Talk Dirty To Me: The Psychology of Dirty Talk
August 21, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller
A reader sent the following question:
How many people are into dirty talk? What turns people on about it?
There’s a lot of research out there on sexual communication, but surprisingly little of it has focused on dirty talk. However, the research I’ve conducted on sexual fantasies can help shed some light on it.
In the survey of more than 4,000 Americans’ sex fantasies that formed the basis for my book Tell Me What You Want, 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 thoughts based on what I found in my study:
· 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 that 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. Among men, 35% had fantasized about it before, and 10% fantasized about it often.
· Dirty talk fantasies were associated with several sex-seeking personality traits: erotophilia, sociosexuality, and sexual sensation seeking. Specifically, those who had more positive attitudes toward sex, saw sex and emotion as separable, and enjoyed more thrilling and adventuresome sexual encounters 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, too. 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 very rich psychology behind them. It is also very likely that different people are drawn to dirty talk for very different reasons.
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 Sprott, R. (2019). The Invisible Gate: Experiences of Personal Growth and Well-Being in the Context of Kink/BDSM Sexuality. Presentation given at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Sexuality Pre-Conference, Portland, OR.
 Rees, G., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). All I need is shoe: An investigation into the obligatory aspect of sexual object fetishism. International Journal of Sexual Health, 29(4), 303-312.
 Wismeijer, A. A., & Assen, M. A. (2013). Psychological characteristics of BDSM practitioners. The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Image Source: 123RF/Roman Samborskyi
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >