It would have been simpler if Paul "Fotie" Photenhauer, semen-cooking enthusiast, were more of a creep. Then it would have been easy to dismiss his self-published cookbooks, 2011's Natural Harvest: A Collection of Semen-Based Recipes and the new Semenology: The Semen Bartender's Handbook -- two volumes that literally made me throw up in my mouth a little bit when I received them.
They have recipes like Slightly Saltier Caviar, Special 'S' Barbecue Sauce, Mexican Cumslide, and Watermelon Gin Jizz, all which require teaspoons and tablespoons of the stuff. There are sentences such as, "Like fine wine and cheeses, the taste of semen is complex and dynamic," along with tips on how to make one's semen taste better (ginger!) and last longer (keep it in the freezer!). And then there are the photos, which give a new dimension to the term "food porn."
But after talking with Photenhauer on the phone (he's based in the Bay Area, but currently traveling around Europe), I reconsidered my gag reflex, at least a little. He made semen-eating seem, if not reasonable, at least mostly harmless. For starters, Photenhauer isn't some perv who drinks semen all day -- he says he reserves semen cooking for special, intimate encounters with his partner. "For me, it's more of a fun twist to add to food, or in this case a drink. It adds a definite personal twist to it," he says. "I would never eat or drink semen, cooked or otherwise, from someone I wouldn't be willing to have sex with."
Though semen cocktails don't equal sexytimes for most of us, the cookbooks do bring up the question of why semen-swallowing is such a social taboo outside the bedroom. Which is how Photenhauer got the idea in the first place, at a dinner party back in 2006. The conversation at the table turned to spitting or swallowing, and he noticed that everyone, gay or straight, expected their partner to swallow but weren't necessarily willing to reciprocate.
"If you want your partner to swallow, you should be willing to eat your own semen -- I mean, it's your semen," he says. "Then I started thinking about it. People eat all kinds of weird shit. Eggs are the menstruation of chickens. Milk is the mammary excretion from cows. Semen is... at least it's fresh and you know who the producer is.
"The question is, why is eating semen so much weirder than having a yogurt?" I gave a noncommittal, slightly horrified response, which he picked up on. "I mean, I get it. I'm not an idiot. I get that there's a difference. But the question is, why is it so much different?"
Next: Is cooking with semen even safe?
Of course, there's gross and then there's unsafe. To find out about the potential health risks or benefits, I talked to an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Berkeley School of Public Health who asked not to be named. "I really thought I'd heard it all," he says in response to my query (when an infectious disease specialist says that, you know it's out of the norm). He thinks about the risks for a moment. "If the food is thoroughly cooked, well-cooked, to destroy any life forms in the semen, like any viruses... that would be my first concern," he says, citing HIV, CMV (a herpes virus), and other STDs that could be transmitted through raw semen.
But those could be transmitted through oral sex as well -- his bigger question was why you'd ever cook with semen in the first place. "We evolved as a species by being omnivores and we eat all sorts of things, including the flesh of animals. But we never evolved wanting to eat someone's semen," the professor says, dismissing any health benefit claims like added protein as "nonsense."
"You can get more nutrients from a piece of meat than someone's semen ... I can only surmise that the small amount of protein in semen would be negligible," he says.
Photenhauer, for his part, acknowledges the risks of ingesting the semen of strangers, and was adamant on the phone and in his books that no one should serve guests semen-filled food without their knowledge. "I'm against [people saying], 'Oh, I put semen in their margarita and they didn't know about it,'" he says. "That's wrong. That's gross and that's wrong."