How to Sound Sexy, According to the Women Who Narrate Audiobook Erotica

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Photo: Elena Segatini

Thanks to the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey audiobook, voice actors are finding more and more work narrating erotica — which means spending around 20 hours per project in an audio booth, heavily breathing life into Audible's steamier offerings.

But how can people who aren't erotica pros get more comfortable trying to sound sexy? What if you're in a long-distance relationship and struggling to step up your Skype-sex game? Or confronted with a dating app that, mortifyingly, expects you to make self-promotional videos? For those of us who find it kind of awkward to talk dirty, how do you avoid humiliating yourself?

The Cut brings you advice from the women who do this for a living.

Slow Down and Make Your Voice "Velvety"

"You are seducing the listener with your voice, with your pacing," said Barbara Rosenblat, who plays Miss Rosa on Orange Is the New Black and has narrated over 400 audiobooks. In her professional life, Rosenblat deals with material like "He opened her gentle, pink wings of loveliness and slowly thrust his member." In real life, though, she suggested taking it down a notch. "You soften your voice, and you listen! You ask questions that draw out the other person. That's seduction." She said that you check for your partner's reactions, and you pace your journey. That goes for your voice, too. "Slow your voice down. Allow your voice to sound a bit more velvety."

Don't Be Judgmental

Said Tavia Gilbert, narrator of several books by paranormal-romance writer Jeaniene Frost, "I think that there is something that is titillating about danger, but you can't be vulnerable, completely authentic, and completely yourself when you're not safe." So, if you're going to talk dirty with your partner, try to figure out ahead of time what each of you wants to hear in bed; make sure that you're both comfortable with the fantasy that will unfold. "It's about being safe in your own skin, being safe in who you are, what makes you feel good with the person you are with in that moment. That's the best way to be really successful talking dirty or having the great, sensual relationship you want." Violet Grey,* who has narrated audiobooks for almost 20 years, agreed: "For someone who's not narrating [an erotic audiobook], you've got to find a non-judgment area to occupy — emotional and psychic — so that if you have a fantasy, it can come out without judgment."

Embrace Your "High-Pitched, Nasal Whine"

The romance audiobook narrators said that, even though they alter their voices for work, sounding sexy in real life means working with what you've got. Although the stereotypical sexy voice may be lower and smokier, Gilbert offered this advice: "Speak with confidence, whether that's breathy and gravelly and low, or in your naturally high-pitched, nasal whine, you know?" Gilbert called this the key to making dirty talk feel less uncomfortable. "Don't edit yourself," she said. "Don't pass judgment on yourself because you're afraid it's not right. Just being present in the moment is pretty hot."

Think Beyond Purring

"Every male hero has a growl. Like, a sensual growl. I think the idea of lower, more gravelly, more breathy — those are sort of the clichés of what's sexy," said Gilbert of the typical romance book. "But I think we all know in the real world, there is no one formula." So no need to replicate the noises on RedTube. Oohs, aahs, and mmms are fine, of course, but make the noises you naturally make, not the ones you're assuming your partner expects to hear.

Use the F-word — Strategically

Rosenblat said that when she was preparing to narrate sexologist Betty Dodson's memoir, she realized, "I've never seen 'fuck' on the page so much in my life!" But, she said, "By the end of it, I have to say, it was very freeing." For some, talking dirty is an excuse to unleash a whirlwind of "fucks." But check in with yourself to make sure you're down with how vulgar the sexy talk is getting. Grey said of the swearing in audiobooks: "It's there to break the rules and make you feel like a bad girl. But I find that the best erotic writing is not about that. It's about the actions and the reactions."

Wear Something Other Than Lululemon

Grey said that some women might find it liberating to play a character while talking dirty. "I'm an actor, so I can role-play at the drop of a hat. But if someone's not an actor — maybe the costumes and getting dressed up do work." She said that one of the simplest things you can do is wear an outfit that's hotter than usual to help coax out your sensual side. "You feel different walking down the street in a skirt and heels than you do when you're wearing yoga pants, you know?"

*Violet Grey is the pseudonym of narrator Robin Miles.