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Spicy sounds: How audio porn is tearing down the patriarchy, one orgasm at a time

For many women and non-binary people, audio erotica is a way to explore their sexuality without the shortcomings of visual porn.
For many women and non-binary people, audio erotica is a way to explore their sexuality without the shortcomings of visual porn. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Anca Ulea
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Seen as more ethical and less heteronormative than mainstream porn, audio erotica is turning on women and non-binary folks in Europe and beyond.

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Like many modern-day sexual awakenings, this one begins on Tumblr.

Fresh off a break-up in 2017, Laurel Zoff Pelton wasn’t ready to get back out in the dating world right away.

“I was still grieving. I was feeling very lonely, but I was also trying to break bad habits of seeking intimacy with people when I knew it wasn’t real,” the 31-year-old American voice actor tells Euronews Culture.

That’s when they first discovered audio porn.

The concept itself is pretty self-explanatory: take all the elements of erotic storytelling, add some sound effects from mainstream porn and a whole lot of different kinks and fantasies, and you get this new form of non-visual pornography.

“Back in the day, Tumblr’s audio porn was nuts,” Zoff Pelton says. “And what it was for me was like hot porn, first of all. I was like, ‘Wow this is a totally new way to do this.’”

The stories ranged from hyper-realistic to absolutely absurd: “It could be anything from like, I’m just trying to do the laundry… to like, I am a vampire.”

Femtasy
Audio erotica offers an alternative to traditional porn for women and gender non-conforming people.Femtasy

Unlike with visual porn, Zoff Pelton (who, full disclosure, is one of your reporter’s closest friends) says there was an additional layer of intimacy to this type of content. It felt like the speaker was addressing the listener directly, creating an intimate connection between producer and consumer, giver and receiver.

The non-visual nature also struck a chord with them, because there were no visual cues that clashed with their gender identity. (Zoff Pelton identifies as non-binary.)

“Audio porn for me, and porn in general, has been an outlet or an avenue in which I can engage in different parts of my identity,” they say. “It also helped me, as someone who’s in the kink community and a non-binary human, get to learn and explore new dynamics sexually and gender-wise that I like, in a really safe space where it’s just me and somebody else who’s created this environment.”

Zoff Pelton is not alone - in recent years, audio porn, or audio erotica as it’s also called, has seen its popularity skyrocket with women and non-binary folks, groups of people who have often been left out of the discussion when it comes to sexual pleasure.

Women at the helm of audio porn platforms

The concept of audio porn isn’t necessarily new – phone sex hotlines have been around for decades – but the medium’s popularity has increased exponentially with the ubiquity of smartphones.

There are now a mind-boggling number of audio erotica apps and websites, with millions of subscribers around the world. Some are focused on erotic fiction, with different genres like sci-fi and fantasy. Others open submissions to individual creators, who can write and record their own scripts.

Several use cutting edge audio technology to create immersive erotic porn experiences that put the listener at the centre of the action.

Almost all of these startups say their target audience is women, and most of them are founded and run by women as well. It’s remarkable, considering women represented only around 14% of startup founders in 2021.

Canva
Women are the target audience for countless audio erotica apps and websites that have emerged in recent years.Canva

While women are often the subject of mainstream porn films, they’re very rarely behind the camera making decisions. That means the mainstream porn industry often misses the mark when it comes to creating content that appeals to female or gender non-conforming viewers.

“Part of what can happen with visual porn is you’re comparing yourself and feeling like you don’t measure up to the beauty standards that are being presented on the screen, as well as not identifying at all with the actual actors,” shares sex therapist Leigh Norén, who runs an online programme for people with low sexual desire.

Norén tells Euronews Culture she’s started recommending audio erotica more and more to her clients:

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“Not only is it a great way to explore your sexuality in general, I find it’s great for clients who have never really masturbated at all, and clients who find that visual porn is something they don’t even want to explore yet because they feel it will be too graphic, that it might make them feel unsafe in some ways. They might also feel so much shame surrounding sex still that they need to start off with something that’s less in your face.”

The sweet spot between authenticity and immersion

The French co-founder of Femtasy, an audio erotica website based in Berlin, shares she recognised a need wasn’t being met when she heard some women say they would consume traditional porn with their laptop screens closed – so they could hear the sounds without seeing the images.

Femtasy
Femtasy's editor-in-chief Lisa Demma (left) and co-founder Nina Julie Lepique (right).Femtasy

“(Nina Julie Lepique, co-founder of Femtasy) did a lot of research on why people might prefer audio to video,” says Lisa Demma, Femtasy’s editor in chief. “Some of them were saying, before I was going on Pornhub and I would just close my laptop so I wouldn’t see the videos because what was being displayed was very hurtful or just disturbing.”

Since its start in 2018, Femtasy has produced hundreds of erotic audio clips for paying subscribers in the UK, Germany and France. Its content is divided into three main categories: stories, sounds and guided masturbation.

Demma - who uses she/they pronouns - is in charge of coming up with the company’s editorial strategy, deciding which fantasies to feature and what format to package them in. Over the years, they’ve started learning what listeners are drawn to.

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“I’m always surprised that with audio, people in general want to hear the nasty part of sex,” Demma tells Euronews Culture. “They want to hear the head banging against the wall, the clumsiness of the couples, the complicity. But at the same time, our content that works the best is always the most worked on, the most polished.”

Femtasy uses a binaural audio recording technique for some of their stories. By positioning microphones just about where a person’s ears would be and recording in stereo, this technique can reproduce the way humans naturally experience sound.

“You can hear a voice in your right ear, and then the person going behind you and then going down on you and you can spatialise the sounds,” Demma explains. “This is what’s worked the best for us by far.”

The result is a completely immersive experience that’s nearly impossible to replicate with visual porn. Imagine closing your eyes and all of a sudden it sounds like you’re in the middle of a gang bang. You can hear one person on your right, another on your left and several in the background breathing, grunting, sighing. The door creaks as it closes behind you. A cacophony of wet slapping commences. All this from the comfort of your own room.

Germans jump right in, while the French need poetry

Having produced content for three different markets in three different languages, Demma says she’s also observed cultural preferences when it comes to audio erotica.

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“The writing style is very different,” they say. “In Germany, it’s straight to the point, no need for specific context. People are looking more for practices, like doggy style, threesomes, etc.

“In France, they need poetry. They need a little bit more context, you describe a lot more, the characters give more time. However, in France they’re also into practices that we qualify as more advanced, like being caught, or emotional danger, gang bangs, stuff like that.

“In the UK it was actually very interesting because at the same time we needed to be extremely indirect, extremely careful not to call it porn and to be very soft in all communication and marketing. But on the other hand, what worked really well were practices that involved a lot of specific types of BDSM, mostly objectification and degradation.

“What strikes me more and more is how kinky people are, that’s something that doesn’t change. So the kinkier we get, the more people like it.”

Femtasy
Femtasy is based in Berlin and has produced audio erotica in German, French and English.Femtasy

Femtasy is currently working to expand its offering in France, a “booming market” according to Demma. So far, they’ve produced around 300 French language audios, a fraction of the 1500 they’ve produced in Germany.

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One of Femtasy’s French subscribers, Marion, says she turned to audio erotica as an alternative to mainstream porn, which she didn’t find particularly appealing. She was also looking for something that was more ethical, adding that reports she’d seen on exploitation in the porn industry had turned her off.

“I know workers in the traditional porn industry are mostly poorly paid, and the videos don’t necessarily send a very feminist or inclusive message,” she tells Euronews Culture. “I’m not always looking for feminism or inclusivity, but I just didn’t find anything that spoke to me.”

The 29-year-old Parisian says she’s not someone who’s particularly into podcasts or audio media in general, but listening to audio erotica made her realise she’s more turned on by sounds than images.

“It made me rediscover this vocal aspect. I realised in my last relationship we didn’t talk when we had sex, we didn’t talk at all. And now I realise that the voice is something I've missed terribly.”

She shares she’s even started asking for more sexy voice notes from people she’s dating, incorporating more sound into her real-world sex life.

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How to make it sound sexy

The production of audio porn varies in style and quality – it can be as simple as someone speaking into their phone, or a recording of two people having sex overheard from a distance. Some of the stories can feel a lot like audiobooks, with a clear narrative spoken by a sultry voice.

One of the English writers and voice actors at Femtasy, alias Michael, shares with Euronews Culture that it’s often the small gestures and non-verbal sounds that can take people over the top.

“Being sexy on these things is not so much about saying, it’s what you don’t say and it’s what you’re holding back that is the sexiest thing,” he says. “To know someone is struggling to control themselves, that can be really hot. (...) Like sighing, or releasing tension, or adding swear words, making it human.”

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When recording an erotic audio story, often the hottest thing is what's not being said, according to voice actor Michael.Canva

Michael, a 35-year-old “mostly straight” man living in Berlin, generally writes content for women. He says that working in audio porn has taught him a lot about female sexuality.

“I’ve learned how the idea of thinking that women want softness only and women need to be led slowly to things is absolute bullshit,” he notes. “The story I wrote which was the most popular is the hardest one. (...) But nothing happens where it’s not super clear that this is consensual, even when it gets really hard.”

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Michael, a former musician, explains there’s also something very personal about recording an audio clip, because you’re addressing a single person – the listener – every time.

“If you’re on stage, you’re performing (...) there’s a depersonalisation of the audience into a collective,” he says. “On the other side of it, with the Femtasy stories, it’s two people. Even if a thousand people listen to that story every day, it doesn’t matter because it’s me as the character in the story speaking to you.”

A wholesome community feel

Michael and other people in the audio erotica community have said that there’s something wholesome about the whole experience of making and consuming this kind of porn. And you can see evidence of it on forums like r/GoneWildAudio.

The subreddit has over a million members who collaborate to bring audio erotica to life – they can submit original scripts for other members to voice, or voice other members’ scripts, or just listen.

Zoff Pelton, a member and fan of GWA, says the page feels like a beautiful representation of all the sexual and gender diversity that exists in the world.

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“If you go to the comments on like a porntube post, they’re for the most part, in my experience, horribly misogynistic and like objectifying and for the most part it’s men engaging in them,” they say. “And then in something like an audio porn Reddit page, it’s people of all genders, women are represented, non-binary people are represented and it’s very much like… ‘Thank you.’”

Here are a few of the comments from a recent post called “Alien Queen Wants to Be Your Mommy Instead”:

User mister-tinkles wrote: “This alien mommy audio is so good, you can say it's... _out of this world_”

“​​Thank you so much (...) I can't wait to listen to this. I honestly have a kink for this kind of thing with aliens” commented user RushoBinnabi.

And user Wank_Wizard wrote: “Yet again, Wank Wizard inadvertently stumbles into the wrong genre of fantasy, and yet again finds he has little reason to complain”.

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“It’s a very supportive community feel in this unexpected place,” says Zoff Pelton. “It’s a place you would think is just people being like *heavy breathing*”

Canva
The WHO states that sexual health is fundamental to overall health and well-being.Canva

A shifting perspective on sexual health

There are still challenges in putting out this kind of adult content. 

Demma says Femtasy has tried several times to have a smartphone app but it kept getting blocked from App Stores. Now they operate a website that “feels just like an app”.

Communicating about the content they produce is tricky too – Femtasy’s Instagram has often been shadowbanned and their ads sometimes get blocked because they’re considered NSFW.

In reporting this article, multiple emails from sources got blocked by Euronews’ Outlook spam guard.

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But there is hope that sexual health and pleasure (especially for women, trans and non-binary folks) will no longer be demonised in the future. For example, Demma says Femtasy is currently in discussions to get their subscription covered by social security in Germany.

The WHO has for years considered sexual health as “fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and to the social and economic development of communities and countries”.

Peer-reviewed studies have found that sex has benefits on physical and mental health, can reduce stress, increase self esteem and even make you smarter.

Norén says that masturbation is a great way for individuals to explore their sexuality and find out what works best for them so they can tap into these benefits.

“We’re masturbating on our own and we’re exploring our sexuality on our own, so the fear of judgement is gone,” Norén says. “You don’t have to simultaneously take into consideration what your partner wants or likes (...) so it’s also a great way to explore other parts of your identity that you’re perhaps unsure of.”

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It’s even more important for women and non-binary folks, says Norén, because “they often don’t experience the same agency in their sexuality as men do.”

Zoff Pelton shares that for them, audio erotica been a constant companion through life's hardships - from break-ups to dealing with the negative effects of certain medications on their libido.

"I think that for anybody who's going through something like that or just like looking to reconnect with themselves sexually, it's a really safe space to explore and also to find intimacy if you're afraid of intimacy with a human in a room, you know, at a certain point in your life."

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