The result of spending time in a stinky space is that we unthinkingly have safer sex</a>, finds a study at the University of New Mexico. Men and women sitting in a room that smelled (they were told a sewage pipe broke) reported significantly greater intentions to use condoms than those in a normal-smelling room. An innate disease-avoidance mechanism kicks in -- which (if an off odor doesn’t turn us off completely) could lead to fewer STIs and unplanned pregnancies.
How many lovers do you hope for in your lifetime? How many for your partner? Your answers (partly) <a href="http://www.academia.edu/2439397/Birth_order_and_sexual_strategy" target="_blank">depend on your birth order</a>, finds a study at Florida Atlantic University. Firstborns desire fewer sex partners on average (four) than their younger siblings (13). In general, firstborns focus on long-term goals like having kids earlier in life, while the younger sibs more often pursue short-term sexual strategies. The explanation: The eldest identifies more with parents and the status-quo norms; the others don’t have the same expectations and limitations. (In case you’re worried: While later-borns may desire more lovers overall, there’s no evidence that they’re likelier to cheat.)
We've long known that long-distance bike riding is bad for a man’s sex life (heat, pressure, friction = lower sperm count and erectile dysfunction). But <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22390173" target="_blank">women who ride a racing-style bike with handlebars lower than the saddle for more than 10 miles weekly have a serious problem</a>, too: a sustained loss of feeling in their genitals, finds a study at Texas A&M Health Science Center. That sleek, forward-leaning position puts undue pressure on the soft tissues of the perineum and pelvic floor. Riding this way, you may be the hottest, fastest thing on the road... but slower to warm up in bed. <a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-0__tYnhlir0/UKI0PrMASpI/AAAAAAAAAkE/d0_p8gRKyj0/s1600/granny+style.jpg" target="_blank">Better for your sex life: the upright '50s-style ride</a> lovingly known as the "Granny."
The Three-Cent Thing He Never Uses
When a man doesn’t floss, bad breath isn’t the only problem that can affect his sex life, finds a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02974.x/abstract" target="_blank">Those with gum disease -- an all-too-common result of dental neglect -- are more than three times likelier to have erectile dysfunction</a> than those with healthier mouths. Unflossed gums harbor bacteria that can enter the bloodstream. This clogs blood vessels, which in turn reduces the blood supply to that crucial organ (oh, and the heart, too). Flossing: It stimulates more than gums.
Related On HuffPost:
Nitric oxide is a key component in developing and maintaining an erection. <a href="http://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/features/natural-remedies-for-erectile-dysfunction">The amino acid L-arginine</a> -- found naturally in red meat, fish and wheat germ among other foods -- is known to boost the body's production of nitric oxide and has been used to successful treat ED in the past, according to WebMD. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database has also said the <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/erectile-dysfunction/sexy-supplements-what-really-works.aspx">amino acid could be used to treat ED</a>, Everyday Health reports.
The toxin PnTx2-6 -- found in the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/spider-venom-viagra-brazilian-wandering_n_1840381.html">venom of the Brazilian wandering spider</a> -- was found to improve "erectile function in aged rats," according to a study published in August.
Pomegranate juice has a number of health benefits; researchers recently found the tart drink was responsible for l<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/pomegranate-juice-blood-pressure_n_1930680.html?1349277050">owering blood pressure</a>. A 2007 small-scale study that found promising results in using <a href="http://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/features/natural-remedies-for-erectile-dysfunction?page=2">pomegranate juice to protect against ED</a> called for a larger test to prove its efficacy, WebMD reports.
Mmm, bark. Prior to Viagra hitting the market, doctors would prescribe the bark of the African yohimbe tree to ED sufferers. While its ability to improve erections is questioned, doctors are no stranger to its <a href="http://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/features/natural-remedies-for-erectile-dysfunction?page=2">yohimbe's many scary side effects</a>, including increased blood pressure and irregular heart beat, according to WebMD.
Live Science noted that ginseng was among one of the many <a href="http://www.livescience.com/13633-natural-aphrodisiacs-work-ginseng-viagra.html">natural aphrodisiacs</a> that had the most potential to treat ED.
A recent study found that <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/doubts-on-ginkgo-biloba-as-a-memory-aid/">ginko biloba extract does not prevent memory loss in those with Alzheimer's</a>, but it may help ED sufferers by increasing <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/erectile-dysfunction-herbs/MC00064">blood flow to the penis</a>, according to Mayo Clinic.
Also known by its snicker-inducing name horny goat weed, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/erectile-dysfunction-herbs/MC00064">epimedium has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine to treat ED</a>, according to the Mayo Clinic. However it warns that there has been little study into the herb's side effects, which include blood thinning and lower blood pressure.
For men with zinc deficiency, taking <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/erectile-dysfunction-herbs/MC00064">the mineral may help with erectile dysfunction</a>, according to Mayo Clinic.
A recent survey of four studies found there wasn't enough evidence to prove that using the centuries-old practice to treat ED actually worked. But urologist Bruce Gilbert told Everyday Health acupuncture is worth a shot: "It probably works best to treat the psychological component of ED. There is very little downside to trying it."
Earlier on HuffPost:
Oysters have a well-established history as an aphrodisiac (just look at that suggestive shape!): Romans believed in their libido-increasing abilities and Casanova wrote that he ate 50 for breakfast in "The Story of My Life." Well guess what? The mollusks are packed with the feel-good hormone dopamine. Zinc -- a mineral linked to stimulating testosterone, a hormone key to sexual arousal, can also be found in oysters, <a href="http://women.webmd.com/guide/food-spicier-sex-life" target="_hplink">according to WebMD</a>. A past study also suggested a link between <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1486054/Raw-oysters-really-are-aphrodisiacs-say-scientists-and-now-is-the-time-to-eat-them.html" target="_hplink">raw oyster consumption and sex-hormone production</a>, after researchers discovered that they contain rare amino acids previously found to stimulate testosterone and progesterone production in rats, <em>The Telegraph</em> reports.
2. Peppers (And Other Hot And Spicy Food)
The <a href="http://www.integratedsociopsychology.net/What_is_Love2/'LoveonaSuspensionBridge'-DonaldDutton&A.html" target="_hplink">"shaky bridge experiment"</a> is probably familiar to anyone who took Psych 101 in college. In the study, men were asked to walk across a tall, shaky bridge, and then asked by an attractive researcher to fill out a survey. They were more likely than those who walked across a less scary bridge to give the researcher a call later on, mistaking the physiological arousal from their fear response to the shaky bridge (increased heart rate, feeling a bit warm, breaking a sweat) for sexual attraction and arousal. In the absence of terrifying suspension bridges, you might try chomping down on a hot chile for the same physiological arousal. And just like hot peppers, <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/59801-libido-enhancers/" target="_hplink">spices like curry and cumin can also increase blood flow</a> and in turn, your libido, according to Live Strong.
Another provocatively shaped food, garlic is associated with <a href="http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/garlic-000245.htm" target="_hplink">increased blood circulation</a>, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. "Better blood flow to the genitals creates greater arousal for men and women," <em>Men's Health</em> reports. Garlic is also a traditional aphrodisiac in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It is one of the five pungent roots monks were told to avoid because of its effect on sexual desire (according to the Surangama sutra: <a href="http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/surangama.pdf" target="_hplink">"if eaten cooked, they are aphrodisiac..."</a>).
As Shakespeare wrote in "The Tragedy of Macbeth": "Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance..." In moderation, however, alcohol can lower inhibitions without the unfortunate side effect of decreased performance. A 2009 study conducted by the University of Florence also found that women who drank one to two glasses of red wine a day reported <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01393.x/abstract;jsessionid=7176BC0E5E8A69E77FFEEC523925B8C2.d03t02?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+on+4+August+from+10%3A00-12%3A00+BST+%2805%3A00-07%3A00+EDT%29+for+essential+maintenance&userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=" target="_hplink">"higher...sexual desire, lubrication and overall sexual functioning."</a>
Sex isn't all about the physical act; there's a good deal of mental stimulation necessary before one is in "the mood." Taking a bite or two of chocolate can help. The <a href="http://fitbie.msn.com/slideshow/7-sexy-foods-boost-libido" target="_hplink">cocoa-packed treat contains a compound called phenylethylamine, which floods the body with serotonin and endorphins</a> creating that loving feeling, according to Fitbie. While a study found that a boost in sexual desire after eating chocolate was all in participants' heads, we'll take it where we can get it!