We started the evening in a tangle of limbs on the sofa, watching videos from one of my favourite trans porn performers. I was very turned on, but the move to the bedroom so we could get more naked was enough for me to start overthinking.
It wasn’t our first threesome, but I still wasn’t as comfortable around my metamour (the term in non-monogamy for a partner of your partner) as I was with my girlfriend. It was harder to be vulnerable with them.
I’ve never had better sex than I have in the last eighteen months, and part of that is due to fully understanding my needs as an autistic person. But explaining how my autism impacts what I need during sex still takes vulnerability. I find it relatively easy to talk about my limits, my boundaries, the results of my STI test, and what I find hot. Discussing those things feels like a form of flirting. It’s much less sexy to admit I have better sex when I’m listening to Greg Davis and Alex Horne host a Channel 4 panel show.
My girlfriend and I both love Taskmaster. We’ve both watched every series multiple times both separately and together. I can’t remember the first time we had sex with an episode still playing on their laptop on the bedside table, but I discovered that it actually helped me avoid sensory overwhelm and over-thinking every aspect of sex. Rather than my mind racing about everything I could just be in the moment.
I’m not alone in this. The soundscape during sex can impact or even improve your sexual experiences. Sex educator and author of 101 Kinky Things Even You Can Do, Kate Sloan, explains that background noise can make people more comfortable making noise themselves. “It can be less intimidating to make noise or even talk to your partner, whether that’s dirty talk or communication about technique,” she tells Refinery29.
While it might feel like leaving the porn from earlier playing would have created a sexier mood, asking if we could pause our threesome to put on an episode of Taskmaster grounded me. The part of my brain that had been whirring with anxiety was absorbed by the jokes and the familiar beats of my favourite TV show. I was able to relax enough to actually feel pleasure and connect with my partners.
Dr Liz Powell, a licensed psychologist specialising in non-traditional relationships, explains that there’s no right or wrong answer to the background noise you like or need during sex – some people might prefer the porn. “For some people, especially those with a busy brain, having a musical cue can help them get aligned with what they’re doing and let go of their to-do list for the day," she tells Refinery29. "For others, the way their brain works is that they need something a little bit distracting so they can focus on what they’re doing.”
Interested in hearing other’s experiences, I spoke to eight people about their background-noise-during-sex preferences, and how what they listen to impacts their sex lives.
Jade, 23, she/her, England
My boyfriend and I have a specific playlist we play during sex. We made it together after we had a really amazing night with similar music on and decided we wanted to have that again because it really set the mood. It also lets either of us suggest to the other that we might be feeling like having sex. It really helps break any tension and make it sexy instead!
I find that I often have a lot of stuff going on in my head, even during sex. When there's music on, that fills my brain instead and I don't end up thinking about the very unsexy things, like what's for dinner or what I'll wear for work tomorrow.
However, the playlist does bring up expectations around sex. I will sometimes be up for sex acts that are typically classed as 'foreplay', but I don't want penetrative sex. I would still enjoy doing these activities with our playlist on, but I think I'd be apprehensive of putting on in case it gives my partner the expectation that we’ll have penetrative sex.
Kimmy, 29, she/her, Belgium
I don’t put on background sound intentionally for sex, but if music is already playing I will leave it on. A movie or TV show will pull my focus, so needs to be paused in order to go from kissing to other sexual acts.
When it’s quiet, sometimes I will notice my own sounds that I’m making which can make me feel a bit self conscious, but this is rare. Usually I don’t notice a lack of sounds during sex, but I do notice and get disturbed by random sounds happening around me, like a loud siren or neighbours talking.
Helena, 29, she/her, Sweden
If I’m in the mood for background noise during, I prefer to have music on. It helps to mute the overthinking and instead I feel channelled to another realm. For me, I have the best sex when I feel like I have surrendered my being and I live in the moment, almost in a trance. I guess that could count as the opposite of being present, but I know that when my partner also falls into the ‘music sex trance’, it feels like we’re in the bubble together.
I don’t feel weird about the music I like during sex, but when I made a playlist with my partner I did take courage for me to suggest some songs that I wanted to try having sex to. Luckily, I knew we could both laugh and shrug it off if the song didn’t end up suiting the mood. Nowadays, even lighting some candles and putting on the playlist is an invitation to have sex.
Lisa, 29, she/her, Germany
I like sensual music, like the soundtrack to 50 Shades of Grey. It can help me to get in the mood and stay present so I don’t start writing a to-do list in my head! I once put on music to test if it helps me to stay in the moment and it worked, so I kept doing it.
My partner also likes music to stay focused during partnered sex. Sometimes we watch video porn and while he can start getting intimate whilst the porn is on, I'm too curious about what's happening. Similarly, it helps me if my environment is tidy and I don't have any major tasks I need to do occupying my mind.
For solo sex I like audio porn, but most of the time I don't use it because it's too much work to find porn with voices, plotlines, and language that I’m actually into.
Betty, 28, she/her, Wales
I need background noise during sex but not anything new or too distracting. I need to reach a happy medium between what is on being present, but not so present I’m focusing too hard on it. I’m sensitive to noise and too little noise is almost as distracting as too much.
My partner and I usually put on whatever TV show we are currently rewatching together, which has recently included Friends, The Office, and Taskmaster. Music isn’t an option for us because my partner can’t help but join in with the vocals!
Since the birth of our child we no longer have unplanned sex, so queuing up an old episode is part of our routine when we’ve scheduled in sex nowadays.
Nimble, 25, he/they, Australia
Background noise of any kind is a requirement! It took getting my ADHD diagnosis to realise that having music on during sex really helped me not get distracted by things like uni assignments. Before that, I got distracted and then beat myself up about not being present enough. I usually tune out the music completely so I have no idea what’s playing, but it gives me enough background brain stimulation that I’m a lot more present with what’s happening.
I’m incredibly lucky to have loving, kind, and attentive partners who often preempt me and who remember to ask me if I’d like music. I’m comfortable with the fact I need background noise to help me focus during sex now, but only because I’ve done a lot of work to accept myself and my neurodivergent needs and that I can speak up and ask for them.
Cay, 25, she/her, Canada
My favourite kinds of music to have playing during sex is club music and electro-swing due to the beat being prominent. Being able to move to the rhythm lets me keep a consistent pace, which I struggle to do on my own.
I prefer to have near total darkness during sex, as visual stimulants tend to distract me. Closing my eyes and focusing on the feeling allows me to better tune in to my body's sensations or the actions I am performing.
Kayla, 27, she/her, California
I don’t intentionally use music or sound during partnered sex, but I find it to be a large part of my solo sex life. I’ll often be listening to music in my headphones and find that it can really amplify my pleasure. I usually look for songs with a faster beat, and sometimes ‘sexy’ lyrics, but not always. Just focusing on the beat and the music blocks out a lot of competing thoughts, and allows for a little bit of sensory deprivation so I can focus on my vibrator or whatever else I might be using.
I think with partnered sex I don’t really want to lose awareness the same way, I’d rather stay more present. Also I think the headphones and the surround sound/noise cancelling effect is really important, so background music wouldn’t have the same effect.