Talk Dirty To Me: How Audio Porn Is Awakening Our Sexual Fantasies

Want your ideal sex scenario whispered into your ears? Audio erotica sites like Quinn and Dipsea deliver. But who's making it, who's listening – and why?

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“I’ll f*** you so good, I promise, I will, I will… thank you,” says an obsequious staffer, eager to please his manager (“ma’am”) as he attends to everything she needs ahead of a work conference. Soon, things get smuttier, and this man begins to describe how his “sexy boss” is pleasuring him. Then, accompanied by audio effects of heavy breathing, licking, groaning and skin-slapping, the narrator describes, not without some imitated obstacles, a sex scene.

I can’t actually see what’s going on, but it sounds like I’m the one being called “ma’am” and I don’t not like it.

Audio erotica is a booming industry, if not in money terms, then in tech’s race to grab the female millennial market this visual-free format is primed for.

‘Yes Ma’am’, the sweetly euphemistic title of this particular story, is hosted on Quinn, launched last year by Caroline Spiegel, the sister of Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Her company has raised close to a million dollars and is in pursuit of more, much like sexual wellness app Ferly, which also launched in 2019 and has raised a similar amount. Dipsea is the market leader, after setting up in 2017, and raising $5.5m as of 2019.

While each of these sites produces and hosts different types of audio erotica, others are diversifying their offering. Do You, a relative newcomer, aims for further intimacy with the listener by texting sex scenes over to them. But who is listening and what do they get from it? And how, in turn, does this impact what sort of zero-nudity, highly-explicit, middling-budget smut is being created?

“I discovered audio porn last year and I listen to it about once a month,” says Rachel, 22, from Surrey, who says she enjoys a male voice narrating a BDSM scenario. She prefers audio erotica, in part, because it’s more accessible to stream on a slow connection, telling HuffPost UK: “I live with my parents at the moment and the internet is rubbish, so visual porn isn’t an option for me.”

Accessibility, to a really different degree, is also an issue for John, 31, from the Midlands. He is blind, so, of course, “pictures don’t help me in the slightest.” What John likes about audio erotica, he tells HuffPost UK is that it is “one-on-one, with the reader painting the pictures with her words and her inflection.”

Dr Karen Gurney, a clinical psychologist and psychosexologist, sees audio erotica as a real gift to her and her clients. This is partly because it is accessible to people like John, and partly because it encourages the use of imagination. “Audio erotica triggers arousal and desire, and research shows it does this almost as well as visual porn, and more effectively than reading erotica or using fantasy,” she says. And this is backed up by the research into what turns women on that inspired platforms like Dipsea in the first place.

“Audio erotica triggers arousal and desire, and research shows it does this almost as well as visual porn.”

- Dr Karen Gurney

Quinn, which is profile-based, allows direct communication between creators and users. “I’m passionate about assisting women to explore and embrace their sensual and erotic nature in a respectful and loving manner,” reads the blurb for Harry, a British male voice on the site, who regularly checks in with listeners on what scenario he should record next. “You come in, throw her up against the wall and show her just how much you missed her,” responds a fan.

Subjects are tagged according to voice, participants, atmosphere and acts, catering to a spectrum of sexual orientations that may or may not match your IRL leanings. What’s more, in an era where we’re oversaturated with screentime, accessing erotica through headphones helps support users’ imaginations rather than override them – and crucially leaves your hands free.

Audio suits a range of people, Dr Gurney says, as “it provides a strength of story which doesn’t take so much concentration, so appeals to people who haven’t found a visual porn that works for them, or those who want to develop their fantasies, making a note of what turns them on.”

The reason why audiovisual porn can’t do this so well, she says, is because “most mainstream porn can be quite misogynistic”.

Rough sex is the norm in mainstream porn, with male pornographers creating stories that rarely take into consideration women’s pleasure – or pain. As Rachel explains: “There are certain kinks that turn me on but it’s more comfortable for me to imagine them than to watch another woman being beaten up.

“I don’t think any shame should be attached to visual porn,” she adds, “but I feel it a lot less when I’m listening to audio. It just feels a bit healthier.”

Anna, 27, from London feels similarly. She listens to women’s voices narrating heterosexual sexual scenarios on Dipsea about twice a week, and remembers that when she used to try visual porn, “I couldn’t understand it as being pleasurable, because I enjoy something more loving and passionate.”

As a survivor of sexual violence, she adds: “Seeing someone in pain isn’t conducive to me enjoying myself.”

It sits uncomfortably with me when John admits that he enjoys “nonconsent” and “violence” in his audio erotica because I’m not keen on either being fetishised, but I also appreciate that audio porn depicting these themes is far further from their actuality than visual porn.

There’s an important discussion to be had about how violence in porn impacts real-life sexual behaviours. Regardless of how you feel about this debate, at time where more people are considering where their other pleasures in life – food, clothes, travel – come from, ethical porn is something many users are looking out for.

“There are lots of people who would prefer to get their erotica whispered in their ear than read it.”

- GirlOnTheNet

The obstacle to pursuing ethical porn, explains Dr Gurney, is often price. “The problem of porn is you have to pay for it to get good quality.” Audio erotica, however, is relatively cheap to make. GirlOnTheNet, who started off writing erotic stories, is now an independent audio erotica producer, using Patreon so her users pay for the audio that will often be tailored to their desired (Harry of Quinn – latest story title, ‘Let’s Make A Baby’ – is also fundraising there).

“Initially, it was an accessibility thing,” explains GirlsOnTheNet of her work – in her case, for blind people. “The eroticism gets lost when these stories are read aloud in a robot voice.” But after narrating some of her blog posts, “it took off”, she says. “It seems there are lots of people who would prefer to get their erotica whispered in their ear than read it,” she says. Now, she tailors her content to audio, something which John values over the stuff he used to get from old-school sex phone lines. As he puts it: “Recorded content gives performers the time to edit and include sound effects, which greatly enhance the experience.”

That kind of audio mix will be familiar to anyone with a podcast habit – and, indeed, there are several podcasts, such as Kiss me Quick, presented and narrated by California-based Rose Carraway, that serve up audio erotica, too.

These days, anyone with a webcam, some genitals and a hand can make porn. But, says GirlOnTheNet, “there are ethics, casting and cost issues with visual erotica that you don’t get with audio.” As an example of good audio, she cites the UK-based Molly Moore, who blogs at Molly’s Daily Kiss and also uploads real-life sex stories to her website.

In a society where those who create sexual content – be it the winners of literature’s Bad Sex Awards or sex workers – are routinely mocked and stigmatised for their efforts, Yes Ma’am’s creator, Anonyfun35 (with his supposed PhD in “Ache Linguistics”) has the freedom to make all of those slurpy, sucky noises and still show his face in public.

The accessibility, imagination and ethical boundaries of audio erotica all mark it out as a valuable prospect for those seeking an alternative to mainstream porn on the route to titillation. And for all these aspects, it carries a certain sophistication. The Hoxton, an upmarket hotel chain with branches across the world, wouldn’t dream of installing the pay-per-view porn channels that lesser hotels are known for. But the London outpost is teaming up with Dipsea for a limited period to allow guests to dial-in to hear some audio erotica.

While a spokesperson for the hotel explains this is part of a wider programme of “cultural discovery” and “unique experiences” for its guests, Gina Gutierrez, co-founder of Dipsea, tells HuffPost that “audio is special because it’s so powerfully imaginative” – adding that the company wants to make “more beautiful, considered and design-forward choices.” And what could be more beautiful, considered and design-forward than the visuals we create on the canvas of our minds? Yes, sir!

How To Get Off is our answer to Valentine’s Day, celebrating bodies, pleasure and fantasy – whatever your relationship status. We’ll be exploring what really gets us off in 2020, looking at sexual awakenings, toys and erotica, and real-life experience.