cosmopolitan: food and sex, it's complicated

The pornification that's overhauling our clothes, our movies and our dance moves has now moved onto our dining tables, writes Kate Gibbs.  Food and sex, it’s complicated. We’re told oysters are an aphrodisiac and that to feed a loved one hand-peeled grapes is swoon-worthy. Food has been used in the history books and by bad novelists and movie makers as a metaphor for sensuality for years. The pornification that’s overhauling our clothes, our movies and our dance moves has now moved onto our dining tables. A dinner of light-as-air soufflé and dripping brandy-soaked velveteen custard might be described as arousing and romantic. I say it’s dinner.

I believe that those who say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach are aiming a little high.

Food is something we all do, and sex is something we will (eventually and arguably) do. But must we muddle them together with the notion that one improves the other; that they’re better paired up like the rest of us? Just look at Sophie Dahl. The former model turned culinary darling is building a career on making food sexy. She talks about Victoria sponge, “dripping with home-made raspberry jam, just out of the oven”, as she skitters around the kitchen in kitten heels. It’s a confusing distraction of simmering gorgeousness. I don’t know whether to make notes on how to make rhubarb caramel, or marvel at her cherry-tinted lips.

And there’s Nigella Lawson, with her sticky fingers, heaving apron and gustatory fetishes. Nigella takes spaghetti carbonara to bed to eat with her husband, and toys with double entendres (“Ah, look at these gorgeous golden globules”; “my mouth can handle it all”). She cooks and talks with such rapturous pleasure, teasing spaghetti with her fork and tonguing a couple of berries, all done with a cute head-tilt and coquettish smile. I adore her food, but the last thing I feel like after a batch of her triple-chocolate brownies is getting active between the sheets.

We’re confusing our food and our sex. Food writers, bloggers and dinner table guests speak freely of “orgasmic” dishes and “better-than-sex” chocolate cake. They declare their “passion” for farmers markets and “obsession” with dude food. And who isn’t having a “love affair” with salted caramel? Jamie Oliver thinks a salad is “sexy” and what woman would throw Adriano Zumbo out of bed? But it’s the macarons and not Zumbo that we really lust after, we don’t even know the guy.

You can suck a freshly shucked slippery oyster from its shell, or spoon into a melting chocolate pudding, and fake an orgasm all you like. But do it knowing there is very little proof about its aphrodisiac qualities. As Jay Rayner, a food reviewer in the United Kingdom wisely pointed out: “There is only one truly ingestible aphrodisiac and that’s the grape, after it’s fermented.”

But if food itself is not sexy, something needs to be said of a man in an apron. Some gorgeous lad, busily steaming new potatoes with mint or sautéing finely chopped onions for a moules marinieres? That’s sexy. A woman putting her heart into preparing a roast beef, bothering to sear the meat for that intense flavour and running a spoon through the rich gravy? Sexy. But it’s the bothering that’s sexy. It’s the person, not the food, that’s getting your heart racing. I love my gentleman caller all the more when he cooks me dinner, not because he has butterscotch sauce dripping down his muscly arms (because he knows how to keep clean, for heavens sake), but because he made something for me. I love him just as much when he fixes the shelves. Helpful people are sexy. People who are clever enough to know what a dish called moules marinieres even is are sexy. An intimate meal with the person you love (or lust after) is definitely very sexy.

This is the first in a food series for Cosmopolitan magazine, which is publishing the stories as part of its gorgeous new site and The Cosmo Collective, which launched today. Check it out here