Shuck Me

Are oysters the ultimate aphrodisiac, or is it all in the mind?

Words and photography by LB.



Oysters inhabited this earth long before us, they’ve been privy to all our histories unfold. Evolutions, Revolutions, Ages and Empires have risen and fallen around their unassuming shells. When Anthony Bourdain told us, ‘The history of the world is on your plate,’ no food captures this like the humble oyster.

Modern metaphors have been solidified around them - “Why, then, the world’s mine oyster,” first declared Shakespeare in 1602. Most famous are the stories from the 1700’s, when Italian lover Giacomo Casanova consumed oysters for breakfast everyday, “off the breasts of a beautiful woman, usually in a warm tub.” Notoriously decadent French monarch Louis XIV insisted on daily deliveries of oysters to Versailles from the coast of Cancale and Voltaire swore by consuming oysters to inspire his creative intellect. The first ever cookbooks published contained recipes of oyster dishes; even their ground shells have been utilised in traditional medicines from Peru to India for centuries.

Their reach stretches coastlines,
anecdotes and plates across time and geography. And yet, through it all, in direct contrast to
growing tired of a long-term companion, they’ve emerged as our ultimate lovers;
synonymous with aphrodisiacs and romance and sex. Why do they occupy such a place in
our hearts, minds, plates and bedrooms?

Historically, oyster shells have been found by archaeologists in places associated with women’s birthing rituals; and in mid-century European paintings, oysters were used as a
representation of a woman's sexuality. A closed oyster painted next to a woman symbolised
her virginity, while an open oyster alluded to her supposed promiscuously. American poet
Anne Sexton suggests something evolves within us when we eat our first oyster, suggesting
women become women.

there was a death, the death of childhood
there at the Union Oyster House

for I was fifteen

and eating oysters

and the child was defeated. The woman won.

Their distinct likeness in appearance to the female anatomy has held mankind captive. An
analogy accentuated by the eroticism of the practice of devouring – a sexually charged head
tilted back, a wide-open mouth, perhaps some juices running from the sides of plump lips and dripping from one’s chin. The multi-sensory experience of ingesting the oyster is as much to our sexual delight as the rich injection of vitamins and minerals. Science has confirmed what had long been suspected; that raw oysters are high in minerals crucial in regenerating sexual hormones. Our libidos, particularly women's, have long been a source of
oracle and enigma, but modern science has helped to crack much of the code. The high levels
of Zinc and Potassium found in oysters increase levels of testosterone production, which,
commonly associated with male sexuality, are also critical for a healthy sexual appetite in

However, when you ask what, exactly, an oyster tastes like, no-one can give you a satisfying answer. French poet Léon-Paul Fargue said eating one was “like kissing the sea on the lips.”
To Australian oyster farmer Jason Finlay, “like creamy, citrusy rust and smoke.”

Luca Turin, perfume maverick from The Emperor of Scent, details a molecule called Calone, developed by French perfumers in the 1960s. They described it as “oysterlike,” - Turin describes it as, “halfway between the apple and the knife that cuts it, a fruity turned up to a white heat.”

Describing the taste of an oyster is like describing sexual chemistry. In the way we struggle to pinpoint what exactly it is we love about someone, perhaps the impact of oysters on our hearts is that it just feels right. It just feels erotic and sensual, intuitive and primitive. An instinctual connection to humankind since we first scuttled out of the sea.

Oysters are those passionate, nostalgic romances we all remember; the ones who were completely wrong for us on paper but it were intensely satisfying in the moment.

Oysters are those passionate, nostalgic romances we all remember; the ones who were completely wrong for us on paper but it were intensely satisfying in the moment.

Some oyster lovers talk about the ritual of devouring oysters, of admiring the colouring on the shell, burnished by years of soaking in the sun. Of the intimacy of shucking; of the dangerous-yet-thrilling excavation. Of slipping the knife deep into the shell, cutting the muscle attaching the oyster to its lifeline. Of savouring the juices, chewing the soft meat.
Placing the shell back on the plate in formation.

You have to be paying attention.

An accompaniment to conversations that last long into the early hours of the morning, that allowed minds to say the things they never would with idle hands.

An art, as much as a consumption.

In the face of globalisation, oysters worship nature; submissive only to the seasons. And like a spicy Malbec from a certain region of Spain, oysters absorb characteristics from their environment. Even within Australia, a creamy, juicy Clyde River Rock will differ greatly from a briny Bruny Island Pacific, that has drunk up the icy Antarctic currents. Just like grapes, oysters absorb resonance from their terroir – only that their terroir is the sea. They are highly sensitive creatures; a harvest in one month can see oysters from the same lot as salty and nutty, whereas they take on a new sweeter, fruitier flavour in the summer, after they have spawned. “Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods," states Hector Bolitho in his 1960 ode to oysters The Glorious Oyster. “They stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to
come to them.”

These little creatures are genderless and choose their male or female sexuality based on what
the colony needs most at that exact time. Surely, in our modern world, this kind of astute

sexual freedom and practicality appeals to the most conservative of us. Or are we just
attracted to the notion of spending our lives making pearls out of irritants, as Shakespeare
suggested. In fact, pearls are the oysters only line of defence against an irritant entering their
shell. It creates a secretion called nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, which encases the
irritant and protects the oyster from it; creating the ultimate beauty under pressure.

Part of the pleasure, for me, of eating oysters, is an intimate connection with another
creature on this earth. In a time of plastic-packaged single-serve lamb chops at our fingertips

day and night, to end an animals’ life in my hands feels primitive and powerful. To give
pause and respect; ultimately to take life to sustain my own.

The truth is, I ate my first oyster from the palm of an older lover, encouraging me into this
secret club (the fact that I promptly spat it out shall remain unspoken). The way consuming
coffee encouraged me to devour pages of books in the university library as a student, the
consumption of oysters and red wine encouraged me to devour adulthood, in its deepest,
most provocative thoughts; the juices of grapes and oysters became a lubricant to explore
minds and skins with ease.

Food consumption and procreation are both primal needs that bring us immense pleasure, so
it should surprise no-one that they are often connected. What excites our mind, and what
excites our palate, are often one and the same. A group of Yoruba women in Nigeria once

explained to me that in their language, the verb ‘to eat’ is the same as the word ‘to marry’.
I’ve heard stories of tribes in the Amazon who use the same verbs to describe ‘eating like a
pig’ and ‘to fuck plentifully’. Even the ancient Greek word parothides can be translated as
either hors d’oeuvre or foreplay.

And if we are what we eat, let lust become us.