Singing the Body Electric: The Sensuality of Electronic Music

Why should electronic music be considered the sexiest genre of them all?

NOTE: This article may be considered NSFW, as it explores sexual topics in depth.

With virtually every new invention that humankind has created, there has been an overwhelming drive to have sex with it. This phenomenon has been difficult to ignore with the rise of deep fakes, but it has existed for eons. And since the advent of musical recordings in the early 20th century, music has soundtracked sexual intercourse, even before Marvin Gaye set the standard with “Let’s Get It On.”

Electronic music has been associated with sex for centuries, with electricity itself being conceptualized as erotic since at least the 1600s when the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher coined the term “Erotomagnetism.” And from approximately the 1790s onward, “the idea of electric music increasingly became a central part of a medical critique of music as a danger to health and morals that reflected deep anxieties about sensuality.” With Judeo-Christian societies being gravely concerned with suppressing and controlling sexuality at the time, music’s connection with nerve stimulation was viewed as a possible threat to the contemporary world order. This was (predictably) of special concern for women, who were falsely understood to have weaker nervous systems than men. 19th-century literature on etiquette explicitly advised women to avoid music because of its potential to arouse and overstimulate the nervous system.[1]Stimulating Music: The Pleasures and Dangers of ‘Electric Music,’ 1750–1900

In the 20th century, electronic music became the soundtrack of choice for erotic and pornographic films, so much so that it became its own genre: “porn groove.” The genre is defined by the sound of the electric guitar and bass, and the wah-wah pedal (a foot pedal that alters the sound of the electric guitar), and steady rhythmic motifs to create steady pulses. By creating rhythms and grooves that elicit movements like hip thrusts or body rolls, “porn groove” taps into the same formula that has made dance genres like salsa and bounce synonymous with eroticism. The combination of all of these elements emulates a sensation of psychedelia via “dynamization.”[2]Defined as “The sensation of having plain objects bend and dissolve into moving, dancing structures.” (Hicks, 1999) (Leary, 1966) The psychedelic experience is a powerful sexual one by heightening the sense of touch: Harvard professor Timothy Leary wrote in his book The Politics of Ecstacy: ‘There is no question that [the psychedelic] LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered by man.’[3]That One Time I Had Sex on Acid” by Vice Media

With the development of EDM, electronic music has also pioneered the “beat drop,” a dramatic beat or rhythmic change that directly succeeds a musical section of build-up and tension. In trance, Eurodance, hardcore, and other dance genres where melodies and chord progressions are emphasized, it is known as a climax.[4]“Formal devices of trance and house music: Breakdowns, buildups and anthems” This phenomenon is also seen in hip-hop, though it is more often emphasized with percussion instruments over synthesizers. With a name like “the climax,” it is almost indelibly connected to sex and eroticism. As both electronic music and hip-hop have exploded in popularity in the 21st century, it’s common to see musicians incorporate elements of both in their tracks, including what might be the closest song to pornography that the mainstream has seen in a generation: Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B‘s “WAP.” While its salacious lyrics are undoubtedly driving the song’s hypersexual nature, the song’s production features a thunderous trap bass and beat drop that practically begs for ass to be thrown.

Compounding this is the fact that recreational drug use is common within the EDM community, which has been shown to increase libido and arousal. Drugs like marijuana act as a vasodilator, dropping one’s blood pressure by expanding blood vessels within the body. Not only does this make one more relaxed, but larger blood vessels mean increased sensation from the genitals and augmented hearing, making both music and sex especially rewarding. Psychedelics like LSD and molly are also correlated with increased libido and sexual response.[5]Pharmacologic Enhancement of the Erotic: Implications of an Expanded Definition of Aphrodisiacs And musicians like DJ Dillon Francis understand this connection between drugs, party culture, and sex, with his songs “Not Butter” and the aptly titled “Sexo” featuring erotic music videos and massive EDM productions.

That history and background lead us to a world where the erotic soundscape is dominated by electronica. Research shows that “the most commonly enjoyed genres to have sex are electronic dance music, R&B, and heavy metal.”[6]“Let’s talk about sex and music, baby!” from the Georgia State SignalA similar study found that electronic music was prevalent amongst so-called “Sex Playlists”: The Weeknd dominated the study, with his electronic hits “Often,” “Wicked Games,” and “The Hills” being amongst the Top 10 most popular tracks, with Rihanna notably being the only woman featured in the Top 20 with ANTi’s “Needed Me” and “Sex With Me.” So what makes electronic music a great soundtrack for the bedroom? Researchers pointed to the tempo of 119 BPM as hitting that sweet spot better than any other, a common pace in electronica given its uptempo nature and presumably aligning with the increased heart rate of sexual activity. [7]The methodology for the study was searching for “user-created Spotify playlists featuring the words, ‘sexy’, ‘sexual’, ‘horny’, ‘erotic’, ‘freaky’, ‘turn on’, … Continue reading It’s easy to see why artists like Rihanna and the Weeknd are the most popular choices for soundtracking sex.

While there needs to be more empirical, scientific data to fully understand the connections between human sexuality and music, it seems that electronic music has developed an association with sex both before and after its recent surge in popularity. While it remains nebulous as to what has driven that connection, it’s now more difficult to deny than ever before.

References

1 Stimulating Music: The Pleasures and Dangers of ‘Electric Music,’ 1750–1900
2 Defined as “The sensation of having plain objects bend and dissolve into moving, dancing structures.” (Hicks, 1999) (Leary, 1966)
3 That One Time I Had Sex on Acid” by Vice Media
4 “Formal devices of trance and house music: Breakdowns, buildups and anthems”
5 Pharmacologic Enhancement of the Erotic: Implications of an Expanded Definition of Aphrodisiacs
6 “Let’s talk about sex and music, baby!” from the Georgia State Signal
7 The methodology for the study was searching for “user-created Spotify playlists featuring the words, ‘sexy’, ‘sexual’, ‘horny’, ‘erotic’, ‘freaky’, ‘turn on’, ‘seduction,’” which turned up “413 playlists and 60,000 songs.” More can be found here.

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