A question that seems easy enough to answer at first but eventually leads us to ask deeper questions about ourselves the more we probe.
Is it the easiest real-time validation that we can provide our partners while in the throes of passion? Or is the whole deal essentially performative, something we pick up from sex scenes in films or in porn, in which the sound of moist genitalia slapping together will almost never be the only sound you hear, and in which great sex is almost always equated with loud expressions of pleasure?
Last week, British supermodel-turned-actor Cara Delevingne, of Suicide Squad fame, claimed that trying to keep quiet during an orgasm makes you feel it more. “When you just try and not make, like, any noise, you feel it way more, and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’” Delevingne told host Sarah Hyland in a sneak preview of Lady Parts, an Ellentube series. Delevingne recalled being “conditioned” to make loud noises when orgasming. “I remember stopping making any noise or trying to really maintain it and it’s so hot,” she said.
While vocalising is an important part of sex, most heterosexual sex that we come across makes it seem like the coitus of champions is always accompanied with women making erotic sounds. That’s not to say the moan doesn’t have its own benefits, be it “a representation of the intensity of excitation,” serving as a way to get attention, to signal to a partner that you’ve had your orgasm (fake or not) so that it boosts their ego and they’ll likely come back for seconds, or just adding to an erotic experience.
But how well does that translate to our bedrooms where many of us either can’t let out squeals or just don’t feel like it? A 2011 study that surveyed cishet women between ages 18 and 46 discovered that 66 percent of them moaned to speed up their partner’s climax, and 87 percent did so to boost the man’s self-esteem.
Faking these decibel levels is easy, too, as this iconic scene showed us.
For Bidisha Das, a 36-year-old woman working in an IT company, though, it was a little more complicated than that.
“I was in a physically abusive marriage,” she told VICE. “The rare times we had sex, I’d fake my moans in the hope that it would make him come quickly. I just wanted to get done with it.”
In some societies, the idea of vocalising during sex takes on a different hue altogether. Pallavi Barnwal, an intimacy coach based in New Delhi, India, shared with VICE the story of one of her clients: a couple living by the railway tracks in a cramped house shared with their extended family, with only a semi-transparent curtain acting as a demarcation between their sleeping space and the rest of the family’s.
“They wanted to moan and go all out but they couldn’t because they had no privacy,” she said. “But they devised a new way — they timed their orgasms to whenever a passenger train passed by. That one-minute window was all they had.”
Barnwal believes that quiet sex is not without its advantages, minus the social constraints. She says that in some cases, it might even act as a catalyst to explore new territories of your partner’s body and new sensations
“You’re more in the moment when you close your eyes and feel the quiet trail of your partner’s fingers on your body,” she said. “Sex doesn’t have to be all gymnastics and acrobatics. Sometimes, it can just be about exploring each other. You can drop in more into your own bodies and take that time to even have honest conversations. There could be so many erogenous zones that we end up ignoring in crazy, quick sex, hidden under sounds. Silence allows you the freedom to truly reach and feel each other’s bodies.”
In some cultures, however, faking sex sounds are dangerously intertwined with ideas of purity and morality.
On the first night after her wedding, Barnwal herself had to pretend to make painful sounds. “In South Asian societies like India, the virginity of a woman has long been associated with purity and as the mark of good character,” she said.
According to Pragya Singh, a 22-year-old student, the expectation of moaning, more often than not, comes from men, even though they might not say it explicitly. In her case, she said she prefers quiet sex but not at the cost of her partner feeling confused or doubtful about the moment. “My partner prefers noises, so it becomes a medium of communication for us. I did try quiet sex but realised they were not as turned on. They like the grunts, me whispering dirty things. The lack of sounds would end up making the act an interrogation, where they would keep checking if I was satisfied.”
In Singh’s case, her partner’s indirect expectation of sounds perhaps comes from a well-meaning place. Otherwise, she said, men usually ask women to keep quiet when the situation is not under their control. “There could be someone in the other room, in which case they will muffle your moans, and that becomes a turn-on in a different way for them because they have the power of deciding when you should or should not moan.”
For sexuality educator Karishma Swarup, there is another layer to the idea of quiet sex, particularly in countries where sex talk is still stigmatised. “We are a culture that’s pretty quiet about sex anyway, where women are often shamed for being too loud, too brash,” she said. “So, moaning becomes an act of liberation as much as an act of reclaiming the spaces of desire.”
Swarup believes that even though making sounds can be seen as a result of years of cultural conditioning through porn or popular culture, it’s unfair to say a particular kind of sex is better.
“All of us have a different journey with sex,” she said. “Ultimately, it all comes down to the question of who you are moaning or not moaning with. In a healthy relationship, being vocal about what you’re feeling is a great way to provide feedback. Otherwise, as in abusive relationships where desire only runs one way, things can escalate to quiet abuse and not quiet sex.”
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