The Female Voice: Hot or Not?

Lili's picture

 During my freshman year of high school, I remember clearly the day a friend of mine told me that this guy I had a crush on did not feel the same way. Of course I was disappointed; more than that though, I wanted to know the reasons why he did not reciprocate my feelings! I thought, “Maybe I can change myself and fix the things he doesn’t like!” When my friend told me the reason, however, I was not so confident in my ability to change myself to suit his liking: he thought I had an annoying voice! Four years have passed since then, and I no longer feel slightly self-conscious about my voice. My current boyfriend tells me on a regular basis that my voice is “cute” and asks me to repeat certain words because he finds it endearing when I say them. So my question is, what’s in a voice? Why do males prefer certain female voices?

            According to current research, there are two different kinds of female voices that males find appealing: the deep, breathy voice and the sweet, higher pitched voice. While little investigation has been done to determine the origin of the former, the hormone estrogen has been linked to the development of the latter. Even though women are stereotyped as having higher pitched voices, there is some physiological basis for this. As a prominent female sex hormone, estrogen is responsible for the size of the voice box and the length of the vocal chords (both of which are smaller than they would be on a male). Because the ultimate goal of attraction is reproduction, men find women with more estrogen more alluring than those with less of it. This is because estrogen plays a vital role in the process of conception – its presence results in the growth of the egg follicle, which eventually implants itself in the uterus.[1] Though estrogen accounts for a high-pitched voice, it may not account for the deep, breathy voice. Less is known with regard to the deep, breathy female voice, but its appeal to some men is indisputable. What researchers do know is that the breathy sound originates in the opening at the rear of the vocal chords. For women, this opening tends to be slightly wider, thus creating an association with women and breathiness in the minds of men.[2] That being said, personal preference is where things get complicated. What accounts for some men preferring high voices and the others, preferring low voices? Is it just a different idea of sex appeal, and if so, from where does that idea come? 
            Another factor that plays a role in altering the female voice is the menstrual cycle. Throughout the stages of a woman’s cycle, different hormones are present at different times. For example, estrogen levels peak during ovulation.[3] This is significant because studies have shown that female voices are the most enthralling to males during ovulation.[4] If estrogen levels are higher at this time, the voice is just one hint to males that it’s a prime time to mate. Perhaps a generally higher voice, not just during ovulation, might make it appear to males as if women are ovulating as well? Ovulation is not the only time during which the female voice undergoes changes. One study conducted on singers of the Prague Opera showed that menstruating females observed a “loss of high tones, uncertainty of pitch, and small submucous hemorrhages.”[5] To a male, these vocal characteristics might be a subtle hint that a female is menstruating, and thus incapable of conceiving offspring at the moment. 
            Evidently, there are many things that impact the sound of the female voice; but what about the male voice? Just as estrogen prompts the female voice to have a higher pitched sound, testosterone induces a lower pitched sound. The primary sex hormone in males, testosterone becomes increasingly widespread in the male body around the time of puberty. Testosterone incites longer vocal chords when a male reaches puberty, which creates a deeper, lower voice. Unfortunately for males, this vocal modification is not always so streamlined; in many males, it causes a cracking sound when they speak.[6] Whilst a high voice can be attractive in females due to its signal of estrogen, a low voice can be the same for males because it indicates testosterone. In addition to the voice, other desirable male traits can be attributed to testosterone. Some of these traits are pronounced muscles and greater height, two traits that would have denoted an excellent choice of mate evolutionarily. Interestingly enough, studies have demonstrated that females tend to favor males with lower pitched voices especially during ovulation.[7] With ovulation being the most fertile time of a female’s menstrual cycle, her instincts prepare her to choose a mate that exhibits signs of masculinity and is prepared to protect her and her potential offspring. 
            Understanding a little more about the human voice, my question has become: is attraction something that we can control, or is it base and biological? The way that I would answer such a question now is by saying that attraction, teenage crushes, and everything in between are, in fact, biological. Sure, that takes some of the romance out of the picture – no destiny, no sweeping statements of “I’m meant for you, and you’re meant for me!” – but I think that is all right with me. At the time when my friend told me that my crush thought I had an annoying voice, I would have taken it a whole lot better having understood that maybe he simply preferred girls with deep, breathy voices. 
 
-Lili


[1] Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Estrogen.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/193679/estrogen.
[2] Erika Engelhaupt and Adeline Gauss, “Secrets of a Sexy Voice? Tell Me More,” NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6632829
[3] Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Estrogen.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/193679/estrogen.
[4] “Female voice more sexy during ovulation,” http://www.news.com.au/features/female-voice-more-sexy-during-ovulation/story-e6frflor-1111116216333.
[5] Friedrich S. Brodnitz, “Hormones and the Human Voice,” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov:80/pmc/articles/PMC1749777/pdf/bullnyacadmed00203-0069.pdf.
[6] “Male Puberty Stages,” Livestrong, http://www.livestrong.com/article/12456-male-puberty-stages-/.
[7] David Andrew Puts, “Mating context and menstrual phase affect women's preferences for male voice pitch,” ScienceDirect, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T6H-4GVGCXK-1&_user=400777&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000018819&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=400777&md5=80bdf07d3c3d127a8125d46caf2790b2.

Comments

Paul Grobstein's picture

preserving romance in biology

Maybe there still is "“I’m meant for you, and you’re meant for me!”.  If females differ in their voices, and males differ in their voice preferences, and males differ in their voices and females differ in their voice preferences, and ... ditto for hair color, musical taste, etc, etc, etc?   It would be pretty special when all those preferences align, no?

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