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Absinthe as an Aphrodisiac

The myth that absinthe is an amative seems to be a largely modern idea – it’s seldom, if ever, mentioned as such in the pre-ban or even immediate post-ban period. One possible origin might be an article by Maurice Zolotow which appeared in Playboy Magazine- a fascinating and sometimes amusing period piece, which contains this passage of purple prose:

”I remember a girl I knew in my bachelor days. An American, she had worked as a model in several haute couture salons in Paris and had acquired a taste for absinthe. We were at her place one evening and she asked me if I would like to have a martini as a nightcap. I said I was game, though I favoured cognac and water in the evening, when the lights are low and the music is throbbing on the high-infidelity. She stirred up a pitcher of martinis and brought it on a tray with glasses and a bottle of absinthe. She set the tray on the coffee table, or, rather, the martini table. Now, I don’t know whether this voluptuous creature had ever heard about thujone or knew that vermouth means wormwood, but she poured two chilled martinis and said she was adding a little absinthe to hers and would I like some in mine, and I said why not. I found out that night that “Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.” We slowly sipped our martinis and, frankly, I didn’t like the flavour; but then, as the elixir went into my stomach and the minute fraction of thujone coursed through my veins and arteries, I experienced a slow surge of sexual hunger as she suggested I make myself comfortable. She kicked off her shoes and I slipped off my loafers and we slowly continued sipping and stripping, and I didn’t feel at all self-conscious, because it was as if everything rational was drifting out of myself and going outside to the hall elevator. You could say that a guilty conscience is that part of the human being that is soluble in absinthe. I experienced a more than usual desire for this girl, whom I customarily yearned for even without absinthe martinis, and we murmured things and sipped a second martini and were slowly kissing and caressing. By then, we were as naked as two absinthe-crazed jaybirds and we soon floated into her double bed.”

Note that Zolotow here is not even talking about a glass of absinthe, but simply a few drops of absinthe added to a martini!

An article from an early volume of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet is worth considering in the context of aphrodisiacs. Published in 1889, it describes a patient who suffered – amongst other symptoms – “a burning sensation at the tip of the penis” within an hour of drinking a home-made wormwood infusion. Although directed at the same region of the body, the effect was, as described, anything but aphrodisiac-like in character.