Saltpeter for sex drives, and the urban legend of the military’s libido manipulation

Saltpeter for sex drives, and the urban legend of the military’s libido manipulation

Learning to stand at attention for extended periods during basic training is key, yet after reporting for duty many new military recruits discover that their membrum virile is unable to do the same.

Decades ago a rumor began circulating that the U.S. military was adding saltpeter to the chow of young service members to keep libidos in check. The urban legend, according to one Quora user, has been rumored to have started during the Navy’s colonial days before carrying on well into the 20th century.

“There was a belief long ago that eating saltpeter would drive down a man’s sex drive, which was seen as beneficial for military personnel when their wives and girlfriends were far away,” wrote user Stephen Merkel. “The story went that saltpeter was added to the breakfast eggs for this purpose.”

Formerly “saltpetre,” the chemical has, among other uses, previously been employed to prevent people from dying a painful death courtesy of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum — more commonly known as the rare poisoning botulism.

“Up until the 1980s, corned beef was prepared using saltpeter as a curing agent … until such time as better nitrates for food preservation were discovered,” Merkel added. “Since cured meat was often used in military rations, this might also [lend] credence” to the saltpeter myth.

The compound is also “a common term for potassium nitrate,” according to Culinary Lore. “It is used to preserve meat, temper steel, and to make gunpowder and fireworks.”

But there’s no chemical proof that saltpeter has ever had any impact on the male sex drive. Instead, any loss of interest in the pursuit of hanky panky during boot camp or otherwise is likely from the sort of mental and physical exhaustion that accompany rigorous training.

The military, meanwhile, remains adamant that no amount of saltpeter comes in contact with any of the food consumed by service members.

“According to Army Natick Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, items procured for military rations are under the guidance of the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture,” a Defense Logistics Agency spokesperson told Military Times.

“In 1999, the FDA no longer allowed the use of saltpeter, sodium or potassium nitrate in curing smoked and cooked meats, non-smoked and cooked meats, or sausages.”

So, your sausage is safe — at least from saltpeter.

Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.