Still, it's possible that regular amounts of chocolate and oysters get people in the mood simply because they're expensive and associated with fancy dates, Sandroni said. That alone could heighten serotonin and dopamine in the brain to make someone feel sexy.
"Even if an aphrodisiac isn't working on a physical level, and it's only working in a placebo-effect kind of way, there's validity to its use," said Sarah Thorp, a curator at the Museum of Sex in New York City.
Thorp, who has a background in anthropology, said Cleopatra appears in many myths about sex and pleasure. She notably used to bathe in water filled with saffron to increase sensitivity and lead to greater pleasure.
Chocolate made its way into aphrodisiac lore, Thorp said, when the Aztec emperor Montezuma drank a chocolate beverage before satisfying his numerous wives.
"Everyone's always looking for something to enliven their sexual relationships and sexual prowess," she said. "Across the world in every culture in every time period we keep on circling back to this idea of aphrodisiacs. I think that in and of itself is fascinating."