Why Do We Enjoy Having Sex to Music?
When we're watching a sexy scene, there's often some type of music playing in the background to set the mood. R&B classics such as Barry White or Sade can heighten the romance. Chill ambient hip-hop or lo-fi house to unwind the nerves. Energetic rock to get the blood pumping.
Many people enjoy having sex to music for a variety of similar reasons—setting the mood for themselves or a partner or simply for relaxation purposes, especially if it's solo time. It can be in the background as a distraction while you're getting in the zone or in the foreground for something physical as you're feeling the rhythm.
For some, certain songs will bring up arousing memories that might be perfect for their bedroom repertoire. But what is it about music that makes it such a natural companion to sexual activity, and how do our brains and bodies react when we have sex to music?
Music triggers the same mind-body reactions as sex
Arousal stems from the limbic system, which is an area of the brain that controls elements of emotional processing and physical drives. When we have sex, the limbic system activates and other parts of the brain that govern logical reasoning fade into the background. This is why sex is driven by emotion and instinct rather than rational thought.
Our bodies then release dopamine, which elevates feelings of pleasure and bonding. Listening to music actually triggers similar reactions in the body, as it releases dopamine and activates the same limbic system.
"Physiologically when we listen to music there are quite a few effects on our sexuality. Everything from increased bonding or attachment, capability, enhancement of pleasure," said David Wahl, Ph.D., an Abilene, Texas-based ABS (American Board of Surgery) board-certified sexologist whose research focuses on social psychology and human sexuality.
Since music, like sex, activates the pleasure and bonding centers of the brain, it can enhance pleasure and bonding, contributing to a heightened sexual experience.
Specific songs can enhance bonding
"With bonding, some respondents will talk about how the music brings them closer in a variety of ways," Wahl said.
One way music helps people bond is through a shared experience with a certain song or album.
For example, if you and your partner first kissed in the 1980s at a Guns N' Roses concert, some of the nostalgia from the moment may return when you listen back, helping you feel closer during lovemaking. Or, if you and your partner share the same favorite album, it may be a bonding moment when you listen to it together.
"I've talked to people that are in long-term relationships. Let's say they met and started their relationship in the 1980s. Maybe some of those songs that were playing when they were falling in love," Wahl said. "Perhaps could even be a song they were playing the first time they were intimate with each other. By playing that song in 2023 during an intimate moment, that can increase their bond with their partner."
He noted that being aroused by a song they lost their virginity to is another common theme among respondents.
"They talk about that increased closeness and intimacy because they're thinking back and reminiscing," he added. "Feeling like they did when they first heard that song back then."
Lowering inhibitions to the beat
Another way music can bring lovers closer is by lowering inhibitions. Listening to music involves a full-brain response because both the right brain—responsible for creativity—and the left brain—responsible for technical analysis—kick into gear.
As mentioned above, our logic centers shut down during sexual arousal, allowing emotion and instinct to take over. The full-brain activity that occurs when we listen to music can help keep the brain busy enough for us to override anxieties and relax enough to be fully present in the moment.
"Some types of music might provide a distraction for them, taking them away from things like issues with body image or issues with shame they may feel based on sexual predilections they may have," Wahl said.
He noted that he finds that people will choose a specific type of music to play during sex based on the physical or emotional response it elicits.
"For instance, maybe they'll play a certain kind of music if they want to elicit confidence," he added. "The music that instills a sense of confidence in them is the music that they think is powerful."
The rhythm's got to be right, too
Jazz and rock music have long been euphemisms for sex, and for good reason: The pulsating rhythms of various types of music tap into our primal instincts.
Wahl said he has noticed that some respondents in his studies will choose a song because of the way it helps them literally get into the groove by covering up awkwardness and reducing their inhibitions.
"The rhythm of the music will change the rhythm of their performance, sometimes for the better, you know, especially if they're kind of awkward," he said. "They'll talk about how if there's no music on, 'It's just me, you know, I'm a little awkward, my movements are maybe a little jerky or something like that. But if I'm listening to music, I can get into the rhythm of the music.'"
Who doesn't like listening to music during sex?
Of course, listening to music during sex isn't for everybody. Wahl noted that musicians and artists in particular—those who have a deep understanding of music as part of their everyday life—may find it difficult to focus on anything else when a favorite song is playing. He said they've told him they prefer more ambient music or white noise.
"I've talked to people who do not like music playing," he said. "Especially if it's a song they're going to suddenly start paying great attention to, as that's going to take away from the focus they should be spending on their partner."
Some people just see any music, or any sound for that matter, as a distraction.
"I've talked to people who tell me that one of their arousal points is that they like to hear the sounds that their partner makes," Wahl said. "And music obviously can cover that up."
The final track
Whether you're trying to mask any anxiety or awkwardness or are simply yearning to shake up your sex life, spinning a record is worth a try.
While it's not strictly necessary to listen to music while having sex, the rhythmic tunes can provide a more intense and full sensory experience for people in search of a boost. But if everything's going well, think twice before you stop to flip the vinyl.