Coffee And Canoodling — Why A Cup Of Brew Can Lift More Than Just Your Mood

Thank your latte for that libido boost. ☕

Contributing Writer
​Two people hold hands and coffee mugs in bed.

Two people hold hands and coffee mugs in bed.

Modern society often seems to revolve around coffee and around sex, which means an almost countless stream of web pieces, and a more modest list of scientific studies, theorise a link between the two. Like many things coffee-related, the connection isn’t simple, but science supports the possibility that your latte is lifting your libido.

Macchiatos and the Mechanics of Sex

Coffee gets the blood flowing. Literally. Coffee is best known for waking us up, but it also promotes circulation and blood flow, fundamentals in arousal for both men and women. This vasodilation occurs when caffeine inhibits phosphodiesterase (PDEs), leading to a buildup of molecular messengers that trigger the expansion of blood vessels.

If PDE seems like a familiar acronym, that may be because the five most well-known drugs for Erectile Dysfunction are also PDE inhibitors. These drugs also work by vasodilation and this common mechanism suggests that coffee could also treat ED. In fact, one modest study did conclude that caffeine could treat ED. But sadly, in science at least, size matters and a girthier follow-up study found no effect. The matter hasn’t been put to rest, however, and caffeine does treat ED in rats, in case you were wondering.

Overall, though, clinical studies of the effects of mixing caffeine and various erectile dysfunction drugs haven’t reached a clear conclusion. But, Googling "Coffee and ED" will clearly flood your socials with ads for Viagra and Cialis. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Arousal: Psychological and Physical

You don’t have to be a Dr. Kinsey to know that sex is more mood than mechanics. Coffee, at least caffeine, gets the blood flow hitting the mechanics, and, more importantly, hitting mood, too.

Most coffee drinkers agree that a good cup elevates our mood. Science backs this up and has shown that caffeine triggers a firm dopamine response. Dopamine is one of the main pleasure neurotransmitters and plays a big role in sexual excitement. Caffeine can help prime that pump.

Caffeine and Dopamine

Studies in humans and mice have shown that caffeine boosts dopamine levels through the same adenosine receptors that wake us up. Interestingly, sex seems to increase dopamine through a separate molecular cascade. Cocaine boosts dopamine through another mechanism altogether. Similar results, different paths. This kind of diversity, different paths leading to similar destinations, is typical of biology and is one of the reasons it can be so hard to predict the biological effects of even something as simple as a cup of coffee.

Women and Men May Respond Differently

Interestingly, the paths to that dopamine response may also differ between women and men. This difference may underlie broader fundamental differences between the sexes, but with little research in this area, we wouldn’t know. Popular pieces linking coffee and women’s libido often cite a clinical trial exploring a possible link between caffeine and female arousal. The full study wasn’t ever completed, however, because its funding was cut.

Female-focused medicine and research is sorely lacking; by some accounts, these studies get 10% of the funding that their male counterparts do. The funding decisions are often driven by male-dominated panels. It seems that equitable funding, like the clitoris, is really hard for some men to find.

Coffee and the 'Beforgasm'

One final note about coffee and sex.

When I first started researching the science of coffee, I joked that my favourite beverage had been linked to everything except premature ejaculation, but that was coming quickly. Then I Googled and found that coffee has been linked to premature ejaculation.

Now, before you spit out that mouthful, read on.

Coffee, or at least the caffeine it contains, has been identified as a possible cure for the one-minute wonder. The biological mechanism for this intervention isn’t clear, however, and the authors, like all good researchers, suggest that more studies are needed. But, maybe what we need are just need studies that last a little longer?

Thomas Merritt
Contributing Writer
Thomas Merritt is a contributing writer for MTL Blog.
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