Peta recently stirred up quite a lot of controversy with their banned superbowl ad claiming that “studies have shown that vegetarians are better lovers.” Of course, no such research exists, but somehow in trying find where that came from (no pun intended) I ended up in a twitter conversation about diet and sex. Anyhow, to make a long story short, after several converstaional tangents I found myself sifting through the scientific literature for anything containing “taste” and “semen.”*
Sorry, folks: there’s no scientific study of the effects of diet on human semen flavor. But what I did find was one obscure study, published in 1985 with the innocuous title “Chemoreceptively active compounds in secretions, excretions and tissue extracts of marine mammals.” In it, the scientists explain that they sought to determine if there are compounds in dolphin semen that one “may be capable of tasting.” Their abstract indicates success, as they found 22 compounds that “can be detected gustatorily… by humans.”
I simply had to find out what they meant.
Let me start by saying that the authors weren’t completely bonkers or perverted to be looking for tastable compounds in dolphin semen.
Animals use chemicals to signal all kinds of things. Chemicals draw territory lines, entice potential mates, even ward off would-be predators. Most of these are what we would call “smells” – that is, they are picked up by olfactory receptors in our noses.
Trouble is, marine mammals have mostly lost their sense of airborne smell. Even if they hadn’t, the only time a dolphin’s nostrils are open is when it surfaces to breathe, so sensing through its nose wouldn’t be all that useful for communicating with other dolphins. Furthermore, there is nothing about their anatomy to suggest that they have developed a waterborne “sense of smell” like exists in sharks. So how would a whale or dolphin pick up on chemical cues underwater? The most likely answer is, of course, through taste.
With this in mind, it seems a little less strange that a team of researchers from the University of Colorado would actively look to see what’s in various secretions from marine mammals – and, more specifically – whether those secretions contain compounds known to produce flavor.
The team took semen and urine and fecal matter from bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions and extracted the different kinds of compounds present in each. Then then identified which flavor categories these compounds fall into – sweet, sour, or bitter. No, they didn’t have people smell or taste dolphin semen or any fraction thereof, though that would have made for a much more entertaining blog post. Turns out that there are databases where one can look up if a chemical has flavor, so no in-person testing was needed for them to make these categorizations.
All bodily fluids from the marine mammals tested contained sweet compounds – mostly various kinds of sugar – and all but the poop contained sour ones. Semen and urine contained bitter components as well. Here are their tables showing the different flavor palates:
When it comes to overall flavor, though, it’s about balance: how much sweet, how much sour, etc. While it varied by sample, the most abundant chemicals in dolphin semen were
phosphoric acid (sour) and inositol (sweet), followed by glucose. In reality, though inositol is considered “sweet”, it is almost tasteless, meaning that dolphin semen probably is pretty sour stuff.
Of course, what I’m sure you really want to know is whether any of this is similar to human semen. Well: it is. Dolphin semen appears to be similar to semen from many mammals, including humans. Every compound identified in dolphin semen has been found in human semen, too. But human semen contains higher levels of sugars – specifically fructose – which is thought to serve as energy for the swimming sperm. This might make human semen a little sweeter than dolphin semen (just in case you really wanted to know).
As for altering the flavor of human semen, which is where this all began, although there are no studies directly looking at it, it is pretty safe to assume diet would have an impact. After all, diet affects the sugar levels in semen in other species. As for whether specific foods like pineapple or parsley make a guy taste sweeter: I’m afraid it’s up to you, citizen scientists, to find that out for yourselves.
CERUTI, M., FENNESSEY, P., & TJOA, S. (1985). Chemoreceptively active compounds in secretions, excretions and tissue extracts of marine mammals Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology, 82 (3), 505-514 DOI: 10.1016/0300-9629(85)90424-4
Owen, D. (2005). A Review of the Physical and Chemical Properties of Human Semen and the Formulation of a Semen Simulant Journal of Andrology, 26 (4), 459-469 DOI: 10.2164/jandrol.04104
Moule, G., Braden, A., & Mattner, P. (1966). Effects of season, nutrition and hormone treatment on the fructose content of ram semen Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 17 (6) DOI: 10.1071/AR9660923