The origin of sexual vocalisations...
January 10, 2006 8:40 PM   Subscribe

When we have sex it is usually women who utter the most vocal noise. What are the possible evolutionary origins of this?

Can this phenomenon be found in any other animals? Has any research been done on whether female sexual utterances are physical or psychological in origin?

Am I completely off the mark with my original assumption?
posted by 0bvious to Science & Nature (54 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Is your assumption based purely on (ahem) anecdotal evidence, or do you actually have some (preferably cross-cultural) studies to cite on this?
posted by availablelight at 8:48 PM on January 10, 2006

Evolutionary? I think you're ignoring that in many cases they're noisy during sex so that their male partners aren't so noisy afterwards.

Lesbian friends of mine tell me that their lovemaking is much quieter. Presumably because they feel they don't have to fake or put on a show for each other.
posted by Manhasset at 8:50 PM on January 10, 2006

P.S., I'm not saying all vocal noise during sex is fake or a show.
posted by Manhasset at 8:54 PM on January 10, 2006

Because we're faking it. Or shocked that we're not. /obligatory "faking it" snark

Okay, not always. But it is often kind of a pep rally to demonstrate ongoing enthusiasm. Somewhere along the way, it's a way to prove that you're uninhibited and therefore wilder in bed/more comfortable with your sexuality.

The evolutionary benefit is anything that gets you to have more sex and therefore make more babies. So, I suppose we're back to the eternal question of which came first, the moaning or the egg?
posted by desuetude at 8:59 PM on January 10, 2006

With all that moaning, it's obvious that someone came first!
posted by the_bone at 9:07 PM on January 10, 2006

I've done quite a bit of research into this and I've determined that the constant moaning and shouting causes a strong flexing of the diaphragm and other stomach muscles. The end result is that the vagina muscles grip the penis more tightly thereby greatly increasing the chance of male orgasm and successful transmission. There's also a strong psychological feedback loop in which louder moans lead to more forceful thrusts which again increase the chance of pregnancy. And yes this definitely applies to other female mammals when they're penetrated. Sheep in particular will make quite a ruckus.

Ok, that's a total lie.

Seriously, woman as a class aren't more vocal in bed. There's this Hollywood/porno mediatype of the loudly moaning female that's filtered into Western culture... but it remains a silly mediatype. Personally, I think gay and bi males are much more vocal, for reasons you can imagine.
posted by nixerman at 9:13 PM on January 10, 2006

Because there's no reason for evolution to select against women having loud orgasms.

(Or if you really must apply evolutionary theory to absolutely everything, how about because that's how we know that they enjoy sex with us? Better sex = better relationship = more likely to pass down genes.)
posted by Afroblanco at 9:14 PM on January 10, 2006

I think nixerman's right. It may not be related and it's purely anecdotal but when I was pregnant (okay, it's sort of related), my midwife told me that women from different backgrounds generally vocalise differently in labour: Latin-American women were quiet; women from the east coast were more inclined to swear and shout, Asian women were quiet moaners, and so on.
posted by tracicle at 9:36 PM on January 10, 2006

When we have sex it is usually women who utter the most vocal noise.

That's an odd assumption to make. Why did you make it?
posted by mediareport at 9:38 PM on January 10, 2006

Women are better at expressing their feelings than men.
posted by caddis at 9:39 PM on January 10, 2006

Sure, and women are also trained to be quieter and less aggressive than men, and to be more ashamed of being "slutty." It works either way, caddis, (and in my slightly bi experience, men have been much more vocal). I'm just wondering what if any experience is behind Obvious' choice of assumptions.
posted by mediareport at 9:53 PM on January 10, 2006

Funny how, with all the faking and the Hollywood stereotypes, my own anecdotal evidence supports the poster's assumptions almost universally. Not to mention long-term relationships with girls who must have been performing their hearts out every night for month upon month. Gosh, what a fool I was to not realize the amount of fear they must have felt that I would be unsatisfied if they didn't expend so much energy just to address some perceived insecurity on my part. I guess any emotional honesty I thought I've ever shared with anyone was pretty much a sham.
posted by bingo at 9:58 PM on January 10, 2006

Some people can't take a joke.
posted by caddis at 9:59 PM on January 10, 2006

I, for one, agree with Obvious's premise, if only from first-hand experience. And it's not just Western females or some Western stereotype as someone said, I've noticed vocal activity from women of other cultures as well.

This will probably get shot down, but perhaps one reason why guys are generally quiet is the fact that we often take care of things...ourselves. Not that females don't, but it's more prevalent with males (natch). No need to be noisy if you're on your own!
posted by zardoz at 10:11 PM on January 10, 2006

Perhaps it's because young men masturbate more (that's a generally accepted fact, right?) and are thus conditioned during their furtive teenage years to orgasming quietly.
posted by nomis at 10:17 PM on January 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Female cats certainly make a lot of noise! Never saw/heard dogs do it.

Thinking about it, if my male ogasms were continuous, I'm fairly sure I'd be noisy, too. Myself, when it's especially good, sometimes I growl, other times, my toes snap repeatedly.

I'd hazard a guess that there is probably something cross-species going on, so likely it's evolutionary. Surely such cues would heighten the excitement for the male, with obvious affect.
posted by Goofyy at 10:29 PM on January 10, 2006

Oooh... I like nomis' answer.

I also support the "pep rally" theory.
posted by Netzapper at 10:29 PM on January 10, 2006

I'm not sure I support the original assumption, but you might also want to take into account that women have a greater need to let men know when they're doing something right, as it's not always obvious and can vary more from woman to woman. Many women's magazines explicitly advise women to be vocal if they want better sex.
posted by occhiblu at 10:36 PM on January 10, 2006

obligatory oblique cultural reference
posted by kcm at 10:41 PM on January 10, 2006

I assumed that when a woman makes noise it's because a lot more of what is going on could be walking the fine line between pleasurable and painful.
posted by drezdn at 10:46 PM on January 10, 2006

Response by poster: ok so my evidence is anecdotal, but i have recently chatted to a couple of female friends about this and they pretty much agreed with me. if its a cultural thing then its one of the most prominent memes i have ever come across.

there has to be some serious research into this somewhere
posted by 0bvious at 10:58 PM on January 10, 2006

I don't know if this is nature or nurture, but I always find it hilarious how people will invent the most imaginative solutions rather than acknowledge the mere possibility of some biological factor. Ask why do women have ovaries and men do not, and someone on AskMe is bound to reply that women are socialized into developing them.
posted by ori at 11:00 PM on January 10, 2006

Female cats certainly make a lot of noise!

I believe I've read that female cats make a lot of noise because male cats have a penis head that's covered with tiny barbs, and it hurts the females upon withdrawal. I certainly hope that's not why most female humans make noise. :)

Seriously, I think the variance between women is just too great to generalize like that. Shoot, for me it's even varied depending on my partners. I was quieter when I was younger, but now I have a husband who I know is aroused by vocalizing during sex, and I've gotten much noisier since I've been with him. I suspect partners' preference has a lot to do with many women's noise levels.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:22 PM on January 10, 2006

Maybe it's because good sex for women feels better than good sex for men? The way some females have described their orgasmic experiences to me sounds way, way more intense than any orgasm I've ever had. Feeling it throughout your entire body? No, I can't say I've experienced that. I'm a little jealous.
posted by speicus at 11:28 PM on January 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd be surprised if it wasn't mostly cultural, especially since culture has made it so that most men aren't so great in the sack. But I have nothing to back that up.

Anecdotally, I'm male and usually louder than my partners. The loudest person I've been with lately was primarily a lesbian.

(Aside to you quiet men out there... let go from time to time, vocalize your primal urges. Trust me, people like it.)
posted by p7a77 at 11:35 PM on January 10, 2006

I read somewhere that there is a species of mammal where the female makes lots of noise during copulation, in order to attract other males... which will then attack the one copulating with her, and then the weaker of the two will be driven off and the stronger one will remain and mate with the female some more, thus increasing the chances that she is mixing her genes with a superior specimen. Or something.
posted by Rubber Soul at 11:36 PM on January 10, 2006

My theory, pulled pretty much out of my ass: Women make noise because they're getting a workout, and also because they're giving feedback. Men are quiet because they're concentrating really, really hard.
posted by stefanie at 11:50 PM on January 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Women also have numerous "kinds" of orgasms due to the fancier nature of female plumbing. Guys just have the one (or two), really. Maybe there is a "kind" of orgasm that can not have - and perhaps that is the stronger, more intense one.
posted by travosaurus at 11:51 PM on January 10, 2006

The way some females have described their orgasmic experiences to me sounds way, way more intense than any orgasm I've ever had.

Smoke some pot, then give it a go. You'll feel like Mt. Saint Helens.
posted by I Love Tacos at 12:27 AM on January 11, 2006

Oh, and do your Kegels.
posted by I Love Tacos at 12:29 AM on January 11, 2006

Men are quiet because we're thinking about sports.

Do you have anything else to say to your fans?
Yeah. Steve, don't come yet.

posted by frogan at 2:54 AM on January 11, 2006

I rather like occhiblu's theory. Face it: "Yes... yes... yes... OH GOD YES" is much nicer than "Not like that. No, more like... okay... Not that either... Oh, there ya go. Finally."

Still, why can't there be more than one reason? Here we've got one behavior with a lot of different functions — why does it need to have only one "real" function?
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:49 AM on January 11, 2006

Seriously, woman as a class aren't more vocal in bed.

I agree with this. Some are, some aren't.

Still, why can't there be more than one reason?

I agree with this too. To the extent there is anything to the poster's assumption, there are bound to be different factors operating, some cultural, some personal, and—who knows?—maybe even some biological/evolutionary (though there's an incredible amount of horseshit passed off under that label).

I too have heard that sex is painful for female cats.
posted by languagehat at 5:59 AM on January 11, 2006

I'll agree anecdotally with obvious's observation. I think that cultural conditioning and letting the man know what she's enjoying are good explanations. But I'm not sure about the loud vocalizations that some women have during climax, which seem to be involuntary.
posted by justkevin at 6:09 AM on January 11, 2006

Based on my personal experience I'm not sure your premise is true. I've known women who were completely silent (and no, I don't think it ws because they were having a bad time...) and I've known women who make a lot of noise. People vary. Sometimes I make a lot of noise and sometimes I'm completely silent - except for the obligatory "YEEEEEAAAAHHH BAYBEE!" at the end, obviously.
posted by Decani at 6:35 AM on January 11, 2006

Your observation has not been the same as mine. Maybe I just enjoy it more than you.
posted by JamesMessick at 7:20 AM on January 11, 2006

I've thought about this as well and agree full with nomis - at least a portion of the phenomenon has to do with the masturbation habits of boys at puberty. Because it's so stigmatized, and so utterly impossible to avoid, boys train themselves to be furtive and silent about it.

Which, I think, is in keeping with the male stereotype/conditioning to not show emotion in general.

Speaking for myself, the idea of groaning and being vocal seems utterly unnatural. Perhaps because I inadvertently trained myself to be that way, I dunno.
posted by aladfar at 7:44 AM on January 11, 2006

Which raises the question (that nixerman already alluded to) what about gay and bi fellows? Do they make more noise than we straight guys? Someone with experience needs to weigh in on this!
posted by aladfar at 7:46 AM on January 11, 2006

Like other posters, I don't know whether it's evolutional so much as societal. This is all anecdotal, of course, but from cultural observations and discussions with acquantainces about the topic of sex, women and men who make loud noises are viewed different. Women who moan and scream a lot are seen as fun, exciting, pleasing sexual partners (especially by male acquantainces, who enjoy the validation of their sexual prowess). Men who grunt and yell are seen as perhaps too over-involved in their own enjoyment, and should probably be paying more attention to the lady (dunno how widely-held that viewpoint is).

Maybe it's a power thing? In the act of sex, the man is traditionally seen as doing the fucking, while the woman is being fucked. So the woman is expected to give some response for the thing the man is doing to her. While if a man is doing the noisemaking while the woman is quiet, he might be seen as the selfish lover who's not doing his job.
posted by Anonymous at 8:23 AM on January 11, 2006

Regarding noisemaking during masturbation--I would say female masturbation is traditionally even more stigmatized than male, to the point where when females do it, it may be seen as abnormal. So you'd think if it made males quiet, it would make females really quiet.
posted by Anonymous at 8:27 AM on January 11, 2006

Primate copulation calls and postcopulatory female choice - i'm not sure it's the same thing, at all, but it's kind of related.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:33 AM on January 11, 2006

I believe I've read that female cats make a lot of noise because male cats have a penis head that's covered with tiny barbs, and it hurts the females upon withdrawal.

I read about experiments done penetrating female cats (is there no analogue of "bitch" here?) with smooth objects, in order to test this theory. They still yowl.

If anybody knows a biological reason it should be Dr. Tatiana, author of a sex guide to all creation.
posted by Aknaton at 10:19 AM on January 11, 2006

I've had plenty of sex with both men and women and I'm not sure that I agree with the basic premise - I feel that the level of noisemaking is dependent on the person, not the gender. I'd agree, however, that women tend to make at least some noise during the experience, while many men make none whatsoever. However, the men who do make noise seem to make lots of it.

In my experience, the people who were most consistently the loudest during actual lovemaking were definitely men. However, the women seem to be louder during orgasm.

Hmmm... : )
posted by widdershins at 10:53 AM on January 11, 2006

doesn't everyone make a noise* when something is pushed into them? have someone push a fist into your stomach (at the level of firmness you prefer) and see.

*not an "oh, ah, baby" noise - just a...noise.
posted by pinky at 11:17 AM on January 11, 2006

Personally, a lot of it is encouragement. The last person I did anything with and I were talking about this. He said about women being more vocal: "I like knowing it was a job well done."
posted by Amanda B at 12:40 PM on January 11, 2006

I agree with the encouragement theory. In sex, at a particular moment, one partner will be dominant, a "giver," while the other is submissive, a "receiver." As a male, I find that I tend to be quiet while working, but will make all kinds of encouraging noises for her when she decides to climb up on top. Ultimately, I want her to know I appreciate what she's doing, and maybe encourage her to do it a little bit more. :-P

Other times we make encouraging, unnecessary noise:
-Birthing events (you can do it, honey!)
-Massage (harder, deeper, a little to the left, ooooooh!)
-Rose Bowl
posted by Jonasio at 2:29 PM on January 11, 2006

I read about experiments done penetrating female cats (is there no analogue of "bitch" here?) with smooth objects, in order to test this theory. They still yowl.

"Hi, I masturbate female cats for a living." haha
posted by travosaurus at 5:40 PM on January 11, 2006

Lady cats are called 'queens' (not 'bitch kitties'.)

When I was younger, I thought nomis' answer was the answer to this question. Later I discovered that many girls were also masturbating at that age, and that theory sort of fell apart.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2006

Some of this is hilarious.

As mentioned by a couple of people above, there's no proof to say it isn't a cultural phenomenon, if there is a phenomenon at all. Numbers, anyone?

When I make noise, it's generally to give feedback. I made a lot more before I got hitched; now it's limited mostly to those mind-blowing orgasms that come (ha) much more frequently with a knowing partner.

Women masturbate. My guess is that they can masturbate just as quietly as guys can.
posted by moira at 8:03 PM on January 11, 2006

what nixerman and caddis said. men are taught to be vocal through their intellect or macho piss-taking, neither of which involve making oneself vulnerable like sex groaning does. they're probably also less likely to put on a show for their lovers because they are taught that they are the ones that need to be pleased.

if anything, it inhibits evolution.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:48 PM on January 11, 2006

ooh, also what schroedinger said.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:49 PM on January 11, 2006

Well, just some more anecdotal evidence here, but when I moved into a place of my own (away from parents and roommates) I discovered that my politely silent masturbation was far less satisfying than when I could make some noise.

I'd still buy the argument that there's a cultural component to "girl noise=sexy," though. All the above means is that I buy into it just as much as your average porno flick watcher, or something.
posted by obliquicity at 9:24 PM on January 11, 2006

I discovered that my politely silent masturbation was far less satisfying than when I could make some noise.

Actually, I find this true for my own guy self as well. During actual intercourse, I frequently find myself not making much noise because I'm concentrating on the execution of the act. (Also inhibition, but that probably applies equally to both genders.)

In line with previous posters, the vocality seems to serve a feedback purpose to the individual performing the action. Maybe guys are somewhat more vocal when having acts performed on them, and a general tendency towards non-vocality is because they have a greater average responsibility, what with the thrusting and all?

And then there's the whole "girls are way better at reading body language" thing, so clearly guys need louder and more explicit feedback. Yeah, that's it.
posted by trevyn at 9:42 PM on January 11, 2006

I think a part of it is being heard by someone who is not in on the activity, and other individually-taboo things (like the normally silent guy saying something instead) that make it seem better. I never really cussed until I just decided I'd on a whim I'm mouth/whisper the word f*ck to myself and somehow it was made loads better, pun intended. Perhaps it also relates to the martial art action of releasing the "HUH!" when breaking a board that somehow seems necessary but doesn't really make sense if you'd never tried it.
posted by vanoakenfold at 12:54 AM on January 14, 2006

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