In a scene I’m writing, I’ve just had to stop my couple from cooking and eating together. Yes, put the chopper down people and back away from that carrot. I had to give them a different ‘warm-up activity’ to do instead. Not because there isn’t a strong affinity between food and sex, and indeed love, but because I’ve realised how often throughout the book this ravenous duo, and other partnerships, are at it. Chowing down, that is. And I don’t use the term as a euphemism.
Food is the perfect association for sex. It’s a major pleasure, one hungers for it, may crave it, and is satisfied by it. It can symbolise and it can fuel the sexual appetite. In her article The Relationship Between Sex and Food, Maryanne Fisher notes chocolate, avocados, and almonds as purported aphrodisiacs. Chocolate so dark, voluptuous, and rich (reputed to have been banned from monasteries in the 17th century); soft and slippery avocado; almonds with their distinctive bitter aroma; and bananas with their, er, characteristic shape. Fisher notes the dietary characteristics that link food with sexual desire, but most of all, we know the link lies in the sensuality of food, in its many parallels and reminders of human relations. From the ripe-to-bursting figs in a Renaissance painting, it’s been the ultimate metaphor.
Food can be honey-sweet, sticky, soft, or as hard and as phallic as you please, and not least hot and spicy. It can denote growing intimacy between lovers as they cook and eat together, or demonstrate caring if they cook for one another. My hero also uses food to show his twin cultural backgrounds to his love.
Nothing new: eating and sex, two absolute necessities for our survival. One of the most famous literary scenes featuring ‘food as foreplay’ is in Fielding’s 1749 comic novel The History of Tom Jones, between Tom and Mrs Waters – though the reputation of the vignette is truly sealed by Tony Richardson’s film version. The scene describes the hero’s “vast piece of beef” that makes his dining companion sigh “so soft, so sweet, so tender…” Fielding leads the reader to the conclusion that all ended well for the couple, and that, behind closed doors, Mrs Waters “enjoyed the usual fruits of her victory.”
Thinking of our modern, multicultural society, is there a more sensual food than pasta? The silken texture echoing that of the skin, the slipperiness when sauce is added. Think of Nora Ephron’s Rachel bringing linguine, unctuous with tomatoes, to her lover in her recipe-laden novel Heartburn. (And how later she throws a key lime pie in his face as their relationship deteriorates). As in Tom Jones, the movie Chef lets us know what kind of sex Jon Favreau’s Casper will have with Scarlett Johansson’s Molly without a single garment being shed, because she watches him prepare pasta aglio e olio for her, fascinated by the sight of his strong hands working the smooth dough.
Which brings us to another point, one often made: nothing is sexier than a man who can cook. Well, perhaps not ‘nothing’, but it is pretty sexy. Think of the skills on show, not to mention the implications. A man who can stir, fold, knead, roll, successfully handle tools (and I do use the term as a euphemism). One who can work with artistry, and with attention to detail. Wouldn’t you consider going to bed with that person? And the appetite. Okay, not the sight of a man wolfing a burger in front of the TV, but opposite you, eating with relish, the occasional, knowing meeting of eyes… Then there’s the caring, the affection of someone putting a self-cooked meal in front of you.
I’ll tell you, just writing this makes me feel like going off to get a snack.
Maryanne Fisher, The Relationship Between Sex and Food, in Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/loves-evolver/201102/the-relationship-between-sex-and-food, retrieved 24 March 2018.
Nora Ephron, Heartburn, originally published in 1983.
Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, first published in 1749
Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau, 2014.