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Sexual Healing: Anxiety over audible intimacy

Rachael Shockey

By Lifestyles Editor
On October 11, 2011

  • Try not to fret over your volume; the best moans are the ones that you don't think about. floeschie/Flickr

Moaning in bed is one of the ultimate ways to let loose, but for young adults, the act tends to be complicated by self-consciousness and crude gender expectations.

The nature of women's sex noises has been a sizzling topic among sexual health experts this year. This past summer, a British study by researchers Gayle Brewer and Colin Hendrie on female "copulatory vocalizations" was published. They surveyed 71 heterosexual women between ages 18 and 48 (the mean age being 22) on their vocal habits in the sack.

"The question they wanted to answer was whether the noises a woman makes during sex are voluntary or a reflex, or consequence, of orgasm," said Editor-in-Chief John M. Grohol at

What they found is that heterosexual women tend to be most vocal around the time of their male partners' orgasms, leading them to conclude that their moans are very much voluntary, and they exist for the enhancement of their partners' sexual enjoyment.

"The sounds the women emitted were not because they were out-of-control excited. Rather, it was a tactic they used to induce their man to do something, like get it over with. In most cases, they were also trying to be nice," said contributing writer Brian Alexander at

A vast majority of women surveyed believed that their moaning helped increase their partner's confidence, and 87 percent of the subjects admitted to moaning for the sake of giving their partners this morale boost.

This study brings up some persistent and disheartening gender standards at work in our cultural vision of what sex should look, feel and sound like. Why has there been no study on "copulatory vocalizations" uttered by men? When you think about sex noises—unshapely moans, oh-my-gods and more concrete exclamations of "Right there!" and "Yes!"—do you think about men shouting these lines?

For most of us, the default shouter of these sexclamations is female. Porn, sex health content from popular magazines like Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Men's Health, and one-sided studies like this one all contribute to a gendered, cultural attitude about voicing pleasure. We simply don't talk about masculine moaning, and consequently, it's likely that masculine people do not moan as much, even if they want to. In 2009, the Journal of Sex Research published a study by Dr. Charlene Muehlenhard on orgasms faked by both men and women. She reported that, while 61 percent of women who had faked an orgasm had used vocalizations in their performance, only 36 percent of male fakers had gotten vocal. The fact that these subjects were faking orgasms tells us that no one of either sex was so stimulated that they wanted to release moans, but the low number of men who associate moaning with male expression of pleasure suggests they may have some culturally-induced hang-ups when it comes to clamorous copulation.

Our perception of moaning as a feminine act creates misfortunes for all parties. Males are discouraged from being vocal when they are pleasured since it's so often seen as emasculating. They may resort to repressing any vocal temptations they may have during sex as a result. On the other end, feminine people may feel pressure to moan like porn stars—and may even resort to faking it—rather than concentrating on their own pleasurable experience.

In the college setting, where roommates are but one room away and dorm walls are like tissue paper, anxiety about what sex should sound like is amplified. The most important thing to remember when approaching this dilemma is that there is no correct answer to what sex should sound like. You are never obligated to make any more noise during sex than you're comfortable with; your own pleasure and comfort comes first. But if you are feeling that you want to try letting your sexclamations run free for a change, and are uneasy about it, consider the benefits of loosening up and vocalizing your satisfaction for both you and your partner.

"Believe it or not, when you let out a little moan, it will serve to heighten both your senses. As well, your own vocal sounds can serve to turn you on," said Sex Education Correspondent David Strovny at

Strovny explains that moaning may serve to further arouse you, and it simultaneously lets your partner know when you are enjoying what they're doing. Giving your partner a better idea of which tricks you most enjoy will help improve communication between you and will better your understandings of how to pleasure each other.

As for working around the frequent presence of roommates and neighbors, try scheduling a time to experiment with your partner when you know a lot of people will be out; maybe there is a weeknight on which your neighbors head out for club meetings, the library, the bars or a friend's house to watch "Jersey Shore." Getting it on in a shower may help prevent your moans from echoing through campus. As a last resort, take a moment to assess your priorities: ultimately, is concealing from your peers the fact that you're having sex more important to you than jumping on an opportunity to have a mind-blowing sexual encounter with your partner? Surely, it would not be such a tragedy for your friends to groan in jealousy over your raucous romping.

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