All The Things We Want and Love


The connection between food and sex is not foreign to us. At a glance, we understand that they are both vital to human survival. With a little more knowledge, we will be able to make connections in the forms of aphrodisiac foods or even food play in sexual activities. The interaction of food and sex with language, however, is not always as straightforward. In a famous study conducted by Donald Pollock (1985) of people in the Amazons, he suggested that food and sex matters be discussed not just as inter-related matters, but as metaphors for each other. His paper was one of the first that introduced the relationship between sex and food as being mediated by language. Following Pollock’s paper came numerous articles and books discussing the role of food, sex, and language in issues like queer theory, homosexuality, and psychology. Yet, this concept is not new to us, or even uncommon. Throughout literature and pop culture, the topic of sex and sexuality has often been communicated via food metaphors. In English, the phrase ‘popping her cherry’ is known almost universally as taking someone’s virginity. Metaphors like these have become so prevalent in our society that more often than not, no additional explanation is required for the recipient to understand its meaning. I refer to food here not just as the items meant for consumption, but also to related concepts that include appetite and the act of consumption. The topic of sex in this case refers primarily to sexual activity, and the desires and emotions that come with it. This essay tries to understand why the concepts of food, sex, and relationship are so closely intertwined and hopes to explore some of the implications of this relationship.

Undeniably, food and sex share an interesting relationship. While both are absolutely necessary for our survival, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the ways in which we communicate about them. Food is very much an everyday topic and a part of our daily conversations; as we navigate through the day’s activities, food will likely be brought up. Ironically, despite our extensive usage of food metaphors in our description of sexual activities, the explicit discussion of said activities would be very out of place indeed at the dinner table. Sex, despite its matching importance, is something that is considered taboo to talk about in public. It is discussed only in the most intimate conversations. Despite these differences, the two are still strongly intertwined in language. In order to try to understand why sex and food often overlaps in our language use, we first have to examine the psychology behind the way we view these concepts.

Kang, Zheng, and Zheng (2016) conducted a study exploring this very relationship. Their study was designed based off the incentive salience theory, a cognitive process that consists of ‘want’ and ‘like’ components to a rewarding stimulus (Motivational Salience, n.d.). ‘Wanting’ refers to the motivation to approach the stimuli whereas ‘like’ refers to the pleasure derived from the stimuli. Through correlational studies, they found that there was a statistically significant correlation between wanting and liking for sex and eating, with this relationship being especially pronounced for men. Meanwhile, these results also correspond with studies done on disordered eating and sexual behaviour. In general, women suffering from eating disorders have been shown to also have dysfunctional sexual habits. Women suffering from anorexia nervosa (a disorder characterized by the avoidance of eating) tend to be less likely to engage in sexually intimate relationships and have less interest in sexual activity. On the other hand, women suffering from bulimia nervosa (a disorder characterized by the excessive binging coupled with purging of food) tend to exhibit more promiscuous behaviour (Wiederman, 1996). Through these correlational studies, we begin to understand how food and sex are interconnected. The condition and functionality of one seems inextricable from the other.

With this relationship established, language can then come into the picture. Language is the primary medium we use for communication with each other, with mutual understanding being our primary aim. Metaphors are therefore commonly used in our everyday conversation as a linguistic device to convey ideas that might be otherwise inexpressible (Utsumi, Nakamura & Sakamoto, 2014). This could perhaps explain why food and sex are often used as metaphors for each other. Since both share common basis in our human nature of wanting and liking, it seems only natural to use them to describe each other in order to better help others understand the message we are trying to convey.

Food metaphors are not unique to the sexual domain. The significance of food-based metaphors has also been investigated with regards to other social issues. In a study of food-based metaphors and the transmission of racist views, it is posited that the basis of such comparisons is the conceptual metaphor theory (Lopez-Rodriguez, 2014). In fact, some argue that in our constant usage of euphemisms to discuss sex stems from underlying metaphor systems within the framework of the conceptual metaphor theory (Fernadez, 2008). Essentially, the conceptual metaphor theory that was developed by Lakoff and Johnson posits that we understand a conceptual domain in terms of another. In relation to this topic then, the primary concept being understood here is sex which we try to understand in terms of food. This thus forms the argument of sex is food, which we are exploring in this essay.

It is important to note that when it comes to discussing sex, food, and language, metaphors go both ways even though sex metaphors being used for food tend to appear significantly less. This can potentially be attributed to the taboo nature of sex in everyday conversation. We commonly use our basic drives of want and need to discuss sex using food metaphors. Some examples of this would include ‘I want to devour her’, or ‘aching for a side of beef’. On the flip side, we use sexual terms to describe food as well. The concept of food is sex is not actually foreign to us. In fact, one of the most iconic terms these days is a perfect representation of this concept – ‘food porn’. While food metaphors primarily leverage on our desire and need for food to describe a similar yearning for sex, sex metaphors take on a slightly different nature. In this case, the sex metaphor ‘food porn’ utilises pornography as a pleasurable viewing experience to describe ‘good-looking’ food. This is similar for most sex metaphors that are being used for food. Generally, the salient concept of pleasure in sex is being mapped onto the food domain in order to convey how good the food was. The popular anime Shokugeki no Soma exhibits this relationship most explicitly, with scenes of characters seemingly in the throes of orgasm whenever they consume exceptionally good food.

So far, we have explored how food metaphors are often used as euphemisms for sex. However, when we use metaphors to communicate our intentions, there is a tendency for these metaphors to reflect certain implicit personal and social beliefs. Similar to how the baseball metaphor carries with it implicit prejudices and biases of a male-dominant, heteronormative culture, the usage of food metaphors when it comes to sex often also carries with it certain biases. For instance, the common phenomenon of equating women-as-sex objects with desserts reveal the misogynistic ways in which society views women, where women are reduced to the status of objects meant for men’s consumption or pleasure (Fernandez, 2008). In this case, the food metaphor is used as a dysphemism to women rather than a euphemism about sex. Hence, we see here that metaphors are used not just to communicate or describe certain experiences that we otherwise would not have the word for, but also to convey certain implicit ideas that we have.

Interestingly, the connection between food and sex seems so natural that even the ‘forbidden fruit’ in the Bible is often associated with sex, even though this connection was not at all stated in the Bible. As mentioned previously, their shared characteristics has likely contributed to this phenomenon. Yet, the prevalence in which we use food metaphors for sex or vice versa these days are also fuelled by the widespread usage of such metaphors in popular media. Song lyrics, books, blog articles, and social media are all choke-full of sexual suggestions disguised as ‘food talk’. Even the realm of food critiques has not been spared the presence of sexually suggestive descriptions utilised to tantalise the audience. Language is powerful, and the overlap of food and sex conceptual domains can extend beyond simple expression of desires or feelings, but also to the ways in which we construct our sexual identity and to our perception of others (Probyn, 1999). Hence, even as these associations continue to be propagated, it would perhaps be wise to pay more attention to the way we interpret and use such language.


Fernández, E. C. (2008). Sex-Related Euphemism and Dysphemism: An Analysis in Terms of Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Atlantis,30(2), 95-110.

Kang, Y., Zheng, L., & Zheng, Y. (2016). Sex and Eating: Relationships Based on Wanting and Liking. Frontiers in Psychology,6.

López-Rodríguez, I. (2014). Are We What We Eat? Food Metaphors in the Conceptualization of Ethnic Groups. Linguistik Online,69(7).

Motivational salience. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Pollock, D. K. (1985). Food and sexual identity among the Culina. Food and Foodways,1(1-2), 25-41.

Probyn, E. (1999). Beyond Food/Sex: Eating and an Ethics of Existence. Performativity and Belonging, 16(2), 215-228.

Utsumi, A., Sakamoto, M., & Nakamura, K. (2014). Discourse Goals Affect the Process and Product of Nominal Metaphor Production. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research,44(5), 555-569.

Wiederman, M. W. (1996). Women, sex, and food: A review of research on eating disorders and sexuality. Journal of Sex Research,33(4), 301-311.

One thought on “All The Things We Want and Love

  1. Vanessa

    I really agree with your point on food metaphors being used as a dysphemism to women! It reminds me of the work Caitlin Hines has done with regard to the women-as-dessert metaphor. She wrote that women are reduced to objects that can be acquired because of their powerlessness and passivity. Like so many other metaphors prevalent in popular culture (e.g. the baseball metaphor), the woman-as-dessert metaphors undeniably has an adverse influence on the way women view themselves.

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