What Your Sex Noises Really Mean
Plus, why being authentic in your moan-making can make sex even hotter.
Moan or mew. Grunt, groan, gasp, or gurgle. Scream or [insert sound of silence]. The sounds people make while having sex are, well, as different as the people themselves. Still, with all the rom-coms, very performative XXX-rated films, and complete jerks out there, you might be feeling a little self-conscious about your sex moans—or lack thereof.
Whether you're all about that auditory clanging while banging, or like to keep your upstairs-lips tightly while your downstairs lips are...not, we're here to let you in on a secret: Your sex sounds are normal.
Here, sex experts break down why some people are sex moaners while others are not—plus why unlocking your authentic sex noises might just be the key to better sex.
Why Some People Moan ~a Lot~ During Sex
Think about the sigh you release after finally going to the bathroom after a long stretch on a road trip. Or, the automatic groan that accompanies ridding your feet of heels after a day of wear. "Making sounds is a natural, often-automatic way of relieving pent-up frustration," says Jill McDevitt Ph.D. resident sexologist at CalExotics—and that includes pent-up sexual frustration. Basically, sometimes you moan because it just feels effing good, whether it's a sexual moan or otherwise!
Another possibility is that you're moaning during sex to communicate. "It's actually a communication tool," says McDevitt. "Moaning allows you to guide your partner in the right direction without using words—it's another way of saying 'oh yes, more of that!'" (See: How to Tell Your Partner What You Want In Bed.)
On the flip side, research suggests that sometimes sex noises aren't about expressing your own sexual pleasure, but instead about pleasuring your partner. For instance, one small 2010 study of heterosexual couples published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that women are the loudest right before their male partner climaxes. The researchers say this indicates that at least some women are "fake" moaning in order to help their partner climax.
Is that a bad thing? In some cases, yes. Over two-thirds of the women in the study report fake moaning because they were uncomfortable or just plain bored by the sex. Meaning, rather than communicating to their partner either how the sex could be more pleasurable to them or that they wanted to stop, they tried to make the sex "go faster."
McDevitt strongly (!) advises against moaning for these two reasons. Because moaning serves as positive reinforcement, if your partner is doing something just so-so and you're moaning like they're doing something that could get you to climax, well it "trains" your partner to keep on doing that just so-so thing, she explains. Sigh. (Related: Communication Is Key for Amazing Orgasm. These Tips Can Help).
That said, fake moaning during sex isn't always a bad thing, according to McDevitt who offers a slightly more hopeful take: "Doing things that make your partner feel good can make you feel good, too," she says. Meaning, if fake moaning brings your partner pleasure and that brings you pleasure, it's not necessarily as self-sacrificing as it seems at face value.
Ditto goes if you've already orgasmed yourself and are making moaning noises because the auditory stimulus helps your partner get there. As McDevitt puts it, doing things to aid in your partner's pleasure is not inherently (or even usually!) a bad thing. In fact, it may suggest you and your partner excel at communicating what you each need to receive pleasure, she says.
Why Some People Don't Moan At All
To be very clear: Louder sex isn't necessarily better sex. "Some people are just naturally quieter during sex, and that's true even if they're having the best sex of their life," says McDevitt.
If you're naturally (naturally being the key word here) on the quieter side during sex, fear not. Your sex is not inherently less pleasurable than your louder peers. Likewise, if your partner doesn't make a commotion during coitus, that doesn't mean they aren't enjoying themselves. (Related: 5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Sex and Dating, According to a Relationships Therapist)
While moaning is one way to communicate during sex, it's not the only way, explains McDevitt. Non-auditory cues like eye contact and using your hands to push your partner away, or pull them closer, and auditory cues like speaking or breathing heavily, can be just as (or more!) instructive as a throaty moan or groan. Perhaps, people aren't moaning because they're using these other communication devices instead, she suggests.
However, in some cases, people aren't moaning because they're stopping themselves from moaning. "Many people soften their groans and grunts into quiet moans and sighs, or to no sound at all," says Jess O'Reilly, Ph.D., host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast.
Why? Maybe you've gotten used to zipping your lips after years of masturbating as quietly as possible in a full house or having sex in places where you don't want other people to hear (think: childhood bedroom or college dorm room). But, in some cases, it could be because you've been conditioned to think you're supposed to be quiet in the bedroom, says O'Reilly.
The problem with that? Altering your sexual sound response affects your breathing patterns. "The breath-holding and altering that comes with being quiet can impact blood flow and oxygenation of muscles, which ultimately impedes orgasmic response," says O'Reilly. Blood flow to the genitals (specifically the pelvic floor muscles) is an essential part of arousal—in fact, it's what allows the vagina to self-lubricate, she explains. So if you're holding your breath or stifling sex moans, you could be hindering your own pleasure.
The Best Sounds = Authentic Sounds
Ultimately, whether you're naturally a big-time moaner or quiet cutie, you're doing it right! "Making sounds as a natural reaction to pleasure is normal, and not making any sounds as a natural reaction to pleasure is normal," says McDevitt. Again, the key word here is "naturally." (For the record, most everything in your sex life will be better if you let it happen naturally.)
When you run into trouble is when you start playing the role of Moaning Muse or Silent Sex Master because that's how you think you're supposed to sound. And where do these assumptions come from? (Ding, ding, ding) Porn. "So many people watch porn, and then mimic those sounds during their own sex lives because they think that's how they're supposed to sound," says O'Reilly. Trouble is, porn is intended to entertain, not to teach you how to have sex or how to sound during sex, she says. (Watching porn to learn how hanky-panky "should" sound would be liking watching Tiger King to learn how to train tigers.)
Now, that doesn't mean porn is inherently bad, but it does mean it's not intended to teach you how you're "supposed" to sound. TD;LR: There is no "should" sound. As long as they're authentic, there is no wrong or right. (Maybe your tennis serve sounds a lot like a sex moan—and that's ok too.)
"Your natural sounds (or lack of sounds) are an essential part of your sexual response," says O'Reilly. "If you're censoring them or faking them and dedicating energy to perform quietness or loudness in bed, your pleasure and orgasm will be affected."
How to Find Your Authentic Sound In Bed
If you've been censoring your sounds or faking them in bed, these tips can help you find your authentic tune.
1. Listen to other people's sex sounds.
Odds are, the only sex sounds you know are those of the people you've slept with. (Or, perhaps, your roommate, neighbor, or that porn clip you keep coming back to.) If you're wondering how the heck other people sound while getting it on, good (and perhaps, surprising) news: There's a whole online database of ~authentic orgasm noises~.
Introducing: The Orgasm Sound Library, a gallery of (real) sex sounds from anonymous actual humans that anyone can upload online. Take a listen to all the different uploaded sounds to learn just how different people all sound while letting their freak flag fly.
To figure out which sounds are natural to you versus learned, O'Reilly recommends touching yourself. "During masturbation, all (partner-based) performance pressure is removed, so it's the perfect opportunity to allow your sounds to emanate without inhibition," she says. "Breathe, moan, groan, and don't adjust your sounds to make them sound feminine or masculine...just let them flow," she says.
Once you get comfortable with your own sounds during solo sex, you'll become more comfortable with your own sounds during partnered sex, she says. (If you don't loooove masturbating, these tips will help.)
Worth mentioning: Solo and partnered play are totally different experiences. So, you might be naturally (there's that word again!) silent when you masturbate, but make noises during partnered sex—or vice versa, notes says Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., professor of human sexuality at New York University and resident sexpert for sex-toy brand LELO. "Whatever is true to you is healthy," she says.
3. Play music.
During solo or partnered sex, "if hearing your own primal sounds makes you self-conscious, turn up the music to partially drown them out," suggests O'Reilly. (Just saying: The Weekend, Banks, and PartyNextDoor are amazeballs for setting the mood.)
4. Put porn on in the background.
Know that you're holding yourself back? "You might also play porn in the background so that [those sounds combined with] your partner's sounds are louder than your own, says O'Reilly. "It's like creating an orchestra of erotica noises."
For this, "I strongly recommend staying away from mainstream porn, opt instead for ethical or amateur porn instead," says Vrangalova, which feature performers who seem to actually be enjoying themselves in an authentic way, check out Bellesa, CrashPadSeries, and Frolic.Me. Just remember: You're pressing play to help you feel comfortable making your authentic sounds. Not to give you sounds to imitate. (Psst. There's also a ton of free, woke, online erotica you'll love, too.)
5. Focus on your breath.
If you don't feel comfortable making noise, just breathe! Sure, breathing ≠ moaning. But breathing certainly makes noise and it impacts pleasure, according to O'Reilly.
"Heavy breathing is a great introduction to making even more romp ruckus," says McDevitt.
You might experiment with these 3 breathing exercises for better sex. Or, you might check out this mp3 where tantra expert Barbara Carrellas, a certified sexologist and author of Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex For The Twenty-First Century walks you through the tantric art of erotic breathing, step-by-step. (Related: What Is Tantric Sex, and How Do You Do It)
6. Talk to your partner!
Both shutting your trap and screaming can interfere with pleasure if they're not authentic, so if you're self-conscious about the noises you do or don't make, it's worth bringing up with your partner.
"Ask for reassurance that your sex noises are welcome and encouraged in all their primal glory," says McDevitt. "Or, reassure them that your quietness doesn't mean you're not having the time of your life."
The Bottom Line
Whether you sound like Ooohh ahh, ah ah ah ah, ooo. O O O Oh YEAH, [silence], or somewhere in between, it's all normal!
So rather than making one noise instead of another because that's what you think you're supposed to do, "let yourself go when it comes to the noises you make or don't make," says O'Reilly. "After all, letting yourself go is essential to mind-blowing orgasms."