Did Eve eat an apple to have a better sex life with Adam? One might come to that conclusion after reading a paper published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics with the alluring title, “Apple consumption is related to better sexual quality of life in young women.” Indeed one might come to that conclusion if one ignores the poor quality of the paper as well as the fact that the Bible never mentions an apple as being the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

A peer-reviewed publication is the cornerstone of science, ensuring that a published paper has been reviewed not only by an editor but also several experts before appearing in print. In theory, any published paper should add to the body of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately this is not always the case. There are many published papers of questionable quality that provide speculation based on a sprinkling of data. Since professional careers are often judged by the number of papers produced, there is motivation to crank out as many as possible, especially on topics that might generate publicity.

It surely did not escape the recent paper’s authors’ attention that a title linking apples to sex would capture the imagination of the press. And indeed it did. Articles enticed readers with headlines such as: “Apple a Day Keeps Your Sex Life Okay;” “Why Eating Apples May Be The Cure For A Rotten Sex Life” and “Eating an apple a day improves women’s sex lives, study shows.” Really? That is not exactly what the study shows. In fact what it shows is that women who eat at least one apple a day as opposed to those who hardly eat apples have no greater desire for sex and actually experience less satisfaction.

So how do you get a title that claims “better sexual quality of life” out of that? By doing a lot of data dredging with the aim of getting some publicity. Here is what was actually done: 731 women were enlisted through posters on hospital bulletin boards to fill out questionnaires about their apple consumption and their sex lives as determined by the “Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI).” This index is based on a number of questions including one on “lubrication” which happens to be the only one that detected a difference between the apple eaters and the non-eaters. It must be emphasized that no laboratory investigation was carried out; this was a matter of personal judgment. Without an actual measurement, such data are essentially useless — unless you are looking for a publication. Then you can add up the results from all the questions in the two groups and come up with a total that will be different solely because of a questionable difference in the answers to that one question about lubrication. You can then go on to speculate about why there is a difference in the FSFI by talking about pharmacologically active substances such as phytoestrogens, polyphenols and antioxidants and hypothesize that these can activate the body’s nitric oxide system that increases blood flow south (so to speak). Never mind mentioning that substances that are actually known to increase nitric oxide secretion, such as Viagra, have no effect on female sexual function. Neither does soy, which contains far more phytoestrogens than apples.

If you leave out the question about “lubrication” and look at the more meaningful ones like degree of satisfaction, you could actually conclude that abstaining from apples improves women’s sex lives. That, though, is not likely to arouse much attention. Another point: this paper has 15 authors! They all come from different institutions. Could it be that some got their names on this paper for doing no more than posting a notice on bulletin boards to solicit subjects for the study? I suspect that may be the case. As far as apple consumption goes, I have long advocated “an apple a day” for various reasons, none of which involve sexual function.