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Illustration by Brittany England

Laura, the narrator of “Hot Vinyasa 1,” a story you can listen to on the platform Dipsea, is incredibly relatable. She’s stressed by work, self-conscious about being late to yoga class, and flustered by her new instructor, Mark, who’s built like a Hemsworth and serious about hands-on adjustments.

“Does he get this close to everyone?” Laura wonders, embarrassed.

Before the 15-minute story is over, a snowstorm finds Laura and Mark alone in the candlelit studio. No surprise, their sweaty yoga clothes come off way before Shavasana.

Want to hear more? You’re in luck. There’s a lot more where “Hot Vinyasa” came from. We’re in a renaissance of audio porn, with a plethora of sexy audio stories, as well as spoken-word erotica, described sex films, and NSFW podcasts.

Traditional porn isn’t shrinking in popularity — not even close. Last year, visits to porn juggernaut Pornhub totaled 33.5 billion. But people are finding pleasure through nonvisual options that deliberately leave a lot more to the imagination.

Sexual wellness

Dipsea is a female-founded story studio that features “sexy audio stories that set the mood and spark your imagination,” according to their site.

The platform offers tips for getting the most out of your erotic listening experience: Plan a ménage a moi. Mentally pregame a date. Turn foreplay into happy hour. To Gina Gutierrez, Dipsea’s co-founder and CEO, it’s all about fostering “sexual wellness.”

"Sexual wellness involves feeling tuned into your body, and being able to find positive intimacy with oneself and with partners. And it means feeling safe to explore and express one’s needs and desires," Gutierrez explains.

Dipsea’s mission is to offer short-format content that can help users heighten intimacy with their partners, unlock more confidence and cultivate well-being.

“Sex and self-pleasure are also ways to unlock a deep sense of aliveness and vitality, highly aligned with practices like meditation or exercise.” Maybe that explains why the “Hot Vinyasa” series — yes, there’s more than one story — are Dipsea’s most popular.

Listening in

A lack of visual input arguably gives the brain more to do, says Carol Queen, Good Vibrations staff sexologist and co-author of “The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone.”

“Not only are we not responding to visuals that don't please us, we’re given a freer field to imagine characters and insert ourselves into the scene in different ways,” she says.

Some people experience a phenomenon called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), in which sounds like whispers, slurping, tapping, and chewing create a tingling, shivering scalp sensation that’s been described as a “brain-gasm.”

ASMR videos help some people relax, de-stress, or fall asleep. A brain imaging study suggests that may be because it lights up regions associated with self-awareness and social engagement.

There’s also ASMR porn, which integrates sound triggers with audio or video of sexual activity. Though, it’s not necessarily a turn-on for everyone. For some, ASMR sounds cause irritation and anxiety. Others simply prefer their sex to, well, sound like sex.

Brianne McGuire is founder of the podcast Sex Communication, where listeners are invited to listen in to a variety of explicit situations like oral sex, domination, and masturbation. Other episodes showcase people talking candidly about their sex lives.

Their most popular is an interview with two men and a woman in a polyamorous relationship that also involves rope bondage.

Despite coming from “all walks of life,” McGuire’s fans enjoy listening for the same reason — the arousing, intimate nature of the recordings. “Some have described it as ‘third-person phone sex’ or like being hidden in someone else’s bedroom,” McGuire says.

“I want to change the conversations around sex,” she explains. “Despite our access to sexual media, so many people are still ashamed, afraid, and hesitant to speak about their desires, boundaries, and experiences.”

Hearing vs. seeing

“There is evidence that people get more sexually aroused by more intense stimulation,” explains Nicole Prause, PhD, a neuroscientist in Los Angeles who researches human sexual behavior. “For example, audio erotica [can be] more arousing than sexual fantasy alone, and sex films are more arousing than audio erotica.”

Dipsea’s desire for sensual storytelling references a study done by the Kinsey Institute which shows that women use “mental framing” — aka scenario conjuring or fantasizing — to get turned on.

Traditional porn, even when free and available 24/7, just doesn’t do it for everyone.

Caroline Spiegel, the 22-year-old sister of Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, recently launched a no-visuals porn site called Quinn.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Spiegel described struggling with sex dysfunction because of an eating disorder and her belief that porn adds to body image pressure. She’s not alone in feeling alienated instead of turned on.

“I've heard from many women that porn body types make them feel hopeless that anyone will ever think they're sexy,” says Queen. “They feel men are comparing them to porn stars. There are also some women who can't imagine the women onscreen are really having a good time.”

Other common complaints Queen hears are poor lighting, awkwardly written characters, gynecological closeups, overly dramatic ejaculation shots. And can we stop it with the Pizza Guy delivery narrative, already?

Only in our minds, apparently, are we really masters of our own domains. And with audio porn, we can create our own visuals that suit our preferences and tastes, no matter how unique.

Access

For some, nonvisual porn isn’t about preference — it’s about access.

In 2016, Pornhub launched a “Described Video” category which offers audio descriptions of on-screen action for people who have vision loss. There’s now also a “Visually Impaired Mode” with enlarged font, customized color contrast, and keyboard shortcuts.

“Accessibility is something we’ve been particularly focused on,” explains Corey Price, vice-president of Pornhub. “We want people to be able to navigate our platform seamlessly and experience adult entertainment in all its glory. We’re constantly looking for ways to… make it accessible to everyone.”

Viewership in these categories has exceeded expectations.

“We’re now able to cater ourselves to the roughly 1.3 billion people worldwide who live with some form of vision impairment,” Price says.

Takeaway

Fantasy is a natural part of erotic engagement and arousal, Queen says. “Many sex therapists make their money encouraging clients to fantasize or working with the shame that can be attached to this and other elements of sexuality.”

It might be cheaper, not to mention far more enjoyable, to listen to something that turns you on.

There’s also the secret thrill of being able to enjoy the audio porn privately while in public, McGuire points out. “Who would suspect [that] coming through a commuter’s earbuds or stereo in the car of someone stuck in traffic?”


Stephanie Booth is a writer based in Portland, Oregon, whose stories have appeared in outlets like Real Simple, O, Psychology Today, The Washington Post, and Salon. When she's not writing, she'd prefer to be hiking or at a yoga class, but drinking coffee is good, too.