Does Coffee make you Impotent?

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By Mary McConville


In 1663 Merc Democ wrote a pamphlet called “The Maidens Complaint against Coffee, or the Coffee-house Discovered, Besieged, Stormed, Taken, Untyled and Laid Open in publick view …” where two maids describe the terrible effects that coffee is having on their boyfriends. Dorothy is so desperate that she threatens to “wrap my maidenhood up in my smock and fling it to the ocean to be bugger’d to death by young lobsters.”

Much as I would like to know the answer to this question I’m not going to ask my male companions to put it to the test. It wouldn’t pass the ethics committee. I’ll have to rely on other people’s research.

So is coffee good or bad for you? It was a very popular drink amongst the Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire. Arabic medicine said that coffee could cause insomnia, headaches, piles or leprosy. Its diuretic effect was seen as both good and bad.

After coffee was introduced into Europe from Turkey in 1573 by the Venetian Ambassador the European attitudes to it were contradictory. Even though it was taken up with great enthusiasm by some, it was associated with the “deviant” Turkish society with its supposedly widespread  practices of polygamy, the turning of some men into eunuchs and the tolerance of homosexuality. As with the later coffee houses in Europe, the Turkish authorities disliked the political discussion held under the stimulating effects of coffee

One if the first approving European mentions of coffee came from a German doctor who gave it the thumbs up  as “stomach friendly”. In the 17th Century coffee was a wonder drug as it stimulated the brain. It was used for treating gout, fits, scurvy and flatulence, among other ills. Others said that coffee badly affected the kidneys and the lymph glands. Around 1847 Dr Von Oleanius was one of the first to link coffee with impotence.

Disapproval of coffee came from doctors, kings, politicians but also from religious figures. One religious opponent to coffee was The Seventh Day Adventists who disapproved of its stimulating effects. They also disapproved of alcohol, tobacco, and too much sex, especially of the solitary kind. Alternatives to coffee, like Postum, are an important industry. Some of these drinks are quite pleasant if you treat them as a separate product but they don’t work a a substitute for coffee. They lack the complexity of flavour and the stimulating effect.

Modern attitudes to coffee recognise that, in excess, coffee can be unhealthy but I don’t think anyone associates  it with impotence. We know that alcohol produces the infamous “brewers’ droop” but coffee? Anyone who finds themselves with problems in their love life is encouraged to consult their doctor to discuss all of their physical and mental problems, not just their caffeine intake.

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