Another Super Bowl season, another gratuitously sexy ad from the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that will definitely not be airing on national television.
The organization’s latest spot features two white, heterosexual couples mid-coitus. The man on the left side of the screen is labeled MEAT EATER. The man on the right side of the screen is labeled VEGAN. You can probably guess what happens next: While the omnivorous dude leaves his lady visibly unsatisfied, the plant-eating fellow appears to be something of a sexual superhero—proving once and for all that veganism is the way to go.
Of course, PETA is infamous for capitalizing on the notion that sex(ist) sells—the group has long used sexualized images of (mostly white) women to get their point across. But let's, just for a moment, put this dubious history aside to examine the latest ad's central promise: Does going vegan actually improve your sex life? Or more to the point of the scene depicted—does giving up meat enable men to sustain erections for longer?
I called up PETA to learn more about the science on which they based the ad, and the crux of their argument is that because going vegan cuts down on cholesterol—and too much cholesterol in the blood can impede blood flow, which can be a factor in erectile dysfunction–a meat-free diet will therefore improve your sex life.
“Eating meat, eggs, and dairy clogs up arteries," said Ashley Byrne, a spokesperson for PETA. "It slows down blood flow to heart—but what’s talked about less is that it slows down blood flow everywhere," she said, alluding to the ~penis~. “This ends up causing impotence, and the fact is that this is actually a huge problem for men."
Sure, veganism can be healthier than the typical American diet, and replacing fast food with fresh veggies is bound to do the body good. But experts hardly think veganism is the end-all to a sexier life.
"I think that veganism leading to better erections is a hard sell, pardon the pun,” said Jesse Mills, an associate professor of urology at UCLA and director of UCLA Health: The Men’s Clinic. As Mills explained, going vegan does not always mean eating a more nutritious diet—for example, refined sugars, one of the leading causes of obesity in the country, qualify as vegan products. Not all vegan foods are good for you.
"A healthy lifestyle can help with erectile dysfunction," said Parvonae Shaw, a sex therapist and adjunct professor of counselor education at Florida International University. And yet, "There are many ways to have better blood flow. A healthy diet is one of them, but not veganism specifically." She also explained that there is no scientific evidence that veganism impacts early ejaculation, despite the ad's suggestion.
As sexy as PETA makes veganism seem, alas, the evidence just isn't there–and what's more, some experts believe that a vegan diet can actually take a toll on one's sexual health if not approached correctly. Cholesterol, the experts explained, is key for creating sex hormones.
“Whether you’re making estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, cholesterol is what nourishes it," said Kaayla Daniel, a nutritionist and author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food. "If you have a hormone tree, cholesterol is at the root."
But cholesterol isn’t the only sexual health component that can be lacking in a vegan diet.
“If [vegans are] not eating any fish or eggs, they may not have enough of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for sexual functioning,” explained Barbara Bartlik, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College who specializes in nutrition and sexuality.
“They may end up getting some deficiency in key micronutrients that are important to sexual functioning, like protein, iron, zinc, B12, and calcium,” she said, noting that B12 is only found in meat, although B12-fortified foods and supplements are available.
Of course, it’s not impossible to get the nutrients necessary for a healthy sex life on a vegan diet. It’s just that much of the time, people are not fully informed when they take on veganism, according to experts.
“They give up the dairy and the meat and the fish, but they’re not very well educated about making sure they get those nutrients other ways,” Bartlik said, explaining that it’s imperative that vegans take the proper supplements to make sure they’re getting the nutrients they’re not getting through meat.
"I think the bottom line is, if you are in great shape and on a meat-based diet with healthy fresh vegetables and fruits, you’ll have the same level of sexual function as a strict vegan," Mills said.
In other words—going vegan probably won't make you "last longer," but eating well and being healthy in general probably will.