Why is pasta so sexy? From Sophia Loren to Stanley Tucci, there’s no doubt that people who love pasta know a little something about sexy. Writer Laura Zam probes into the idea, asking what is it about that much-loved carb that everybody finds so damn sexy? 

An illustration of a lipstick mark and the title 'Why is Pasta so Sexy?'
: Camila Carmichael

As we step into a strangely familiar world where mouths are no longer covered, it’s time to safely have our fill of energy, love, comfort, and remembrances. I’m talking, of course, about eating a lot more pasta.

Pasta is not the enemy

But wait! Haven’t we been numbing ourselves with this starchy stress-buster since early 2020, our thighs telling this story? Indeed. Yet the kind of carby indulgence I’m proposing is the opposite of pushing down emotions. It’s about feeling more. We need to activate parts of ourselves that also went into lockdown—our romantic and sensual nature.

We’ve all felt something at the sight of a steamy bowl of, say, linguini. Semolina strands tangle around each other, glistening with olive oil and emanating the perfume of golden garlic. Ravenous? Great. Though other appetites may be calling as well. Is pasta the secret bridge? If so, how does this potion work?

A patterned bowl filled with lemony fettuccine alfredo on a white and gold plate with a glass of water and dish of Parmesan on the side.
: Hélène Dujardin

It’s all in your head

James Hamet is a neuroscience researcher. One of his interests is how the sight of food triggers our brains. “It’s all about the limbic system,” he says. “These collective, unconscious structures go into action whenever we encounter something edible.” With lightning speed, the limbic system determines if a substance is dangerous or beneficial. “We do this based on memory,” he says.

In the case of pasta, Hamet speculates that since many of us were fed this fare from a young age, we associate it with security and feeling adored. “Just looking at noodles relaxes our nervous system,” he says. This certainly speaks to the symbiotic relationship between my COVID anxiety and my mac n cheese cravings.

A illustration of the limbic system.
: Susann Schröter

Hamet points out that noodle-induced peacefulness can lead to cuddles, which can lead beyond cuddles. In fact, another pasta perk is that our primal brain gets really excited by carbs, which are useful for “heavy activity.” And not just the kind that relate to survival instincts.

To wit: erotic imagination. Mary Adelle Walters works at the intersection of creativity and sensuality via online courses and workshops she runs through her company Creative Sex, LLC. Walters agrees that noodles fulfill an unconscious desire to be nourished, but she alludes to nourishment of the soul. “Each moment of pasta is sensual,” she says. “The bubbling of it in hot water…the soft nest it makes on the plate….the chew of it.” It’s not just the sensory experience in the moment, though. Each of these experiences has the potential to inspire flights of erotic fancy. In other words, creatively igniting all our senses could lead to sparks of other sorts.

A woman licking tomato sauce off her fingers.
: Parilov

Remembrances of pastas past

This is confirmed by pasta professional Kevin Nelson, Executive Chef at a hot new restaurant in Louisville Kentucky, The Black Jockeys Lounge. One of Chef Nelson’s signature creations is a creamy, spicy extravaganza known as Diablo (or Devil’s) Pasta. Ingredients include fettuccini, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, diced chicken breast, andouille sausage, sweet peppers, red chili, and shaved parmesan. Nelson echoes much of what was expressed by the neuroscientist and the sexologist—that pasta elicits powerful remembrances, coloring its personal appeal. Also, blissing out our senses feels good, which can inspire other pleasure seeking. Nelson sees this in his dining room—couples leaning in closer as they get deeper into the meal.

He adds that a conversation about pleasure and pasta needs to include cooking the stuff “Macaroni is a doorway to love,” Chef Nelson says. He goes on to explain that because it’s relatively easy to prepare, pasta is often the featured entree when one paramour invites the other over for dinner for the first time. “Couples often have stories revolving around this meal. Perhaps a first kiss.” Think Lady and the Tramp (and other examples not so G-rated).

A couple cooking pasta together.
: Friends Stock

Nelson speculates that pasta, as with many meals, could play a role in a relationship’s future. “It’s a great dish to make together because it’s simple,” he says, emphasizing that no advanced culinary skills are required. He told me stress-free cooking leaves room for kitchen flirting: chopping hip-to-hip, running four hands under warm water, reaching across someone else’s body for the wooden spoon.

If it’s good enough for Sophia Loren, it’s good enough for us

The final word on pasta’s exquisite sexiness, appropriately, comes from Sophia Loren, who famously said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” Some claim she was referring to cheap childhood meals during her impoverished upbringing. I believe she was communicating so much more—about life and about love. She was beckoning us to understand that pleasure begets pleasure. What food can deliver us back to our body and all its sensual delights? Why, linguini, of course. And fusilli, rigatoni, capellini, ravioli…

About Laura Zam

Laura Zam is a sexual health coach and writer. Her memoir The Pleasure Plan: One Woman’s Search for Sexual Healing was released in 2020. Other writing appears in the NY Times, Salon, HuffPost, and numerous publications. You can find her at LauraZam.com.

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  1. I can envision that pasta is like…. holding hands. Both pasta and holding hands seem simple on the surface, but several layers are below what is seen from afar. The way pasta works are using a few ingredients on hand, sometimes even what is in a pantry shortage – keep it simple; otherwise, it is trying too hard. Holding hands can be done from any angle, and it can lighten the mood at any time. Those might be more efficient than hugging – and a hug is no slouch either.

    Many people reading here probably think of the first recipe they cooked being pasta. Likely me here, being a carbonara (with using FAR too much garlic), that was me taking my hypothetical first steps with cooking, running and all that – an African peanut chicken stew. Plus, at least to me, there should be less about the first kiss (or even first… we’re adults here, you can draw the conclusion) and about how it started with holding hands. Call me a prude, but things get too X-rated too early these days.

    It also does not hurt that pasta is within several cuisines of the Mediterranean. Many countries from around there spring to mind when thinking of romance – Italy, Greece, France, even Egypt*… all the stories throughout history from that area. Since my country of Australia had immigrants from that region reach our shores, food has elevated from basic fuel to a passion of sorts.

    Plus, people would know me as Mr Slow Cooker. Ergo, I will leave you with this video.

    *Don’t believe me? Try this baked pasta out for size.

  2. By the way, I want to thank the good people of LC for introducing me to The Pasta Queen. I eschew most social media and probably wouldn’t have found her otherwise.