- Chocolate contains an array of compounds; many of these compounds are quite psychoactive.
- In a new study, the men reported more sex interest than did the women; the women reported eating somewhat more chocolate than the men.
- As women consume more chocolate, they become less interested in sex.
The first thing to realize (otherwise, nothing that follows will make sense) is that chocolate is like a drug. Chocolate is an ancient food, whose name is derived from the Nahuatl word cacahuatl. The Mayo-Chinchipe people cultivated cacao 5,300 years ago in Central America. For some religions, cocoa was considered to be of divine origin and gifted by the gods.
In 1648, according to the diary of English Jesuit Thomas Gage, the women of Chiapas Real arranged for the murder of a certain bishop who forbade them to drink chocolate during mass. In an ironic twist, the pontiff was ultimately found murdered after someone had added poison to his daily cup of chocolate. Second point: Women love chocolate.
How chocolate affects women and men differently
In order to understand the effects of chocolate, particularly in women, we need to consider the contents. Chocolate contains an array of compounds; many of these compounds are quite psychoactive, especially if you consume a sufficient amount of it. The effects of chocolate, like all drugs, are dose-dependent. Chocolate contains fats that may induce the release of endogenous molecules that act similar to heroin and produce a feeling of euphoria.
German researchers reported that drugs (such as naloxone) that are able to block the actions of this opiate-like chemical produced by eating chocolate prevented the pleasure associated with eating chocolate. Chocolate also contains a small amount of the marijuana-like neurotransmitter called anandamide. Although this molecule can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, the levels in chocolate are probably too low to produce an effect by itself. Chocolate also contains an estrogen-like compound and a long list of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.
In contrast to its effects on men, women more often claim that chocolate can lift their spirits. In a study of foreign and US college students and their parents, 14 percent of sons and fathers and 33 percent of daughters and mothers met the standard of being substantially addicted to chocolate. Women seem to have very strong cravings for chocolate, particularly when blood levels of progesterone are high.
Chocolate also contains phenethylamine, a molecule that resembles amphetamine, as well as some other psychoactive stimulants. Chocolate also contains small amounts of the amino acid tyramine. Tyramine can powerfully induce the release of adrenaline, increase blood pressure and heart rate, and produce nausea and headaches. Finally, chocolate contains theobromine and a little caffeine. The aggregate consequence of all these chemicals in the body would be high blood pressure, a fast-beating heart, a modest euphoria, and heightened arousal.
A recent study investigated the link between chocolate and sex interest in women. This was a cross-sectional analysis: It assessed the relationship between the frequency of chocolate consumption and a self-rated interest in sex. Please note that the potential for bias and confounding are inherent to observational studies. In this study, the potential for bias was mitigated by the very large sample size. Seven hundred twenty-three men and women, all over 20 years of age, completed surveys of chocolate consumption and interest in sex (on a scale of 0-10). The authors adjusted for potential confounders, such as gender and age.
The men reported more sex interest than did the women; the women reported eating somewhat more chocolate than the men. Surprisingly, women who ate chocolate more frequently reported significantly (P=0.03) less interest in sex. For women, the relation of chocolate frequency to sex interest was sustained even after being adjusted for age, sex, and ethnicity. A relationship was not observed in men. Essentially, as women consume more chocolate, they become less interested in sex. The men were interested in sex regardless of how much chocolate they ate.
There can be only one conclusion: Next Valentine’s Day, men should not give chocolate to women.
Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D. Author of Your Brain on Food, 3rd Edition, 2019 (Oxford University Press)
Golomb B A, Berg B K (February 12, 2021) Chocolate Consumption and Sex-Interest. Cureus 13(2): e13310. doi:10.7759/cureus.13310
Hormes JM, Niemiec MA ((2017) Does culture create craving? Evidence from the case of menstrual chocolate craving. PLOS One, Vol 12, e0181445.