Three months ago, while laying in bed in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house, I received a voice note from a man I’d been communicating with for months. We weren’t dating — “dating” is a strong word for a relationship begun in quarantine — but we’d been talking more and more, staying up late almost every night to text. His voice note — a far more personal overture than I was expecting — came as a total surprise.
In it, he explained how to pronounce his name, as he’d only ever given me a shorter form of it. I, having never sent a voice note before (because why?), sent him one back, rolling his name around my mouth. He sent me another, asking why I was still up. For the next two hours, we traded voice notes back and forth, each progressively more suggestive than the last, until I found myself sliding a hand inside my pajama pants in plain sight of my stuffed animals, who will probably never forget the things they saw that night.
His voice — a deep baritone, lightly accented and uniquely husky so that even when he asked how my day had been, it felt like a come-on — was suddenly doing more work on me than other men had accomplished while actually by my side. More a sensation than anything else, these voice notes felt as if he had run his hands along my back or grazed my neck with his teeth. Even today, I still replay the ones that I saved, shivering at their memory.
I’m fully willing to admit that his voice notes might have sourced their power from the fact that we were both sex-starved, unable to see and touch each other and craving any kind of intimate connection in quarantine. But I’m not discounting that they were more than that, too. In that regard, it seemed as though we’d discovered a new frontier of flirtation and sexting that the rest of the millennial/Gen Z sex pantheon had yet to experience.
It turns out, though, if anything, we were late to the voice-note sex party. Because when I asked a number of my friends and colleagues about suggestive voice notes, most of them were already well aware of their power. They weren’t just for flirting, either — many have entire (presumably piecemeal) conversations with voice notes, ping-ponging information back and forth by less efficient, but also less invasive means than a phone call. In fact, scan your average Gen Z group chat, and there’s probably a series of voice note reactions (from laughter to shrieks) on any given subject — from verbally hashed-out brunch plans to stream-of-consciousness rants about last night’s drunken escapades.
Tech has adapted with this trend, with voice notes becoming a recent function on not only iPhones, but Facebook, WhatsApp and, recently, Twitter, where you can share a 140-second verbal message to say whatever you want. In 2018, researchers found that on WhatsApp alone, out of the 65 billion messages users sent in a day, 200 million were voice notes, which have been rising in popularity year-over-year. Meanwhile, on WeChat in China, more than 90 percent of users send voice notes (up to 6.1 billion a day in 2017, according to the messaging app’s parent company).
Where they really shine, however, is with sexting. Far simpler than typing out a smutty opus and 10 times more human, all you have to do to convey your thirst is give a light moan into the speaker, and boom, you’re in business (the tone and cadence of your voice trump a block of text and a squirt-y eggplant emoji every time anyway). Like the alt-nude you never knew you needed, they’re also less inflammatory than an unwanted dick pic, more intimate than a verbal sext and less of a commitment than a phone call. Simply put, they’re the perfect flirtation device, especially if your partner happens to have an attractive voice.
“A voice can convey so much — intimacy, attention, warmth, empathy, even disinterest,” explains Kat Kova, a Toronto-based sex and relationship therapist. “It really beats texting because what you get in the voice is emotion and meaning through tone. There can be understanding or validation, which can help someone know that you’re there with them, that you get them.”
Pitch also exacts a strong influence when it comes to attraction. It’s well established that female voices are higher pitched and male voices lower pitched — in the animal world, males will lower their pitch to establish dominance over competitors, making themselves more attractive to females. Humans aren’t all that different; which is why you may have noticed that when your male friends are flirting with women, their voices will suddenly (and often unconsciously) get deeper, and when your female friends are flirting with men, their voices will get higher. (Speaking of evolution, women are most likely to do this when at their fertile peak in the menstrual cycle.) The deeper the voice, the stronger the reaction/attraction from women on average, while the higher the voice, the stronger the reaction/attraction from men.
According to a 2015 study from James Madison University, the effects are incredibly physical, too. After playing audio recordings of women speaking, both men’s and women’s heart rates increased by 5 percent, while their “electrical activity” (i.e., a tingling sensation) increased by 20 percent. That said, queer women are more likely to show “more male-typical arousal than other women,” including via voice, and may be more aroused by higher pitches.
As for men, other research has shown that when their voices are deeper, heterosexual women will often assume them to be muscular, hairy and, therefore, “more attractive.” If they have a pleasing accent, all the better. In the case of gay men, the findings are similar: Lower-pitched voices are generally preferable, particularly among those men who find themselves to be more traditionally masculine. These preferences are generalizations, of course, but their presence in voice research does say something about the way pitch can seduce us.
Funneled through nothing but a voice note, that seduction becomes especially titillating — a high-powered tease, really. As much a sexual souvenir as a nude, a voice note ironically feels more intimate as, again, it offers more of an emotional connection. Plus, a nude doesn’t feel as custom; whereas a voice note is a special message sent only for you that can’t be repeated in exactly the same way again for anyone else (and likely won’t be heard in the same way either). They also happen to be a whole lot safer.
“A voice note is both unique and anonymous,” Kova says. “When you send a text, there’s not a whole lot of personality that comes with that, but when you send a voice note, you get to express yourself and be seen for more than just words.”
Still, people aren’t sexually attracted to just anyone who speaks to them kindly. For those in longer-term, more emotionally intimate relationships, the comfort in hearing your partner’s voice is likely immediate and entirely to do with who they are, while for those engaging in something more casual, it isn’t so much about the individual, but almost entirely about the voice. That’s why — I’m sorry to say — if you’re just looking to hook up but have a David Beckham situation happening, you might opt for sexting over voice-noting.
But if you do give good aural, definitely skip the dick pic and send a voice note instead.