Do vegetarians really have better sex?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 29 2009 6:25 PM

Debbie Does Salad

Do vegetarians really have better sex?

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

On Tuesday, NBC declared a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals commercial—featuring, among other suggestive images, a woman preparing to pleasure herself with a broccoli stalk—too racy to be shown during the Super Bowl. The text in PETA's advertisement reads: "Studies show vegetarians have better sex." Do they?

Not necessarily. In a statement released in response to NBC's decision, PETA noted that meat makes people "fat, sick, and boring in bed," claiming that vegetarians are, "on average, fitter and slimmer than meat eaters" and that meat and dairy consumption is linked to impotence, heart disease, and obesity. It's true that cardiovascular disease is associated with sexual dysfunction in both women and men and that obesity has been linked to low libido in both sexes. It's also true that, in Westernized countries at least, vegetarians and vegans tend to weigh less and have lower body-mass indexes and lower cholesterol levels than omnivores. This may be due to the fact that vegetarian diets tend to be higher in fiber and lower in protein, but it also may have to do with the fact that vegetarians are, in general, more health-conscious. An avowed vegetarian who ate nothing but french fries, after all, would run a high risk of both obesity and heart disease. (A PETA spokesman cited research on vegetarian diet plans developed by Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn as sources for the commercial's claims—both regimens are also strictly low-fat and low-cholesterol.)


Vegetarianism also may have some negative effects on sexual desire. Vegetarian diets tend to correlate with higher rates of zinc deficiency, which is closely associated with lower testosterone levels and depressed sex drives. Vegetarian women are also more likely to develop amenorrhea (loss of periods), a condition that's usually accompanied by low testosterone, vaginal dryness, and poor libido. Finally, the notion that overweight people are less sexually active isn't entirely accurate (for women, at least): A recent analysis published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that overweight women might, in fact, be slightly more active.

Historically, vegetarianism has been linked more closely with chastity than with licentiousness. Sylvester Graham, the crusading 19th-century dietary reformer and inventor of the eponymous cracker, believed that meat—along with feather beds, coffee, tea, and richly seasoned foods—encouraged the "degenerating habits of luxury, indolence, voluptuousness and sensuality." (He also believed that the paroxysms of orgasm were related to diarrhea.)

Around the same time, in Russia, Leo Tolstoy gave up meat because of his concerns about animal cruelty. In "The First Step," his "essay on the morals of diet," Tolstoy claims that meat-eating is "quite unnecessary, and only serves to develop animal feelings, to excite desire, to promote fornication and drunkenness." Later, in the early 20th century, English schoolmasters recommended vegetarian diets to their students as a means of curbing their appetites for self-abuse.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Jacqueline Jacques, chief science officer of Catalina Lifesciences Inc., and Dan Shannon of PETA.

Watch the ad:



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 2:57 PM ISIS Helps Snuff Out Conservative Opposition to Government Funding Bill
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.