Here's What Makes A Voice Sexy (Or Deeply Unsexy)

There are scientific reasons you assume a sexy-voiced stranger on the phone is physically attractive.
Tom Hardy, Lauren Bacall and Barack Obama are all prime examples of sexy voices.
Illustration: HuffPost; Photos: Getty
Tom Hardy, Lauren Bacall and Barack Obama are all prime examples of sexy voices.

It’s a good time to be alive if you’re particularly turned on by voices. There’s audio erotica apps like Dipsea and Quinn. There’s ASMR that’s sexual. There are videos of Tom Hardy reading bedtime stories available for free on YouTube. (Yes, those videos are ostensibly for kids, but let’s be real: You know it’s mostly adults who are tuning in.)

Voices do a lot of heavy lifting when we’re dating, too. Studies have shown that people subconsciously lower their voices when trying to attract a person they’re interested in.

What is it about a voice that can get some of us going? The depth, the timbre? Why do we hear a rich, buttery voice on an otherwise run-of-the-mill NPR show and jump to conclusions about the attractiveness of the person speaking? What does it mean to have a f**kable voice?

Before you shake your head at the absurdity of having a voice so good, you’d screw it if possible, imagine, say, Jon Hamm telling you exactly what he wants to do to you in bed. Now imagine Jared Kushner, a man whose voice has been likened to “a young Michael Cera” and “a sassy Kermit the Frog,” telling you the very same thing. Completely different experience, right?

Let’s take this further, in a subjective (but ultimately correct) examination of sexy voices:

“There are definitely those voices you hear that just get you going,” said Estevan Q., a writer and co-host of the pop culture podcast Your Gay Cousins.

“For me, there’s a certain texture and rhythm to a guy’s voice that can be so attractive,” Estevan said. “It isn’t necessarily about a voice being deep, but one that’s a bit gravelly, yet breathy — sort of how I imagine whiskey might sound if it had a voice.”

His fave? Armie Hammer. “He recorded the audiobook of my favourite novel, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and oh my God, it was so hot to have him in my ears,” Estevan said. “His husky voice just sounds like it wants to teach you things.”

There’s something conspiratorial and intimate about hearing a sexy-voiced person speak; they might be reading the movie times or something equally mundane but you’re drawn in by that honeyed voice, and soon, your mind trails off to much naughtier places.

Amanda Montell, a reporter and author of “Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language,” even struggled to end things with a guy because his voice (or at least his accent) was so hot.

“I once continued dating this dude from Dublin for weeks longer than I really intended to because his Irish accent was so irresistible,” she said. “Dating someone with a European accent feels just as prestigious as dating someone who’s extraordinarily physically hot.”

She’s had bad luck in this area, too.

“I also once dated a guy whose voice sounded exactly like Kevin Spacey’s, which was a turn-off only because it’s not all that sexy to be romantically involved with someone whose voice is a dead ringer for a reported pedophile,” she said.

Scientifically speaking, what makes a voice sexy?

So what exactly sets a sexy voice apart from others? Studies show that women tend to prefer men with deep voices, which are linked to higher testosterone levels and general reproductive prowess. Men, meanwhile, are drawn to women with high-pitched voices, which are associated with high oestrogen levels, perhaps serving as a cue to a woman’s health and fertility.

However, a 2010 study found that women actually affect an entirely different voice around a person they’re attracted to. Rather than a high-pitched, girlish voice, women drop their tones to a lower, sexier register. (Think: Lauren Bacall, Scarlett Johansson or Elaine Benes and the faux-sexy voice she uses to trick Jerry on “Seinfeld.”)

“A sexy voice voice is warm and inviting. It feels as if it is spoken from the chest, rather than the head. Its tones are pleasing and not at all nasal.”

- Jean Berko Gleason, coauthor of the textbook “Psycholinguistics” and professor emerita at Boston University

“There is a stereotype of what is a sexual voice in our culture ― a low, breathy voice,” said Susan Hughes, the study’s author and an expert in evolutionary psychology.

Unscientifically speaking, a deep, typically sexy voice conveys richness, wisdom and strength.

Essentially, then, what we consider a sexy voice is partly determined by biology, and partly determined by society’s exaggerated ideas around voices, said Jean Berko Gleason, coauthor of the textbook “Psycholinguistics” and professor emerita at Boston University. (The husky, throaty voice isn’t likely to come off as sexy in Japan, she said, where women are expected to speak at the high end of their vocal range.)

“Overall, though, a sexy voice is warm and inviting,” she said. “It feels as if it is spoken from the chest, rather than the head. Its tones are pleasing and not at all nasal.” If it sounds like you’re talking through your nose, that kills any chance of having a sexy voice, she added.

Berko Gleason pointed to Viola Davis’ low, measured tones as an example of what might be considered a standard for a sexy voice. Lauren Bacall seductively teaching Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in the 1944 film “To Have and Have Not” is also pretty much a masterclass in sexy voice affectation. (The film’s director believed Bacall originally sounded “reedy” so, during production, she read aloud to herself, training to make her voice “lower, more masculine, sexier.”)

For an example of a sexy male voice, the professor went with a classic — James Earl Jones — as well as Barack Obama. Indeed, the former president has a voice so cool, calm and (let’s face it) jarringly sexy, it alone managed to lure in none other than Michelle Obama (née Robinson) when the pair first crossed paths in 1989.

As the former FLOTUS wrote in her memoir “Becoming,” she didn’t understand the hype about the new cute guy at her Chicago law firm. There was a “whiff of geekiness” to his staff photo, she wrote, though “his bio said he was originally from Hawaii, which at least made him a comparatively exotic geek.” (Ouch.)

But then, fatefully, she heard that voice.

“I made a quick obligatory phone call to introduce myself,” Michelle wrote. She was “pleasantly startled by the voice on the other end of the line ― a rich, even sexy, baritone that didn’t seem to match his photo one bit.”

And they said Reagan was “the great communicator.”

Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.