“For the first time, I know what it is to eat. I have gained four pounds. I get frantically hungry, and the food I eat gives me a lingering pleasure. I never ate before in this deep carnal way… I want to bite into life and to be torn by it.” –Anaïs Nin
What are the elements needed for an extremely romantic and sensual date? Music, flowers, and yes, exquisite food. How many times have we listened about aphrodisiacs and "food porn," or were mesmerized by videos of food making? There’s a huge link between food and pleasure that makes us addicted to seeing it, smelling it, and of course, savoring it. But what is it that makes food so erotically enticing?
Our first guess would be that both are basic human needs. You may die if you're deprived from food but you'll certainly survive if you don't have sex. While a dry spell might not kill you, it’s undeniable that we conceive sexual pleasure as something necessary in our lives. The strange infatuation with sex resembles the one we feel for delicious food. So, the relationship between these two terms can be traced back for centuries, from symbols and ancient practices like eating animals testicles to increase the stamina, to the sensual descriptions of the pleasure obtained from eating something delicious. There's a scientific reasoning behind this pleasure.
As neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach PhD explains, pleasure is perceived by the brain through a series of processes that can be divided in three: liking (our hedonistic instinct), wanting (a motivational system of incentives), and learning (a process in which we make associations of the sensation). The latter helps us understand the association we make between food and pleasure, and it’s called the memory of the senses. Our brain has receptors that are connected to our neurons; when we eat, see, touch, smell, or taste something we like, these receptors send signals to the brain cortex, the place where we register the stimuli or we become aware of them. Moreover, these receptors also send signals to the brain's amygdala in the temporal lobe, the place that controls emotions. Through this process, the brain registers the sensation and creates a memory of that, associated with pleasure and stimulation.
Of course, let's not forget that the tongue and lips are some of the most important erogenous zones of the body. The mouth has many nerve endings connected to the brain receptors. Food, then, works as a stimulus and activates the zones of the brain in charge of pleasure.
Food is inextricably linked to our sexual development, and Freud can back us up on this. According to him, the first psychosexual stage is "oral," and it lasts for the first eighteen months of life. It's the most primal stage where as infants we obtain gratification through the mouth, and of course, food plays a natural part in this process. Although it happens during the first months of life, our brain saves that information in our unconscious, and as we grow up, we still feel and long for that oral gratification. Just think of most of the activities many people enjoy in their adulthood: drinking, smoking, and, of course, eating.
At the end of the day, food is also an important part of our own corporeality. As we consume it, food becomes part of ourselves. Besides the fact that food is an essential basic need, the erotic load it holds has become even more important to us because, after all, one of the things we seek the most is our own pleasure.
The photographs illustrating this article are by artist Stephanie Sarley and her Fruit Art Videos. If you want to know more about her, check her Instagram account: @stephanie_sarley