For some, the connection between food and sex stems from a ghastly 1986 Adrian Lyne film.
But things run much deeper than honey being drizzled on Kim Basinger’s backside.
In truth the link between food and sex has ancient origins. In many tribal societies, incest rules were conceptually linked with food avoidance rules. Famed American anthropologist Margaret Mead reported in the 1930s an aphorism among the Abelam and Arapesh groups in Papua New Guinea:
Other people’s mothers
Other people’s sisters
Other people’s pigs
Other people’s yams which they have piled up
You may eat.
Your own mothers
Your own sisters
Your own pigs
Your own yams which you have piled up
You may not eat.
In other words, things that are OK to eat are also OK to go to bed with – and vice versa.
And it’s not just some kind of vague analogy that’s made. A study by psychologists at the University of Toronto looked closely at facial expressions of people experiencing a feeling of disgust at rotten food and at something morally repugnant – and found the same pattern. In both cases, disgust clearly produced ‘activation of the levator labii region’ – in everyday parlance, a scrunched nose coupled with a raised upper lip.
Says co-author Adam Anderson, ‘morality builds upon an old mental reflex… The brain had already discovered a system for rejecting things that are bad for it. Then it co-opted this and attached it to conditions much removed from something tasting or smelling bad.’ That MRI scans show the same part of the brain – the insular cortex – is activated for all kinds of disgust is the clincher.
The opposite, of course, is also true: something that is sexually desirable is as if ripe for devouring. He’s dishy. She’s tasty. I want to eat you. Not literally, obviously, unless you’re Hannibal Lecter.