Of all the reasons your parents gave you for not having sex, they probably missed this one: Sex can leave you feeling sad. In fact, new research shows that nearly half of all women have come away from sex feeling more down than before they got it on.
Forty-six percent of young women say they have experienced the “post-sex blues,” or what scientists call postcoital dysphoria (PCD), according to a new study published in the journal Sexual Medicine. One in 20 report experiencing it more than once in the past four weeks.
Why women feel sadness or anxiety after sex isn’t clear; researchers say that it might have an evolutionary function. But experts do know that specific foods can reduce anxiety, improve your mood, and enhance your performance in bed by increasing blood flow and levels of the pleasure hormone dopamine—leading to a healthier, happier you after sex.
Eat This, Not That! compiled a list of these essential Foods that Beat the Sex Blues. Eat them before date night and know you’ll end the night pleased with your lover—and yourself. (And to whittle your middle and look and feel better than ever, try these 50 Best-Ever Weight-Loss Tips Skinny People Follow.)
SEXY MOOD FOOD #1: PUMPKIN SEEDS
That Pumpkin Spice Latte may be on your mind first thing in the morning, but before bedtime, getting some sustenance from a real pumpkin might lift your spirits more effectively. In fact, pumpkin seeds are like crunchy little nuggets of Prozac. They’re one of the best food sources of an amino acid known as tryptophan, which helps the production of serotonin in your brain. Antidepressants help the brain to circulate serotonin, so if you’re taking them now, these little pumpkin pick-me-ups may make them even more effective. They’re also one of these 50 Best-Ever Snacks for Weight Loss!
SEXY MOOD FOOD #2: APPLES
An apple a day may help keep the doctor away, but it can help bring one, and others, closer. Italian researchers divided more than 700 female subjects into two groups: those who ate apples daily and those who didn’t. They found that those who regularly consumed the fruit—which is rich in sex-boosting phytoestrogens, polyphenols and antioxidants—had more enjoyable and pleasurable sex than those who didn’t. (And while you’re selecting a fruit to finish off your meal, avoid the cantaloupe; it’s rich in a molecule called myoinositol that has been proven to decrease desire-driving testosterone in women by a whopping 65 percent.)
SEXY MOOD FOOD #3: GREEN TEA
More green tea makes you sexier, for the simple fact that it blasts belly fat with abandon. Its metabolism-boosting compounds, called catechins, increase metabolism and speed the liver’s capacity for turning fat into energy. But that’s not all: Catechins also boost desire by promoting blood flow to your nether region. “Catechins kill off free radicals that damage and inflame blood vessels, increasing their ability to transport blood,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD, of Healthy Simple Life. “Catechins also cause blood vessel cells to release nitric oxide, which increases the size of the blood vessels, leading to improved blood flow.” Nitric oxide just happens to be the active ingredient in Viagra. Jump start your weight loss and sex drive—and lose up to 10 pounds in one week, like our test panelists—with The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse!
SEXY MOOD FOOD #4: RED WINE
If you’re looking for a way to simultaneously boost your libido and calm those pre-date jitters, pour yourself just one glass of red wine. Women who drank one to two glasses of the stuff had heightened sexual desire compared to ladies who didn’t down any vino, a Journal of Sexual Medicine study found. The elixir has a rich antioxidant profile that, like green tea, triggers nitric oxide production in the blood, relaxing artery walls. This increases blood flow down south, creating feelings of sexual excitement. Just be sure to cut yourself off after your second glass; enjoying more than that didn’t stimulate any further arousal, and knocking back too much can put a damper on your sexual performance and pleasure. And if you’re a vodka drinker, consider switching: James Bond aside, University of Washington researchers found that the women who drank vodka-based cocktails had less desire to have sex with a new partner than their sober counterparts.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #5: STEAK
Having some red meat with that red wine can set you up for an even more relaxing and invigorating evening. “One of the primary reasons couples stop having sex is because they’re tired and stressed. But sometimes, there’s a biological component at play,” says psychotherapist and sex expert Tammy Nelson, Ph.D. One of the causes of fatigue in women is iron deficiency. The condition can zap energy, which may result in a low sex drive. Bjork says remedying the situation requires a two-part approach: “If you think your diet lacks iron, focus on eating more grass-fed meat. Then, ensure sure your body is able to utilize the iron,” she says. “Consuming probiotic-rich yogurt, fatty fish and an L-glutamine supplement can improve gut health and help your body to absorb iron more efficiently.” And while you’re burning up the sheets, burn up calories with these 29 Best-Ever High-Protein Foods!
SEXY MOOD FOOD #6: MUSTARD
The next time you order a sandwich, swap omega-6-heavy mayo for omega-3-loaded mustard and get an instant mental health boost. While essential, omega-6s are also inflammatory and are linked to obesity, diabetes and depression. Mayonnaise, made from grain and seed oils, provides a whopping 11,359 mg of omega-6 per ounce. The humble yellow mustard, on the other hand, is among the top dozen or so sources of omega-3 acids, with nearly half as much, ounce per ounce, as canned tuna. A 2013 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that higher levels of omega-3s were linked to lower risks of depression.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #7: SPINACH
Eating spinach, a green rich in appetite-suppressing compounds, can not only give you a lingerie-ready figure but also put you in the mood by increasing blood flow below the belt. “Spinach is rich in magnesium, a mineral that decreases inflammation in blood vessels, increasing blood flow,” explains Bjork. Although that may not sound sexy, you’re sure to enjoy the effects. “Increased blood flow drives blood to the extremities, which, like Viagra, can increase arousal and make sex more pleasurable,” Nelson adds. “Women will find it is easier to have an orgasm, and men will find that erections come more naturally.” (Suffice it to say, spinach is one of these 50 Best Foods for His Penis.)
SEXY MOOD FOOD #8: DARK CHOCOLATE
The darker the chocolate, the sweeter the sex. That’s because cacao, the actual cocoa bean that’s found in far greater quantity in dark chocolate, increases levels of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin, which can lower stress levels, boost desire and make it easier to reach orgasm. And that’s not all: Cocoa also increases blood flow through the arteries and relaxes blood vessels, sending blood to all the right regions, which can boost sexual pleasure. (That’s why it’s one of the 8 Foods Better Than Female Viagra!) We like Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate with 88% cacao.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #9: RED BELL PEPPERS
Red bells are high in vitamins C, which might just be the magic sex-mood nutrient. In a study, young adults who took vitamin C supplements reported more sexual frequency and a lower level of depression. They also experienced decreased stress levels, lowered anxiety, and had higher levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Why red? Aren’t all peppers the same? In fact, red bell peppers—which have been allowed to ripen on the vine and not picked when still green—have considerably higher nutrient scores than their underdeveloped brethren—more than double the vitamin C and up to 8 times as much vitamin A.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #10: BRAZIL NUTS
Brazil nuts are a top source of selenium, vitamin E and magnesium, nutrients that boost testosterone and help increase sex drive. (This is important for women who are on the pill, as they can often find themselves low in magnesium.) Selenium is also critical for keeping his sperm healthy, in case you’re hoping that you-and-me time will one day yield a bundle of joy. To ensure his swimmers are of Olympian quality, stock up on these 8 Best Foods for Male Fertility.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #11: POMEGRANATE JUICE
Studies have found that pomegranate juices have positive effects on erectile dysfunction and testosterone. Pomegranates are also loaded with antioxidants that support blood flow, which can help boost sensitivity and pleasure. Just be sure to water your juice down a bit: One cup of the stuff has 31 grams of sugar.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #12: BANANAS
Bananas are one of the top sources of potassium, which helps to counteract the effects of foods high in sodium. Salty foods can not only diminish blood flood to the genitals, which can make it more difficult to reach orgasm, but they can also make you bloated. Keep your waistline slim, and your wallet fat, with these 30 Foods That Uncover Your Abs for Under $1!
SEXY MOOD FOOD #13: GINGER
Like its namesake from Gilligan’s Island, ginger is a spicy sensation that’s made to titillate. Consuming a mere teaspoon of the stuff a few times a week is all you need to boost the sex-drive hormone testosterone. Use it in place of another popular spice, spearmint: Regular consumption of the herb can reduce testosterone levels significantly, according to a Phytotherapy Research study. For more T-boosting tips, check out these 7 Testosterone-Boosting Foods.
SEXY MOOD FOOD #14: BLACK-EYED PEAS
Whether you find Will.I.Am’s beats sexy or not isn’t the point. Those other black-eyed peas are one of the richest sources of the B vitamin folate. Studies show that folate not only helps to reduce depression on its own, but may increase the effectiveness of antidepressants. Peanuts, lentils and leafy greens are also high in the nutrient. Bonus: They’re all among the 25 Best-Ever Carbs to Carve Your Abs!
SEXY MOOD FOOD #15: HALIBUT
Halibut, along with tuna and salmon, is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation — a major biological cause of depression. A study at King’s College in London found that omega-3s may be effective in patients at high risk of depression due to chronic inflammation. The nice thing about halibut is that it’s low in pollutants and ecologically sound, so you won’t end your date with any arguments about your impact on the environment. Instead, it’ll help bring your evening to a more pleasurable conclusion — halibut’s healthy fats are one of the 7 Best Foods for Your Orgasm.