Absinthe an aphrodisiac?

There are people who swear by absinthe's potent aphrodisiac powers. Then there are those who claim there is no such thing in the world as a true aphrodisiac. Finding a conclusive answer to the question may therefore prove a difficult task indeed.

Absinthe's alleged aphrodisiac properties aside for a while, we should first note that very little is actually known about the effects of absinthe in general. Or, to be more precise, very little is known about why or what in absinthe produces the unusual effects the drink is renowned for. To be sure, the effects have been documented -- and experienced -- by drinkers, doctors and scientists alike since the day absinthe was first distilled by Dr. Ordinaire in 1792. To this day, however, the actual cause of the effects has defied scientific explanation.

Alpha-thujone, the natural compound derived from the wormwood herb from which absinthe is made, gets some credit for absinthe's odd mind-shifting abilities. To some small extent, scientists have recently explained the biochemical reactions that cause thujone to improve brain's cognitive functions. But there is much more that remains unexplained -- and perhaps never will be explained by science alone. In these circumstances, it is extremely unlikely that researchers will suddenly pin down some compound X and confirm "this is the stuff in absinthe that acts as an aphrodisiac".

But does anyone care for scientific explanations? Certainly not the fans of the Green Fairy, as they affectionately call the drink:

"Is absinthe an aphrodisiac? Oh, sure, definitely. Definitely works for me," said Lee Davis, a psychology student from Australia, in an email to Absinthe Fever. "My girlfriend and I always have a wild time under the influence of the Fairy! Mind you, we don't drink often, and not too much. But when we do, it lifts the whole experience to stratospheric levels. Absinthe challenges whatever expectations you have about how stuff should feel, on an physical and emotinal level as well. Everything is so much intensified. Sometimes you even experience sensations you never knew existed!"

Lee clearly is a very keen proponent of absinthe's aphrodisiac powers -- but his comments perhaps do point us towards the crux of the issue. Perhaps the question to ask is not "Is absinthe an aphrodisiac?", but rather "Can absinthe enhance sexual experience?" It seems most fans of absinthe answer a firm "yes" to the latter.

This should come as no surprise. Absinthe, after all, is known to have a dramatic effect on the person's sensory perception. On one level, absinthe seems to improve the usual functioning of all senses. Yet on another level, it also alters the way the mind perceives or interprets sensory input. "[After drinking absinthe,] all sensations are perceived by all senses at once," wrote a French doctor in the late nineteenth century.

More recently, Paula Manners, an English holistic practitioner, caused controversy when she proclaimed at a Los Angeles workshop:

"Imagine living your life in black and white, in a world where you don't even have any concept of colour. You just don't know what colour is, all you know is shades of grey. Then, imagine your whole world suddently brighthened up with greens and reds and yellows and blues -- how would that feel? This is what absinthe does to your senses, all five of them. Now imagine how this translates into the bedroom."

But improving any love-making experience -- in however profound or dramatic a way -- does not strictly make absinthe an aphrodisiac. An aphrodisiac is usually understood to be a substance capable to stimulate desire in those who lack it to begin with.

To be sure, many have claimed absinthe does just that. Maybe so, but we like to think it is the charm of the Green Fairy, the magic of the ritual and the beauty of the opal green that in the end seduces the subject, and not any chemical compound.

Absinthe is magic, not chemistry. Let us keep it that way.

Got something to say about absinthe's aphrodisiac qualities?

At Absinthe Fever, we encourage you to get involved. In fact, this whole site is meant as an open forum about absinthe, because we believe that absinthe is more than a drink, or a bit of thujone in a bottle. The Green Fairy -- the affectionate name given to the absinthe drink in the 19th century -- is art, poetry, experience, lifestyle... So join us and share your thoughts anywhere on Absinthe Fever!

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H. Deniset absinthe poster
Whether or not absinthe possesses any aphrodisiac qualities remains a hotly debated topic, but this classic poster for H.Deniset, a Pontarlier distillery, leaves us in no doubt that the company of the opposite sex becomes more enjoyable under the wings of the Green Fairy. (Picture: Musee de Pontarlier)

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