The conditioned moan

Vor lust laut stoehenen the conditioned moan

Oooooh, the lustful moan – introduced by Hollywood, commercialized by pornography and adopted by women all over the world. Some people might find it sexy, but moaning is actually just practice.

It was a Sunday morning and I was still in bed when I began to wonder what sexual vocalization was all about. I had just watched the 2016 German Netflix comedy Wie Männer über Frauen reden (How men talk about women). In one scene, Martini, played by actor Frederick Lau, asks his friends for some advice about his girlfriend who has a tendency to moan loudly when they have sex. However, it quickly becomes evident that Martini doesn’t actually like his girlfriend’s vocal expressions of pleasure. Instead, he considers it to be uncomfortable, contrived and staged. What Martini really wants is an honest relationship, without the acting. That’s when I began to wonder: how honest is the lustful moan when we approach climax? 

I moan, therefore I am (wild)

The aforementioned scene made me realize just how much I had been conditioned. I also used to think that making noise was a necessary part of “good” sex – just like having ketchup with fries. I was convinced that vocalization would be a turn-on for a partner. When you’re a young adult, the need to impress and be liked is important. Perhaps that’s what Martini’s girlfriend felt like. The irony, of course, is that she puts on an act to turn him on, but it is her very acting that turns him off. 

I suddenly realized that volume is not a self-love statement, but a societal imprint. 

When we reach our thirties, it can become less important to seek affirmation through other people. Back then I thought that the sexual moan was an expression of the self-determined woman – the one that has fun in bed and doesn’t mind if anyone hears it. But what about now? I suddenly realized that volume is not a self-love statement, but a societal imprint. 

We don’t even need to turn to pornography to find the culprit. Hollywood has sexualized and programmed us to scream. Pretty much all sex scenes include some degree of vocalization. The hit TV series Sex and the City regularly advertises the loud proclamations of sex. It’s almost as if volume has become the surest indicator of satisfying sex. But the award for the most famous (fake) orgasm in the history of film goes to When Harry Met Sally, in which the eponymous Sally demonstrates – in a diner, far away from a bed – just how realistic a fake orgasm can sound, and no man would be able to expose it as an act.  

Moan equals pleasure: the male ego boost

Don’t get me wrong, those who wish to loudly proclaim their sexual excitement during intercourse should absolutely go for it. There are no rules and there’s no right way. But it’s worth asking oneself once in a while: which sounds are motivated by pure lust and which ones are learned? 

There’s an interesting study by Gayle Brewer from the University of Central Lancashire and Colin Hendrie of the University of Leeds. The researchers surveyed 71 women aged 18 to 48 years to find out which sounds they made during sex and what their reasons were for such vocalizations. The results highlighted that most respondents actually preferred to experience silent orgasms, yet still chose to moan during sex. 

“While female orgasms were most commonly experienced during foreplay, copulatory vocalizations were reported to be made most often before and simultaneously with male ejaculation,” the report noted. A large majority of 92% of women added that vocalization helped speed up the male orgasm. Women further reported making noises in an effort to relieve boredom, tiredness and discomfort during sex.  Additionally, 87% of women admitted that they vocalized during sex in an effort to make their partners feel good and boost their self-confidence. Wow. 

The research clearly demonstrates that we have to tackle the subject of female empowerment in bed. We’re still stuck – both men and women – in sexual role models. Sex has many sides and not all men are turned on if their partner vocalizes the climax so that even the neighbors can hear it. Similarly, not all women like to moan. How about we just talk about it before we start screaming? 

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When I was a child I never understood why my friends’ parents would tear out the sexual education pages of BRAVO, the German teen magazine. Why didn’t we just talk about it? After all, sex concerns us all. That’s why I embarked on a career as a journalist 12 years ago. Here, I got to work closely with the Dr. Sommer team – a group of journalists answering questions about puberty and teenagers’ sexual concerns. Since then, I’ve been publishing content across a wide variety of German media. Having overseen the launch of media company Refinery29 in Germany as editor in chief, I now work as a freelance journalist and author, focusing on pieces about strong women, sexuality and body positivity. Through my work, I aim to challenge obsolete and outdated gender stereotypes and the discrimination of women.