Anyone who's seen the classic foodgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally or even uttered the famous phrase, "I'll have what she's having," understands why many people equate food and sex. Devouring your favorite meal is an experience of intense enjoyment, not unlike sharing an intimate moment with a loved one. That's what it's your favorite food, after all.
Food and sex are often on par with each other when it comes to awesome ways to spend your free time, but you might be surprised to learn just how much one affects the other. Many people know eating a balanced diet has positive effects on women's physical health, but food plays a key role in their sexual health, as well.
Here are seven things you might not — but definitely need to — know about the role food plays in women's sex lives:
1. Food and sex go together like peanut butter and jelly.
According to Alexandra Jamieson, author of Women, Food, and Desire: Embrace Your Cravings, Make Peace With Food, and Reclaim Your Body, food and sex are inherently linked because they're both sources of pleasure. That link emerges most strongly during a woman's adolescence, although it's not necessarily a match made in heaven.
"When girls are in their early teens, they start picking up on cultural cues that say they should be dieting, even though they already associate food with pleasure since they've been eating for their whole lives," Jamieson told Women's Health. "At the same time, young women also start becoming aware of the body's ability for pleasure — but there can be a lot of shame around experiencing that physical pleasure for the first time."
Many women develop a love-hate relationship with their body, and consequently, their sexuality. "To counteract this, Jamieson encourages women to reframe their thinking about pleasure. "If you don't feel that your body deserves pleasure, then you'll develop a disconnect with it in all areas," she said. "And you won't be able to feel pleasure in the bedroom."
2. But that doesn't give you a free pass to embark on a foodie free-for-all.
You don't have to increase your calorie intake to increase the pleasure you get from food. Instead, Jamieson advises taking your time to savor your food, rather than wolfing it down.
She encourages women to slow down, smell, feel, and really taste your food to get more pleasure from the overall experience of eating. "When your senses are fully present, you'll feel more pleasure," Jamieson said. "You'll be sending a signal to your body that it deserves to feel good."
3. Snacking smarter can make you feel sexier.
A survey of more than 1,000 women between the ages of 21-50 by Cello Whisps, a cheese snack company, found that 52 percent who participated in "healthy snacking during the day" were more inclined to have sex at night. Nearly the same amount of women (48 percent) reported snacking at least twice per day, and 86 percent of respondents said they'd snack more if a healthy option were always readily available.
While a bag of chips or a free office doughnut might be tempting, bringing a pre-portioned, healthy snack from home will make you feel good about your body all day — and more importantly, all night — long.
4. When it's time for your pre-coital meal, what you don't eat is just as important as what you do.
When a woman knows she'll be spending some non-sleeping time in the bedroom, she'll be even happier to know there are tons of foods — including some unexpected ones — that can help her get in the mood. Many people are already familiar with the most common aphrodisiacs such as oysters, red wine, and dark chocolate. Just as much as you'd like to include these on your pre-coital menu, there are even more foods you'll want to leave off.
Processed foods, such as white bread, diet soda, and microwave popcorn, are just a few of the guiltiest culprits. These are better saved for a solo Netflix binge than your next Netflix and chill session. Your waistline — and your libido — will thank you.
5. But it's not just what you eat. It's how much. Sometimes, more is ... more.
If you ever needed a reason to ditch your diet, researchers at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania have got it. In a 2015 study published in the journal Appetite, postdoctoral researcher Alice Ely found that women were more likely to respond to "romantically arousing images" when their stomachs were full rather than empty. Granted, the study only tested 20 women before and after they were given a "500-calorie nutrition supplement drink."
Again, this study reiterated the neurological link between food and sex. "What [the study] does suggest is that our brains respond to different rewards with similar circuitry, and that they interact with each other," Ely told Mic. "One class of rewards (food, sex, money) potentially could make other classes of rewards more exciting or pleasant."
But as with everything in life, the key is moderation. Eating too much often makes people want to sleep, not get busy. After a big meal, your glucose levels spike, essentially "switching off" a group of brain cells called orexin neurons (found in the hypothalmus) that normally keep us awake and alert. So while you shouldn't starve yourself before sex, you probably shouldn't "supersize" anything either.
6. Women will choose eating food over having sex — every time.
While many women feel conflicted about their relationship with food, an experiment with female hamsters has proven that when a lady is hungry, she'll choose eating over having sex. Every. Single. Time.
Jill Schneider, a researcher at Lehigh University, discovered this tendency by giving a female hamster the choice between leaving her home cage to enter a "food box" or a "sex box" containing a sexually experienced, adult male hamster. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results of each decision hinged on whether or not the hamster was already hungry or not.
When a hamster or person is full, a hormone called leptin is released and eventually enters the hypothalamus. This hormone is the catalyst for other, inherent hormones that jumpstart arousal. Schneider isolated this neurological effect by injecting a hungry hamster with leptin. Despite her empty stomach, the hamster went to the sex box. While both food and sex are sources of pleasure for women, it's clear there are times when one is a little (or a lot) more pleasurable than the other.
7. Friends don't let friends give into their cravings alone.
Whether it's food or sex, sometimes we don't make the healthiest decisions. And that's OK. While there may be some regret the morning after you eat an entire gallon of ice cream or booty call your ex, every once in a while, it's good — ironically, even healthy — to indulge in a little treat. According to Cello Whisps' study, more than three-quarters of women said that when snacking, they don't always eat healthfully — and 70 percent judge themselves for it.
Instead of associating your favorite snack with shame, Jamieson wants women to make a special occasion of giving into their cravings so they can more fully enjoy both the food itself and their relationship to it. "Many women give into their cravings in a guilty way, behind closed doors. They want chocolate but think it's bad, so they just stuff it in their mouths to get it over with," she told Women's Health. "You're more likely to enjoy it if you're with someone you love, and when you enjoy it more, you're less likely to think that cravings are bad."
Still not satisfied? This infographic shows just how much food can affect women's sex lives:
Cover photo via Shutterstock