Music and sex, everyone’s got their desired love soundtrack but what makes a song elicit a sexy response in our brain?

Before we get stuck into some psychology jargon, what are the universal preferred ‘sex playlist*’ songs?

Songs: If the same artist comes up skipping until a new one chronologically

*Based on the top 3 playlists followed on Spotify which can see to ignore different factors of culture, access to the application, likes are considered as popularity however there may be more going undetected elsewhere, also doing the top songs per playlist rather than the whole playlist

PLAYLIST ONE:

  • High For This – The Weeknd
  • Or Nah – Ty Dolla $ign, The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa
  • Swim – Chase Atlantic
  • Sweat – Zayn
  • Streets – Doja Cat

PLAYLIST TWO:

  • Exchange – Bryson Tiller
  • Slow Motion – Trey Songz
  • Love On The Brain – Rihanna
  • Ride – SoMo
  • Feels – WATTS and Khalid

PLAYLIST THREE:

  • Crazy In Love – Beyonce
  • Surfboard – Lux Thugs
  • LOYAL – PARTYNEXTDOOR and Drake
  • Paradise – HER and Yung Bleu
  • feu mejor – Kalu Uchis and SZA

MY PLAYLIST:

  • Ur Best Friend – Kiana Lede and Kehlani
  • Lights On – Izzy Bizu
  • Lady In My Life – Michael Jackson
  • Get You – Daniel Caesar and Kali Uchis
  • Take Me Where Your Heart Is – Q

 

Here are the similarities/differences:

Feature Spotify Playlist My playlist 
Strong, slow beat (strong beat) 13 4
Male vocals 11 3
Low frequency bass at the front 12 4
Raunchy lyrics 9 3
Strong, slow electronic chorus 8 1
Minimal instrumentation 9  
Diegetic noises 3  
Romantic lyrics 6 2
Stereotypical genre: lofi rap 10 4
Stereotypical genre: pop 4 1
Starts with high warpy sounds 2 2
Effects on the voice (muffled) 8 1
Female vocals 5 3
Harmonies/backing vocals 10 5
Low energy 8  
Guitar (main instrument) 1 1
Piano (main instrument) 4 2
Other sound effects 4 2

 

  • A loud bass is common throughout all songs
  • Majority of the strong beats land on 1 and 3 (excluding 2 and 4)
  • I found the women vocal songs were a lot more intricate than the male vocal songs, either containing more instruments or more intentional instrumentation like backing harmonies With this, the male vocals stayed within the same couple of notes whereas the female vocals moved around a bit with their range
  • The top 5 songs of the top 3 playlists contained more male songs than female songs
  • The Weeknd appeared the most
  • The beat sounds as if it’s emulating a heart beat being super low and round sounding

 

There are a heap of psychological trials and academic papers surrounding the benefits of music stimulating the brain, evoking a specific chemical and neuro response. There are a couple of things that Kelly, Andrick, Benzenbower and Devia from the Physiological arousal response to differing musical genres paper note as variables to why specific music elicits a specific response in the brain. They highlight that the concepts of

  • Dynamics (louds and softs)
  • Tempo (speed)
  • Timbre (how it sounds)
  • Pitch (highs and lows)

Are the main elements which if you think of a song that’s basically all you need. They mention that studies using electrical conductance showed that music with the most intensity/uses these concepts the most have a stronger connection to our arousal.

 

The reason music does this is because it leans into our emotional part of the brain (aww). The amygdala is the epicenter of all things feelings in the brain. Sitting right in the middle part of your brain, the amygdala (along with the nucleus accumbens) explores feelings music can evoke. It activates different sympathetic parts of your body like fight or flight mechanisms to increase your feelings of pleasure. It’s like when you hear a beautiful piece of music and the hairs stand up on our arms, this is the part of the brain that is in charge of that. Now the nucleus accumbens is in a similar mid-region in the brain and this is what makes us feel good (queue Michael Buble). I’m sure you’ve heard of dopamine and this is it’s main contributor, the pleasure seeking and reward part of the brain. Neuroscientists have even said music acts similarly in the brain as drugs do because of this dopamine/reward effect which can become an addictive cycle of listening to your favourite song on repeat! Now what has this got to do with sex?

 

Well, your brain is pretty smart as we’ve mentioned it can elicit emotional responses from music but it can also store stuff in that trusty memory of yours. Because of this, if you have a set song you play everytime you go to do the deed – your body remembers it, it remembers the dopamine cycle, the feelings of anticipation it remembers it all and makes you ready to go. This is where your hippocampus

specific time of the day will trigger this memory response in your brain and get your ready for the mood.

 

Music elicits an arousal response within our brains prenatally through our sympathetic nervous system. Researchers recorded a higher activity in sweat glands, heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, skin conductance, body temperature and muscle tension all stimulated from music. Now if we’re thinking of sex we obviously want to be aroused however we also want to feel relaxed, music can help here too!

 

So maybe when you’re curating your next sex playlist (or listening to mine) start with a song that gets your heart (and other things) pulsing and racing, to then go into songs that try to elicit a calming response to enhance a deeper, more meaningful moment.

 

Emily Coles

Emily Coles

A psych and music student consumed within the world of music psychology and how music can affect our brain in ways we don’t even realise. Whether it’s a playlist to accompany you to your confidence or dissecting the brain to see why we like the sound of Harry Styles, if it involves music and psychology – I’m there!

Emily Coles

A psych and music student consumed within the world of music psychology and how music can affect our brain in ways we don’t even realise. Whether it’s a playlist to accompany you to your confidence or dissecting the brain to see why we like the sound of Harry Styles, if it involves music and psychology - I’m there!