Brief History of Chocolate and Sex

Brief History of Chocolate and Sex

Raul Guerrero

Saint Valentine and chocolate formed an alliance long ago, but the saint never got to taste the elixir extracted from cocoa beans, the scientific name of which is theobroma cocoa, ‘food for the Gods. 

A Roman doctor officiated the marriage of entire legions against the express dictates of Emperor Claudio II. The emperor deemed incompatible soldiering and matrimony, and the good doctor paid the insubordination dearly: the emperor had him decapitated. Valentin lost his head but conquered posterity as the martyr of love, thus claiming a spot in the Catholic Calendar, February 14, curiously coinciding with pagan fertility bacchanals.

Delicious Currency

Michael Coe, professor emeritus at Yale University and author of The True History of Chocolate, affirms cocoa was domesticated at least one thousand years before Saint Valentine, becoming a fundamental element in pre-Hispanic diets, pharmacy and rituals. Mayans and Aztecs had chocolate for a divine gift, in particular the aphrodisiacal properties. Emperor Moctezuma, chroniclers assured, drank two large cups of the sour drink before engaging his harem, an example followed by Casanova and Madame de Pompondiur to, she boasted, keep the flames of desire burning during the visits of His Majesty, King Luis VX.

Chocolate derives from the Mayan word chocol, to which Aztecs added the Nahutl atl, ‘water,’ turning it to xocoltl, ‘sour water’. Cristopher Columbus brought chocolate back to Spain. Spaniards found the drink so foul tasting, wrote a priest, it was better suited for feeding pigs. None the less, they did acknowledge the natives professed such reverence to chocolate that cocoa beans passed as currency. One bean bought a tomato, ten a pumpkin, one hundred a turkey and one thousand a slave.

Sweetened with cane sugar and honey, Chocolate took Europe by a storm.  One clarification: at first, chocolate was a delicacy reserved for the aristocracy. England prohibited its consumption among the working classes. British moralists thought the substance induced contemplative lethargy, relaxation and carnal conversation—the euphemism for sex in cultured circles. Tea, said the industrialists, let laborers drink tea to keep awake, alert and productive.

Ironically, the industrial revolution propelled mass production of chocolate powder. In 1861, Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box with a Cupid aiming its arrow to the masses and chocolate became Saint Valentine’s best ally.

The Science of Persuasion

Has science proven chocolate’s aphrodisiacal properties? Miami psychotherapist Nubia Santos responds: “Chocolate contains the neurotransmitters serotonin and anandamide which contribute to feelings of happiness and excitement during sex. Chocolate contains both, but science has not proven a direct effect on the libido. What is real is our propensity for auto-suggestion. Chocolate is delicious, sweet, and we live bombarded by marketers heralding the link between chocolate and sex; it follows that experiencing the slow melting of such sumptuousness in our mouths we can feel sexy.”

And poetry looms not far behind. Wrote the Nicaraguan author Giaconda Belli: When I eat chocolate / I think of you in the language of biting, / I think of your legs, / your foot…

Raul Guerrero is a writer and director of the Downtown Arts + Science Salon (DASS)

Downtown Arts + Science Salon: Rediscover the art of conversation over a glass of wine, or two.