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Why audio porn is on the rise

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‘You’d be surprised how many people need to be tempted into enjoying their own body,’ Jesse Williams says breathily into my ear.

Why is the artist formally known as hunky surgeon Dr Jackson Avery from Grey’s Anatomy whispering sweet nothings to me, via my AirPods? Because I have stumbled into the hot and heavy world of audio erotica — and it is blowing up.

Williams is narrator on the series The Misty Door, brought to you by Quinn, which for the uninitiated, is a multi-million-dollar tech start-up that bills itself as ‘the Spotify of porn’ and boasts 3,000 stories. It’s the brainchild of Caroline Spiegel, 25, alumna of Stanford University’s computer science department and sister of the Snapchat founder Evan. For just £4.99 a month, you too can subscribe to have Williams cosplay as a spunky, human-sized faerie and say things like, ‘You can touch my chest — please, I’d like that’ and, ‘Go on, give me a spank.’

But why stop there? You are spoiled for choice. There’s Dipsea, a podcast-style app hailed by The New Yorker as ‘the audio app that’s transforming erotica’; Bawdy Storytelling, described as ‘The Moth for pervs’; and Fangasm, dramatised fan fiction.

Some of it is... pretty hot. Spiegel has said that audio erotica scratches an itch that visual porn can’t. It ‘really gets at the sort of non-obvious intangible parts of sex that visual porn just doesn’t get at in the same way,’ she told Bloomberg. Studies show she’s right. Dr Nicole Prause, founder of the independent research institute Liberos, who spends her days in a UCLA laboratory measuring the brain responses of stimulated couples, has poured over the data and tells me that the human brain sparks from just a little aural stimulation.

You can touch my chest — please, I’d like that... Go on, give me a spank

A lot of thought goes into casting, says Gina Gutierrez, co-founder of Dipsea, on which voice actors are labelled ‘Hunks’. ‘No matter how attractive a person’s vocal quality is, first and foremost they need the acting ability to create believability for our listeners,’ she says. ‘If an actor can channel their own emotions and sense of self, they lend the Hunk that they play a natural authenticity and charisma.’

Who’s fuelling this boom? The pandemic drove a surge in downloads of audio-based entertainment as everyone was forced to spend more time in their own worlds. But the phenomenon hasn’t fizzled out. About 80 per cent of Quinn’s users are female, and they’re largely young, too (that said, more men are now listening to erotic audiobooks, with one study showing that 25 per cent of Fifty Shades of Grey audiobook downloads are by males). The platform’s content receives around 10 million hits per month — a predominantly Gen Z audience. The largest demographic is aged 25-30, closely followed by the 18-24 age group.

Why? While women are as visual as men when it comes to arousal, says Prause, audio erotica does have an advantage over erotic films because it allows the listener to use their imagination to fill in the details. It’s not a clean break, she adds. ‘People responded more to the audio-visual erotica than the audio-alone erotica in every study,’ she conceded. But individual people may find they enjoy audio erotica more, such as people who have a moral con ict with audio-visual erotica — ultimately, it’s simply a matter of taste. And perhaps it is all about ethics. It certainly makes me feel better that my £4.99 a month is going into Spiegel’s pocket rather than that of some exploitative, moustachioed porn baron in Las Vegas. I’m speculating wildly, but it doesn’t strike me as likely that Jesse Williams has been press-ganged into doing something he doesn’t want to do. What’s more, the audio aesthetic, often tailored for women, is both hot and tasteful. The focus is less about getting off and more on how you get there.

The future is also exciting. Gutierrez sees huge room for growth in the rise of generative AI — think better personalised stories and interactive robot lovers. So, if you need to be tempted to enjoy your own body — well, I know a certain hunky surgeon-turned-faerie, a hottie without a body, who might have a few things to say.