The Science Behind Music Turning You On
Certain music definitely turns me on, and I'm not the only one. Every time I listen to Ed Sheeran, my heart races, followed by a tingling sensation below the belt. In the moment, I need to dance or sing or kiss someone—I need some intimacy.
My spikes of horniness aren't unique. Go to any pulsating dance club to feel the sexual desire or search Spotify for "sex music" and see for yourself how music is often curated to ilicit a desire for an after-after party.
If you're looking for specific get-it-on songs, a 2020 study by lingerie company Pour Moi and another 2020 study by pelvic health company Kegel8 indicated that some of the most popular artists to listen to during foreplay include Trey Songz, Jeremih and The Weeknd. Apparently, they have the right combination of vocals, lyrics and beats to set the mood.
It turns out, there are several reasons why music makes people horny. And (more importantly) how can we use music to increase our sexual satisfaction?
Why does listening to music turn you on?
Many studies have been conducted on the human body's reactions to music, including a 2009 study reporting that music can make our heart rates and breathing increase and a 2011 study published in Nature Neuroscience revealing how music can arouse feelings of euphoria, craving and pleasure, leading to a dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released in response to rewards in the brain and is known as a feel-good hormone. So, it follows that listening to music can increase your pleasure during sex as well.
"Music activates the rewards center part of the brain that is activated with food and sex," said Sarrah Rose, a tantric sex therapist and certified sex, love and relationship coach who runs sex coaching platform Tantric Activation. "Dopamine is released when listening to music that sends shivers through the body. Basically, when we hear music that we like, we get happy. When we're happy, we feel safe and are more likely to want sex."
'Music is an aphrodisiac that is extremely structural and requires comprehending each note and rhythm to stimulate the largest sex organ—aka, the brain'
To break it down further, music stimulates the brain in several different ways, which work together to turn us on, according to Sakshi Tickoo, an occupational therapist, personal counselor and founder of Sex, Love, And OT.
"Music is an aphrodisiac that is extremely structural and requires comprehending each note and rhythm to stimulate the largest sex organ—aka, the brain," said Tickoo. "Scientifically, it has been proven that music activates various parts of the brain that has an overall positive impact on a person's mood, desire, sleep and physical health, but there are some champion structures that especially help us in enhancing desire."
Tickoo explained the nucleus accumbens is one of the structures in your brain responsible for seeking pleasure and reward and addiction.
"Music increases dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, which also explains why people often choose music as an escape or relaxing tool as it has an 'addictive' effect on them," she said.
Why do music and dancing make us horny?
If music makes us feel good, then pairing music with dancing can create an even more pleasurable experience.
"Music and dance both act on the putamen (a structure in the brain) that processes rhythm and regulates body movement and coordination that in turn increases the release of dopamine, which thereby helps in relaxing the body and enhancing the desire," Tickoo explained. "Dancing is also a great way to lose control and enjoy a social setting, helping one to step out of the stress of a performance, feel sexy in their skin and regulate their mood. Dancing can—essentially—be a great form of foreplay."
Why do we find certain songs sexy?
For me, it might be Ed Sheeran, for you, it might be Marvin Gaye or Father John Misty or Drake ("Take Care" is weepy, yes, but not a bad intimate record). Although certain songs and artists are deemed universally sexy, such as the aforementioned The Weeknd, finding specific songs sexy is an individual experience.
A 2018 study of young people in the Netherlands published by Poetic found the type of music people relate to being good for sex depends on how the music makes them feel.
"There were moments in which our young respondents talked about the sound and lyrics of the music and how they resonated with their conceptions of good sex, but most of the time the discussion hinged on the way they felt when the music played and how they actually used the music to move from one emotional, cognitive and physical state into another," wrote the researchers on the study.
Tickoo added, "The amygdala is responsible for creating memories and emotions associated with songs. This is why everyone has a unique taste of music that helps them relax, vibe or feel sexy. One is more likely to find those songs sexy which boost their confidence and self-esteem and help them relax."
Can listening to music increase our sex drive?
Listening to music can increase your sex drive and experience during sex, if you let it.
"The auditory sense is highly underrated and should be incorporated for a multi-sensory sex-perience," Tickoo said. "In fact, I encourage my clients to curate playlist(s) that help them relax and feel sexy as their experiences grow. This could be a fun partnered bonding activity, too, where you all can learn about each other's taste in music and find a middle ground that helps you all get in the mood to groove! Not only does this help in breaking communication barriers, but also helps with enhancing partnered intimacy."
Keep in mind, not everyone will find music sexy, so you have to communicate with your partner beforehand to ensure you're meeting both of your needs.
"People grow up listening to different kinds of music and associating it with different emotions and memories, which means music not only contributes to enhance physical arousal, but also to regulate emotional arousal," Tickoo said. "Hence, it is important to learn the importance of music in one's life and how it influences their sexual drive.
"Desire is a unique and complex element of sexuality—what works for one may not work for others."
That said, if your favorite song comes on, embrace it. Create your own sexy playlist with a partner to make intimacy feel more pleasurable and rewarding—you won't regret it.