The Future of Erotica Is ... in Your Ears
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
New companies are providing listeners — particularly women — with the nonvisual porn they actually want.
By Ned Colin and Fiona Zublin
To Gina Gutierrez, the gap in the porn market became obvious when she talked to her friends about it. These are open-minded, modern women. But she would ask them where they go for porn and be met with blank stares. “You could ask a friend, ‘What vibrator do you love?’ and get a quick answer,” she says. “But the idea of inspiration was not something that had been innovated on.”
It’s not that surprising: The internet is a cesspool of bad porn, with several sites offering crude search features that tend to turn up poorly produced videos without much story. Gutierrez started researching female sexuality, and, for want of a better phrase, what women want. And a basic video of two people having sex in “some weird Airbnb in Miami” — where you’re left wondering if it was made ethically, if your pleasure is real, if you’re even enjoying yourself — wasn’t really it. So she decided to turn to a whole different format of erotica: for the ears.
Launched in January 2018 by Gutierrez and co-founder Faye Keegan, Dipsea offers subscribers short erotic audio stories read aloud by voice actors. The plots and level of explicit content vary, but in less time than it takes to commute home from work, the characters meet, feel a spark and get down. Dipsea is just one of a growing set of companies that are developing audio porn, targeting both people who don’t get off on the extraordinarily explicit visuals provided on standard porn sites and those who want to take porn outside the bedroom without discomfiting others. Women, says Gutierrez, can use titillating stories — in podcast form — to unwind after a long day on the ride back home, to put them in the mood before a date, instead of segregating sexual feelings and thoughts to the half-hour before going to sleep.
We wanted to inspire them to reconnect with their bodies, their sexes, with their pleasure, with themselves.
Olympe de G., feminist pornographer
These firms have all started targeting audio erotica in the past two years and are looking to grab a slice of the global porn industry, worth $97 billion. Just iTunes boasts 240 podcasts under the “sexuality” category today. Quinn, which launched in April, offers a range of audio porn selections for women, from “simple moans from a horny guy” to “slow, gentle, deep sex.” Audible in late 2017 launched romance audiobooks that — using machine learning — allow listeners to skip straight to the steamy parts. Listeners can now access more than 10,000 romance audiobooks on the platform. Dipsea, which declined to share subscriber numbers, is attracting investors: In February, it drew $5.5 million in round one funding.
Voxxx, a French audio-erotic site that launched last September, is a collaboration of feminist pornographer Olympe de G. (whose pseudonym recalls seminal French Revolution-era feminist and writer Olympe de Gouges) and porn star Lélé O. In addition to audio porn — Lélé O writes and voices many of the episodes herself — the platform offers what they call “guided masturbation,” a way to help women start to explore and understand their sexuality. One of their most popular episodes, penned by two members of feminist activist group FEMEN, focuses on period sex. In the first three months after their launch, Voxxx recorded an average of 17,000 listens. Now, that monthly figure has crossed 100,000. Each episode is listened to between 15,000 and 35,000 times.
“We created Voxxx for the women who don’t enjoy watching regular porn, and who don’t masturbate a lot, or even at all,” says Olympe de G. “We wanted to inspire them to reconnect with their bodies, their sexes, with their pleasure, with themselves.”
That many of these audio erotica firms should be focusing first on women isn’t surprising. Experts say women are more focused than men on narrative and nonvisual stimuli when it comes to sex and porn. Authoritative statistics on porn use by women though are difficult to obtain. One 2016 study found that about 9 percent of U.S. women watch porn online at least once a week. Another survey in 2015 found that 31 percent of women do so. Audio porn is still nascent, and most studies about pornography are still undertaken on male subjects.
Still, an earlier avatar of audio erotica points to the potential for growth. “Phone sex was the big ‘audio erotica’ phenomenon in the 1980s and ’90s, but this has been eclipsed by the internet,” explains Dominic Pettman, a cultural theorist and professor at The New School who’s written about the phenomenon of aural pleasure. “I suppose you could consider Dipsea and Voxxx as inheritors of that tradition; just using the new technologies available, and new modes of delivery.”
While these platforms have a lot in common — female-focused pornography delivered through your headphones — in other ways they differ substantially. For example, Dipsea is supported by subscribers. Meanwhile, Voxxx had hoped to run its site via user donations through Patreon, but when that failed it turned out their rapid growth had attracted some industry interest: Audible has sponsored the last few episodes, and the company says it’s now entertaining offers from other brands as well. Quinn plans to run on an ad-supported model.
To be sure, audio porn isn’t likely to replace the massive industry that is free internet porn anytime soon. Plenty of people are turned on by visual stimuli, and even for those who are turned off by the sometimes dodgy ethics of free web porn, there are artisanal porn sites that offer videos rather than audio. For those who want to read porn, romance books remain a popular genre. And there have been sexy podcasts before: In Swingercast, the hosting couple discusses their real-life adventures as, well, swingers, and the Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast features sexy stories read by the host.
But Dipsea, Voxxx and Quinn are actually creating content just to be listened to, rather than reading out pre-existing stories, and focusing on not just quality content but also ease for users who are turned on by specific things, using tagging systems and recommendations. In doing that, they’re not only creating a new business model for porn — they may even be encouraging people to integrate sexuality into their lives in a whole new way.