Talk Dirty To Me: The Psychology of Dirty Talk

New research explores how many people are into dirty talk and why it's arousing.

Posted Sep 01, 2020

123RF/Roman Samborskyi
Source: 123RF/Roman Samborskyi

Have you ever been turned on by the idea of a partner talking "dirty" to you? If so, you're not alone. It turns out that dirty talk is an extraordinarily popular sexual interest. But just how many people are into it, and why? What is it that so many people find arousing about this?

Given how much research is out there on the subject of sexual communication, it is surprising that very little of it has addressed the subject of dirty talk. However, a recent study I conducted on sexual fantasies helps to shed light on it. I surveyed 4,175 Americans about their sex fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want, and one of the many things I asked participants to report on was whether they had ever fantasized about a partner talking dirty to them.

Overall, 91% of participants said this was something they had fantasized about—and 49% said they fantasize about it often.

Dirty talk fantasies were common across gender—but women were actually the most likely to fantasize about it—and fantasize about it often: 

  • 93% of self-identified women had fantasized about dirty talk, and 56% said they fantasize about it often.
  • 90% of self-identified men had fantasized about dirty talk, and 43% said they fantasize about it often.
  • 86% of non-binary participants had fantasized about dirty talk, and 42% said they fantasize about it often.

So what do people find so appealing about dirty talk? And why do women tend to fantasize about it the most? Here are some insights based on my survey:

  • Dirty talk fantasies were associated with having more fantasies about a partner who moans or screams loudly. So part of the appeal likely has to do with the fact that some people just inherently find sounds to be erotically appealing. However, whereas women fantasized about dirty talk more than men, men fantasized about moaning and screaming more than women (48% of men said they fantasize about this often, compared to 38% of women). So it seems that many men and women are really into sounds during sex, but the most appealing sounds actually differ for men and women.
  • Dirty talk fantasies were associated with more BDSM fantasies of every type—bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism. Dirty talk often plays a role in BDSM scenarios (e.g., to create a dominant-submissive dynamic, as a form of sexual humiliation), and women reported more BDSM fantasies in general than did men, so perhaps this at least partly explains why women had the most frequent dirty talk fantasies. As further support for this idea, I also asked people how often they fantasized about a specific form of dirty talk—being called a “slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” or other derogatory term during sex. The gender difference was substantially larger in this case: a slight majority of women (52%) said they’d fantasized about this before, and 22% fantasized about it often. By contrast, 35% of men had fantasized about this before, and 10% fantasized about it often. 
  • Dirty talk fantasies were associated with several sex-seeking personality traits: erotophilia, sociosexuality, and sexual sensation seeking. Put another way, those who had more positive attitudes toward sex, saw sex and emotion as separable, and enjoyed more thrilling and adventuresome sexual encounters in general reported more interest in dirty talk. So, in some ways, the appeal of dirty talk also says something about how we feel about and think about sex in general.
  • People who were more extraverted had more fantasies about dirty talk—and more fantasies about a partner moaning and screaming. In other words, those who are more sociable and outgoing seem to find sounds during sex to be more erotically appealing, whereas introverts seem to find quiet sex more arousing. 
  • In general, dirty talk fantasies were unrelated to self-esteem and neuroticism; however, fantasies about being called derogatory names specifically were related to these factors. Those who fantasized about being called a "bitch," "slut," etc. tended to report lower self-esteem and higher levels of neuroticism (i.e., emotional instability). They also reported more attachment anxiety (i.e., fear of abandonment). To be clear, these associations were small, which means that fantasies about being called derogatory names are not inherent indicators of how we feel about ourselves or about our relationships. But the fact that an association exists at all tells us something. Maybe for some, this is a way of eroticizing personal insecurities. Or maybe for others, it’s an act of masochism in which pain is used to escape self-awareness or to intensify sexual sensations, as I write about in Tell Me What You Want.
  • People high in the trait of openness to experience and those who reported having active imaginations reported more dirty talk fantasies. So interest in dirty talk might sometimes stem from simply being someone who fantasizes a lot and/or is open to trying new things in general. 

As you can see, dirty talk fantasies are quite common—and there is a rich psychology behind them. It is also very likely that different people are drawn to dirty talk for very different reasons.

Facebook image: Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock

References

To learn more about the science of sex fantasies, check out my book Tell Me What You Want, now available in paperback.

Lehmiller, J. J. (2020). Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Hachette Go.