The Surprising Science of Female Sexual Vocalizations

When I was a teenager and just getting my sexual bearings, coming to sexual maturity and experimenting around, I found the idea of women moaning during sex to be quite odd, to say the least. Honestly, for a few years there I thought it was something that was done in porno movies, a sort of exaggeration of pleasure in the way that lipstick is an exaggeration of red, blood-filled and aroused lips or the way that foundation is an exaggeration of smooth, blemish-free skin that nobody really has.

To me, these were all relics of people trying to embellish certain traits to make themselves more sexually appealing. And thus, I already had a very infantile grasp of the concept of sexual competition. I think we all did, at that age, as we felt around for ourselves within ourselves, discovering who we really were, who we were to become, and as we nervously felt around the bodies of others on occasion. I figured it was just another case of life imitating art and art imitating life in a cycle that regurgitates what we see into what we practice, and what we practice then becomes what we see, and thus gets regurgitated into what we broadcast, and the cycle continues.

The Reality Check

It wouldn’t be until years and years later that I would discover something truly fascinating, that sexual vocalizations are actually built into our biology. If I were to ask you to recall instances when you’ve heard heterosexual couples having sex and asked you which partner was the loudest vocally, which one would you say? In truth, some men are very vocal (and many women love this, by the way) and some women aren’t vocal at all, but on a whole, in every culture, whether you’re on the far eastern reaches of Asia, up north in Finland, or even down south in the rainforests of the Amazon, all over the globe, women are the louder sex when it comes to, well, sex.

Cue Meg Ryan’s epic performance from When Harry Met Sally where she had an orgasm in the restaurant sitting across from actor Billy Crystal, a moment that would basically go down in cinematic history.

But such performances aren’t just a work of art, like that in When Harry Met Sally or those found in pornographic movies and they certainly aren’t a modern thing. Dating as far back as The Kama Sutra the ancient Indian text that deals with erotica, sexuality, and personal fulfillment, mentions of ‘how to’ moan and moan properly can be found. Yes, throughout human history, women seem to have always been the louder sex. It raises quite the puzzling question…why?

It’s especially curious given that much of modern evolutionary theory tends to paint women as the shy, coy, bashful sex who are much less inclined to cut loose and be wild women in the sack. If the prudish portraits of women were true under Darwinian evolutionary theory, wouldn’t we expect to see the opposite? Research is starting to unearth new information that jeopardizes the old ‘standard model’ of evolutionary sex and is beginning to paint a picture that we’re a lot more like bonobos than originally thought; we’re a lot less monogamous than ole’ Darwin would like us to believe and a lot more promiscuous.

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Our Primate Relatives

Among species of primates, humans aren’t the only ones with a loud, proud vocalizing female when sex takes place. Primatologist Meredith Small thinks she might have some of the answers to our question. A sample of 550 primate vocalizations was taken and the results became strikingly clear as they were analyzed, such vocal sounds aren’t made in any other situation a primate might find themselves in. They’re reserved specifically for sex.

What’s more, in primates, vocalizations can communicate a lot about the female in question, namely, overall health, fertility, and place in the ovulatory cycle, cueing men in on what they’re likely to get out of a sexual encounter with said female. In a sense, it’s advertising and a form of strategy to bring in new males in order to try and mate with them. This means that while mating with one male, a female might be sending signals to other males to advertise her robust sexual health and try to capitalize on any other guys who may have gotten turned on and want to get in on the action. The whole thing reeks of a gangbang in the making. There’s a whole lot more to this story that we’ll return to after a brief interlude back into the world of human sexual vocalizations…

The Standard Model of Evolutionary Sex

Most of us by now know the so-called ‘standard model’ of the theory of sexual evolution, the idea that women have a limited number of ova, men have billions of sperm, thus men are basically indiscriminate and ready to pounce on anything that even remotely looks warm and slightly resembles the same species, while women are much more selective about their choosings and who they mate with because, in the end, they can only have one or two children a year while the boys can inseminate countless females. Women want one stand-up guy, they tend to be more lovey-dovey and in line with romantic type thinking, men want an abundance of women and tend to be more in line with sexual thinking and poof, the two constantly come into conflict over these general preferences which lead us in opposite directions.

Let’s turn this theory on its head, shall we?

The Sperm Wars

One of the first major challenges to the ‘standard model’ came from a book titled Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles (available here through an affiliate link) in which the idea of the coy female who sought to mate with the one, the best partner she could find began to come under theoretical siege.

Sperm Wars was quite controversial, in its day, and it still is today for the fact that it spells out in plain English that in the battles of evolutionary theory, women would make out better by sleeping with more than one man and ‘pitching’ the seed of the less genetically fit man. Alas, the tides of revolutionary war had turned and now men were starting to feel the brunt of scientific explanations (note: not justifications) for normatively bad behavior.

It seems that women might have just as much to gain as men from copulating with multiple males, from extra-pair copulations (read: infidelity), and even ethically non-monogamist sex, something we’re starting to see more and more of in the post-Christian era, a time when our sex lives are no longer dictated by the powerful whims of the church.

In short, we’ve even discovered all sorts of mechanisms such as ‘kamakaze sperm’ which don’t actually try to impregnate ova, but rather, they seek to find other men’s sperm and destroy them, allowing their fellow comrades in tails to reach the finish line and become another human life in due course.

Around 40% of a man’s sperm are thought to be ‘fighter sperm’ or ‘kamakaze sperm’ that don’t actually try to impregnate women, instead, they basically act like a blocker in football and try to allow other sperm to reach the end zone. The almost-militant strategy is all-too-real and it all takes place unconsciously at the level of our cells. What’s even more interesting, if a man suspects his partner has been unfaithful in a modern relationship setup, the number of ‘kamakaze sperm’ increases so that the man would have the more likely advantage when it comes to the reproductive battle.

Come Hither

As is noted in the book by Christopher Ryan Ph.D. titled Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, from which I draw many of these references, the female vocalizations is likely a call to any nearby males in humans, too:

British primatologist Stuart Semple found that, “In a wide variety of species, females vocalize just before, during or immediately after they mate. These vocalizations,” Semple says, “are particularly common among the primates and evidence is now accumulating that by calling, a female incites males in her group….” Precisely. There’s a good reason the sound of a woman enjoying a sexual encounter entices a heterosexual man. Her “copulation call” is a potential invitation to come hither, thus provoking sperm competition.”

And now it all starts to come together. I hate to use this term, but it fits, women moan as a mating call to additional males. Some have suggested that it’s to maximize sexual encounters and let the sperm do their work and provide her with the best possible offspring, regardless of who sticks around to raise the children, however, it should be noted, that for most of human history, children were raised in groups and paternity (the nuclear family unit) is an extremely modern invention.

It All Comes Together in the End…

What’s more, in species that are more monogamous, female copulatory vocalizations (moaning) was less emphatic, less intense, less complex, and generally less powerful than in species that were more polygynous or otherwise non-monogamous species. That is, if such vocalizations were present at all.

There seems to be a relationship between sexual non-monogamy and the frequency and vibrance of copulation calls which are thought to signal other men and get them aroused to come to join in on the action.

This raises the question: where do humans fall on this scale between monogamous and non-monogamous? What do we want? Do we actually want monogamy? I tend to think not and there’s a growing body of scientific literature supplanting the old body of scientific literature that suggests that animals and humans are a lot less monogamous than we thought. As has been noted in The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, only three percent of species have turned out to be truly monogamous; even species of birds that we once thought to be totally monogamous have turned out to be anything but. We’re starting to discover that a whole lot more animals are fathered by extra-pair copulations (infidelity) than previously had been believed, as we drive a split into the concepts of social monogamy and sexual monogamy.

If we were to observe polyamorous relationships today from a third-party lens, only seeing parts of what was going on, we might come to the same conclusions that those are just monogamous couples, because like my relationship, we practice social monogamy. That is, people tend to think we’re a run-of-the-mill, monogamous group of people who are just friends with only a few trusted parties ever becoming privy to our little secret.

All of this means that both animals and humans are likely much less monogamous than we have always thought and the idea of a secure, happy, lasting, loving, monogamous relationship might be much more myth than reality (sorry for bursting anyone’s bubbles). The truth is, this might run much deeper into the fabric of our DNA that we want to admit. But fear not, non-monogamy isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s much, much preferable to the monogamous relationships I’ve been in. I actually really enjoy non-monogamy and just accepting that we don’t have to be rigid monogamists, embracing our natural, human roots and accepting that maybe we weren’t designed for the lifelong romance that’s the stuff of novels and stories. I’m okay with this.

In the end, women moan because humans are likely not at all a monogamous species. We sometimes just like to pretend we are, but our biology is rooted in non-monogamous practices, up to and including copulatory vocal responses.

Source : Medium