Over several centuries, the multi-faceted topic of sex has constantly been associated with metaphors of food its consumption, through the means of language use. Food imagery is also typically framed as a form of seduction and even a sin: greasy, hearty junk food that we love to indulge in is usually described as “sinful”, yet we crave for it every once in a while, some of us more than others (though some of us not at all)—just like sex. Metaphors for sex are not just restricted to food, but also extend to other food-related subjects such as eating habits. For instance, the degree of one’s sexual desire can also be referred to as sexual appetite.

A prime example of the association of sex with food in language comes from religious script—forbidden fruit, originating from the Book of Genesis wherein Adam and Eve fail to resist temptation from the serpent and their own curiosity to taste the fruit that God had warned them not to; thus they become aware of original sin and are stripped of their purity, and banished from the Garden of Eden. Now, “forbidden fruit” is generally used to refer to a coveted indulgence that would be considered immoral, and it so happens this “indulgence” is typically interpreted to be of a sexual nature. Regnerus (2007) suggests that perhaps since religion and sex are common pursuits in life, the term  “forbidden fruit” would hold sexual connotations, in addition to religious ones. In an American context, Americans are mostly ambivalent on the topic of sex; many are hesitant in holding discussions about it, while sexual deviants are punished severely (Regnerus, 2007).

In media ethics and censorship discourse, there are theories that also make reference to forbidden fruit: forbidden fruit theory and tainted fruit theory. Forbidden fruit theory hypothesizes that content warning labels will discourage viewers from watching violent programs. In contrast, tainted fruit theory suggests the opposite, that content labels would attract more viewers to watch the program in question (Bushman & Stack, 1996). The subject of these theories are very often adolescents, children who are going through puberty and on their formative journey to adulthood. Though certain facets of sex such as hetero sex is typically understood to be sacred and traditional, the general topic of sex along with anything considered to be sexually “deviant” is commonly seen as perverse, a taboo—parallel to how Adam and Eve lost their sanctity to the allure of the forbidden fruit, many people would usually say a child loses their innocence upon being made aware of the birds and the bees (and any other animal in extension), thus their eventual departure from the Garden of Eden, in the pursuit of adulthood.

The Fall of Man by Hendrik Goltzius, 1616 (even the goat knew better!).

Despite its identity being left ambiguous in religious scripture, the forbidden fruit is typically depicted in artistic interpretations and pop culture as an apple. But why an apple of all fruit? The most likely reason for this seems to be a Latin pun: mălum was the Latin word for evil, while mālum meant apple. As such, the original source of evil, the forbidden fruit, would be synonymous with the apple, an imagery that persisted through time up to this day. However, some speculate that the forbidden fruit was a fig. Upon realizing that they were naked, Adam and Eve made undergarments out of fig leaves, ironically using leaves from the very source of original sin to hide their shame. In many religions, sex is often synonymous with evil, as it is a mortal temptation: lust is listed as one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity. Muslim women, and sometimes Christian and Jewish women, wear a headscarf as a commitment to modesty. In such, we see that women, due to their attractiveness, are viewed as walking figments of lust and temptation in man’s eyes.

There have also been subtle comparisons of figs with female sexuality. Júnior (2006) notes that the word fica in vernacular Italian refers to “vagina”, also used as a metonymy to refer to an attractive woman. This fica was derived from vernacular Classical Latin ficus, meaning fig, a feminine word in the language. In short, the fig has been used as a cross-reference to original sin in female physiology—her sexuality. Of course, its male counterpart would be the Adam’s apple, referencing the forbidden fruit lodged in man’s throat. The Latin word for apple “mālum” was also borrowed from the Greek word for apple, μῆλον (Wikipedia, 2018). In Greek mythology, the apple was associated with women, love and lust—more specifically, the Greek goddesses Hera and Aphrodite (Júnior, 2006). For centuries across various cultures, women have been viewed as a source of temptation coveted by men, similar to food, a common guilty pleasure humans absolutely love to indulge in.

The Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638–1639.

On the other hand, sex has also been popularly interpreted to be an aspect of life that one can come home to revel in privacy, similar to food. Lindenmeyer (2006) observes that several literary works use food imagery to evoke a sense of belonging, a vessel for connotations of community and sexuality. Food options can also be a parallel to sexual partners: “lavish food” like red meat and wine, as opposed to “bad food”, like lentils. Women are truly very much treated as food to men, metaphorically represented as such for men to feast on; the man is the eater being supplied by the woman, the feeder. This time, sex is not just linked to food, it is further interlaced with eating habits. The larger the man’s appetite, the more voraciously he ate, the more masculine he proved to be. Lakoff (1987) presents more food-related metaphors categorizing gender roles in sexual relationships: the man is the ravenous predator who stalks his prey (“He hungers for her”), while the woman or a part of her body is typically compared to some form of food (“Look at those buns”, “Hi, sugar!”). Lindenmeyer (2006) also brings up an interesting take on this notion of traditional heterosexuality: many lesbian autobiographers have reclaimed the gendered roles of men being the eaters and females being the feeders. In same sex relationships, the gender roles are broken as one can choose to be the “eater” or the “feeder”, using power dynamics to express their desire to eat or be eaten.

Other food related subjects such as eating disorders have also been linked to sexuality. For example, the diagnoses of eating disorders dating all the way back to the late 19th century cited problems with sexuality as a potential cause (Wiederman, 1996). According to Wiederman (1996), many studies and psychoanalyses from the late 1800s till the 1980s reported that individuals with eating disorders usually struggled to negotiate with heterosexual relationships, or avoid them altogether. Although these studies cited lack of sexual interest as an originating factor of eating disorders, research on the relationship of eating disorders with sexual problems mostly lacked quality. Even so, it is evident that humans have a tendency to connect sex to food, one way or another, usually with a sprinkling of heteronormativity—not enjoying sex like how a “normal” (read as: heterosexual) person should would affect your eating habits. Conversely, not enjoying food according to expectations would also be thought to adversely affect your sexual activity.

Notably, many of the comparisons of sex to food using language as a medium have one thing in common: there is an inherent of fear or uncertainty of the topic of sex: it encompasses sin and temptation, a forbidden fruit that man very much wants to bite into despite being warned not to. Being rooted so deeply into sexual themes and language use grants food imagery emotional and political influence, making it a significant factor of attitudes towards sex, making the topic of sex all the more relatable, and thus fearsome.



Bushman, B. J., Stack, A. D. (1996). Forbidden fruit versus tainted fruit: Effects of warning labels on attraction to television violence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2(3), p. 207–226. 10.1037/1076-898X.2.3.207.

Júnior, H.F. (2006). Entre la figue et la pomme: l’iconographie romane du fruit défendu (Between the fig and the apple: Forbidden fruit in Romanesque iconography). Revue de l’histoire des religions. 2006/1 223, p. 2–2.

Lakoff, G. (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lindenmeyer, A. (2006). ‘Lesbian Appetites’: Food, Sexuality and Community in Feminist Autobiography. Sexualities. 9. 10.1177/1363460706068045.

Weiderman, M. W. (1996). Women, Sex, and Food: A Review of Research on Eating Disorders and Sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research. 33(4), p. 301–311.Regnerus, M. D. (2007). Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia (2018). Forbidden fruit. Retrieved Marched 29, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbidden_fruit