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Sex, food and pseudoscience

What’s she doing with that snake? And what does that have to do with cereal? Sexcereal.com

“This,” as I believe it is now fashionable to say, “is actually a thing.”

Where by this I mean Sexcereal. A his and hers line of wholefood cereals that tout themselves as

the world’s first all-natural, GMO-free gender-based breakfast cereal, formulated by a team of nutrition and quality-control professionals. And as far as we know, it is also the first food product to go viral!

Tip of the hat to Dr Michael Kasumovic for bringing this to my attention. It’s us and our colleagues giggling and punning away for a few weeks now.

“Can a gender-based wholefood also be low in trans-fats?”

“Is it high in irony?”

This product represents so much of what is wrong about the world in general, and modern ideas about nutrition in particular. So much so that I can only gape, awestruck at the whole confection, assembled to part the gullible and desperate from their cash (online orders cost about $10 Canadian per 300g, before shipping costs).

First, it builds a foundation of expertise, talent and passion:

To create the two formulas I enlisted the help of a fantastic team of nutritional and quality control experts. Jane Durst Pulkys, Tim Lance, Ariel Chen and Joy McNamara were those experts and their talent and passion for the job comes through in every one of the 3-tablespoon serving [sic] you eat.

These experts throw in a handful of ingredients that sound like they could be potent aphrodisiacs:

Ingredients include maca, camu camu, black sesame seeds, ginger, cocoa beans and goji berries to create a powerhouse cereal with your sexual health in mind, an essential facet to our overall well-being.

Then the branding savants slap on a layer of 1970s style sexual politics:

His and hers wholefoods? Cerious? Sexcereal.com

Is there a better way to start your day?

Well yes, there is, actually. By getting on the job. The clear implication being that cereal consumers might soon enjoy that option a little more often.

I know, in drawing attention to this product, I’m contributing to the senseless memetics of its ‘viral’ marketing. Although not sure if calling one’s product “the first food product to go viral” is going to play well with all potential customers.

Him, her, sex, food

Should we entertain, even for a moment, Sexcereal’s hype about being designed precisely to deliver sexual health benefits? Or that it is tailored to the apparently self-evident ‘different needs’ of women and men? Unfortunately their website is long on narrative and short on real evidence.

One rolling graphic claims the “hers” cereal is a great source of iron and fibre, tastes great and “supports hormonal balance”. The “his” product also gets ticks for iron, fibre and taste. It’s only stated point of difference is that it “supports testosterone”. Can this be the big endocrine-nutritional breakthrough we’ve been waiting for? Men need help with their T, while women need to be supported so their hormones (presumably including T) don’t get imbalanced.

Translation: in this crazy modern world, men need a cereal that keeps them manly, and women need to eat something that prevents them from getting all topsy-turvy hormonal.

A look at the “nutritional information” on the his and hers cereals doesn’t give too much away about which nutrients are delivering the desperately-needed sex-specific benefits. I’m no nutritionist, but these tables look pretty close to indistinguishable.

The nutrition facts for the "His" (left) and "Hers" (right) versions of Sexcereal. Sexcereal website.

Which leaves me wondering about the point of the exercise. While we learn that women and men are different, with different nutritional needs, we never learn what these differences are. So I’m busting to learn what bee pollen, black sesame, camu camu, maca, chia seeds, goji berries and cacao nibs do for a man. And what women gain from cranberries, sunflower (petals? seeds?), almonds, flax seeds and ginger.

And most of all, if I mistakenly eat the wrong cereal, will I find myself suffering too much hormonal balance. Or would a woman who ate the “his” cereal have such good testosterone support that she’ll have to pee standing up?

I have no problem with the idea that people may benefit from tailoring their diets to suit their circumstances and genotype. And sex differences could be among the most dramatic sources of variation in nutritional needs. For example, pregnant women and women who plan on becoming pregnant need more folate than other adults.

I’m even open to the idea that women and men might need to eat different amounts of macronutrients. That is certainly the case in many animals, including the crickets we study in our lab. Males and females invest different kinds of resources in reproduction and so their needs may be quite different.

But the idea that libido and sexual health can be enhanced in sex-specific ways by tailored, expensive whole foods stretches credulity. It looks to me like cynical sex-sells with a veneer of pseudoscience. Almost as dodgy as the so-called MILF Diet (and if you want to ask what MILF stands for, try to suppress the urge).

Nutrition facts wielded by the people selling you the product should always be treated with extreme caution. Such “facts” can range from encouragement to go long on expensive rubbish, as much of the current fad for Superfoods appears to do, to the downright harmful, like this convoluted claim that Angelina Jolie could have averted breast cancer by diet alone.

We should apply double the usual dose of scepticism to claims that particular foods or nutrient supplements will improve our sex lives. I am reminded of the very reason we have breakfast cereal at all. Dr John Harvey Kellogg, the notorious prude and equally notorious quack, invented the cornflake in order to suppress the libido. An insipid vegetarian brekkie, taken with cold milk, was his prescription for a much-needed defusing of sexual shenanniganising and self-pollution.

Sales of cornflakes and other equally insipid cereals over the last century must number in the tens of billions. But they were nowhere near enough to prevent sex and masturbation from shedding a great many taboos. Even among avid cereal eaters.

Alan Parker’s wonderful movie about Dr Kellogg (played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) - The Road to Wellville

Join the conversation

16 Comments sorted by

  1. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    Got to hand it to the scammers - they know how to push all the buttons?

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  2. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Before we all head off to see cartoon vaginas making squelching noises, we can sit and devour Sex cereal.

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  3. Tim Allman

    Medical Software Developer

    Holy crap! The mayor of Toronto smokes crack. The tar sands just get worse and worse. The mayor of Montreal resigned over corruption allegations and his replacement (who was supposed to be Mr. Clean) has just been charged with various charges relating to, guess what, corruption. And, PM Stephen Harper just keeps getting worse and worse i so many ways. Now this. Sometimes it's a bit embarassing to be a Canadian.

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  4. Daniel Boon

    logged in via LinkedIn

    I'm not going to come at that ...

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  5. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    All aboard the good ship Lollipop - with Seamen Staines and Master Bates.

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  6. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

    Boss

    This is but one more example of what might be called "post-modern science."
    This is a method whereby centuries of observation, measurement, deduction, theory etc are examined by better minds than ours (we being the classically trained professionals) then rubbished in a publicity spree by the giants of today's intellectuals promoting absolute junk.
    The demolition of classical science and scientists is all around us. Forget chemists who did GM, just rubbish genetic modification as if Nature had never…

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  7. Dianna Arthur

    Environmentalist

    If men did evolve on Mars and women on Venus, then there would indeed, be reason for the sexes to eat completely different diets.

    However, this is complete rubbish. Humans evolved here on planet Earth, thus acclimatised to earthly fare.

    All I see is a successful campaign to part the prejudiced and gullible from their $.

    Nothing else to see here.

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    1. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      so you're saying no extra foliate in pregnancies, or iron and C to store at that time of the month or calcium (for osteoporosis)?

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  8. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    Breakfast - the most important meal of the day. One's choice of cereal can determine one's entire worldview apparently.

    And it's all about sex. From stopping self abuse through crunching cornflakes through to being transformed into a svelte executive type in six inch heels and a scarlet skin tight dress via special K. Real blokes chew their way through a matterhorn of weetbix before hurling themselves into the paddock to tackle or run or swim - anything but sex. The whole breakfast business…

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    1. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      or chewing tobacco spittoons where you're not permitted to smoke ...

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    2. Kate Rowan-Robinson

      Registered Nurse/Sexology Student

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Personally I go in for as much Diet Coke as I can guzzle. Never been a fan of breakfast and now I have an excellent explanation as to why. :D Thanks.

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  9. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    Given the number of absolutely ridiculous homeopathy products that are Health Canada approved, this doesn't really surprise me.

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