(Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Lauren White, an American Studies senior at the University of Texas at Austin. She is one of the writers for the school’s food studies blog, and she recently wrote this piece about how we sexualize food, often without even realizing it. If you’d like to submit a guest post, email me at email@example.com.)
Sticky and sweet salted caramel slides down a beautiful woman’s face in tantalizing rivulets. Sultry, smoky-lidded eyes and long lashes serve as a ledge for drops of the unique sweet, and stray caramel rests on pillowy pink lips. Her hands are cradling her blissed-out face and truly tell the story of her “love affair with salted caramel.”
If you are finding yourself having mixed and confusing emotions about the picture, do not worry. It is a purposeful attempt to tap into a person’s lust for not only rich food, but the desire for satisfying sex. Psychology and biology have proven that humans are unconsciously relating food with sex, and vice versa.
The media long ago dubbed food personality Nigella Lawson the “Queen of Food Porn,” and in this recent magazine cover, you can see why. Lawson’s face dripping with her favorite confection, salted caramel, is meant to be an edgy and artistic photograph, but it does invoke certain naughty thoughts, as intended.
This is one example of “food porn” or a way of arranging food that is similar to techniques used by pornographic film makers and photographers. The end result is to connect the primal urges for food and sex into a seamless image. The concept of food porn developed in the mid-1980’s, when people began to see the risky behavior of unprotected sex and transferred their cravings for sex onto food. Since then, the concept has evolved. Everything that is deemed naughty or excessive by the Western world, such as high caloric foods, expensive alcoholic drinks and complicated cooking techniques, has come into vogue.
On the kinkier end of the spectrum is the idea of “food play.” This term covers a variety of sexual- and food-related activities that people that identify with “sitophilia,” a fetish in which participants are aroused by food, would enjoy. The one that has received the most media exposure, including HBO’s Real Sex and a “CSI: NY” episode, is called “sploshing”. Alternatively known as “wet and messy,” it is a fetish in which participants are covered in either messy or liquid substances, most often food, in a sexual manner. This usually involves being covered in items such as whipped cream, fruit juice, chocolate sauce, caramel and many other foods.
Another facet of the food play kink is the concept of using the body as a serving dish. In Japan, the practice of serving sushi on a naked body is called nyotaimori. While it has come under fire for violating health codes and objectifying the person serving as the platter, many people consider it an erotic art form that combines appreciation of food and the human form.
Of course, there are tamer variants of food play, such as taking a body shot off an erogenous zone or using phallic-shaped food, such as a banana or a pie, for either insertion, as illustrated in movies such as “American Pie.” There is an entire market for couples wanting to spice up their life with candy lingerie and sex-friendly whipped cream, once again inviting their partner to lick and nibble succulent flesh and see the body as a feast to be devoured. Couples feeding each other food, such as at a wedding, is certainly the most widely accepted form of this. Whether food play is kinky or wedding-cake vanilla, it all comes down to the endorphins, similar to the ones released when enjoying a pleasing meal.
There is certainly more to be covered about this subject, as seen with food as euphemisms in songs, but exploration of this is useless without acknowledging the strong relationship between food, sex, and how people use it in their daily lives. As the legendary Giacomo Casanova has written, “…sex is like eating and eating is like sex: it is nourishment.”
Nigella Lawson is unabashed about the richness of her food, and she flirts with the camera as she shows the viewer a rare sight; a woman simply enjoying food and viewing it as something other than fuel for the body. (For more on the cinematic parallels between what the porn industry makes and the Food Network makes, you’ve got to read this Harper’s essay from 2005.)
The end result? Higher ratings and viewers who can’t seem to turn away.