Jul 31, 2023
Apps Like Dipsea and Quinn are Redefining Pleasure for Women
By Sarah DiamondJuly 31, 2023 “You know, I’m a sucker for a California queen bed,” Liz says to her girlfriend, Sevyn. “I’m imagining us chillin’ on that balcony,” Sevyn responds. Liz laughs, “Well,
By Sarah DiamondJuly 31, 2023
“You know, I’m a sucker for a California queen bed,” Liz says to her girlfriend, Sevyn.
“I’m imagining us chillin’ on that balcony,” Sevyn responds.
Liz laughs, “Well, there’s some other things I’m imagining too…”
Liz and Sevyn are characters in “Open Floor Plan,” a series on the audio erotica app Dipsea. Like mini podcasts but spicier, these stories detailing sexy scenarios fill the space between audio romance novels and visual pornography.
Since Dipsea began publishing at the end of 2018, a handful of similar apps have hit the market. While Dipsea’s stories are narrated by voice actors and written in-house, Quinn, another popular platform that launched in 2019, hires mostly content creators to produce the app’s stories. Other platforms like OhCleo and Bloom use a combination of those formats.
“There’s clearly this gap between what erotic content has traditionally meant and what women are looking for,” said Caroline Spiegel (sister of Snap’s chief executive, Evan), the founder of Quinn. “Now, there’s a growing opportunity to give women products and services that fill their sexual needs, because they have their own money to spend.”
Designed in sleek modern packages, these apps can easily be confused with those used for meditation, yoga or therapy — an intentional marketing plan. Situating pleasure in a wellness wrapper has allowed them to exist on Apple’s app store and Spotify, as well as advertise on Facebook and Instagram.
On average, subscribers for Dipsea are women between 18 and 34, the company said, while Quinn’s are women ages 18 to 24. Dipsea said its revenue grew 40 percent last year, though it declined to provide specific figures. Quinn said the average listenership for the past three months had been 14 million minutes each month. (“For context, in all of 2021, we saw 3.2 million minutes listened,” Ms. Spiegel said.)
Hannah Albertshauser and her husband, Michael, are the co-founders of Bloom, an erotic audio platform based in Germany. According to a survey they recently conducted, Bloom found that there were just as many users who enjoy romantic content as were interested in stories involving different kinks, partner sharing and bondage. Despite Mr. and Mrs. Albertshauser starting Bloom to create more guided sex options for couples, 40 percent of its listeners are single women and over half are between 18 and 34, according to the same survey.
Experts say that the biggest benefits of audio erotica are it allows listeners to imagine and be in control of their own story.
“I tell clients and students, if you’re constantly watching something, you’re never getting to create your own fantasies, explore your erotic imagination and know what your boundaries are,” said Mal Harrison, the executive director of the Center for Erotic Intelligence, a collective of researchers and educators who study human connection and sexuality. Audio erotica, she said, is a response to power imbalances and sexual domination often seen in visual pornography.
Before these apps existed, Reddit threads and the back alleys of Tumblr were often used to create erotic audio content particularly made by and for women.
“It felt like when you wanted accessibility to pleasure, it was in a brown paper bag down a dark alley,” said Dominnique Karetsos, the chief executive and co-founder of Healthy Pleasure Group, which invests in sexual health and technology companies, including Dipsea. When she started investing in the space nearly 10 years ago, the market was limited, she added.
But by the early 2010s, Ms. Karetsos said, products made for women’s pleasure were marketed through partnerships with retailers like Selfridges and Sephora. The accessibility to and demand for these items created “social permission,” she said, for women to talk about pleasure openly.
Last year a sexual rights group reported that Facebook rejected numerous women’s sexual health advertisements. In 2019, the sex toy company Dame sued the M.T.A. for banning its advertisements while those for erectile dysfunction medication remained.
Gina Gutierrez, who founded Dipsea with Faye Keegan, said that much of what set audio erotica apart was that it was marketed as sexual wellness, unlike conventional porn. “Female pleasure is seen as especially gratuitous and frivolous,” she said. “We wanted people to feel like they were making a choice that was good for them.”
Liv Trexler downloaded Dipsea in 2021 after seeing its advertisement on social media. “It was weird at first,” she said. “But when I actually tried it, things went well, very well.”
She now uses Dipsea regularly and said the $12.99 monthly subscriber fee was worth the cost. “It’s not harmful to those who make it, and it’s not a harmful thing to those who hear it,” said Ms. Trexler, a 29-year-old project manager who lives in Brooklyn. “It’s actually like a wellness practice.”
Angela Sarakan, a senior audio producer at Dipsea, said that the dialogue featured in its podcasts could provide listeners the tools to set healthy boundaries. “You’re listening in on the private worlds of these characters and, in that way, learning more about yourself and the way you might want to communicate or do things differently.”
Audio erotica’s emphasis on communication and boundary-setting has helped some users with anxiety around visual porn.
“It was very hard for me to extricate any idea of sex, especially casual sex, from feeling safe,” said a 25-year-old woman who was a victim of sexual assault. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said audio erotica helped her reconnect with her body through imagination. “It helped me get out of my head a little bit in terms of self-consciousness, like comparing my movements and my body to people on the screen,” she said. “It made me see how you could have your sex life as part of a creative, imaginary life that feels meaningful.”
Olivia Taylor, the editorial lead of Dipsea, said the app’s goal is to capture the “texture of life and the texture of sex.” Dirty talk, moans and the ruffling of sheets are just some of the sounds you may hear on the app. Dipsea’s characters are often written with enough specificity for listeners to relate to, but vague enough for them to imagine themselves inside the story.
“It might make you be like, ‘Hey, wait, that’s not me, this is some other person or some other body that doesn’t feel like mine at all,’” Ms. Taylor said. The editorial team, she added, keeps this in mind as they edit.
Aisha Jordan, an actress and a spoken word artist, was among the first to audition as a voice actress for Dipsea in early 2019. She landed the role of Liz and has since narrated many other stories. “Sometimes you’re breathing into a microphone for 20 seconds,” she said. “Sometimes you have to do something like kiss your hand to get a more authentic sound.”
Ms. Jordan receives a full character description and a story arc with each script. “It’s not just a sexual moment. It’s an experience,” she said. “Especially for a woman of color to be able to do this, it’s super exciting. It allows you to be seen as a full person and not just stereotypes.”
Although sexual wellness is a growing industry, research on the subject is still met with skepticism.
“It’s just highly stigmatized, more so than drugs,” said Dr. Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist who studies how pleasure can be used as a treatment for chronic pain, anxiety, sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I almost lost my graduate funding.” She said she no longer uses the word “sexual” in research proposals.
Dr. Prause hopes audio erotica will help raise awareness of the positive, if not therapeutic, outcomes of sexual wellness, though she recognizes its limitations.
Ms. Taylor of Dipsea believes that the format can at least offer an alternative. “We’re showing much more than a snapshot of sex,” she said. “It’s the whole story of how people connect.”
All clips from shows on Dipsea, from top to bottom: Familiar Face, “You Again”; Bound, “Meeting the Rigger”; Lone Wolf, “Take Me Somewhere”; Familiar Face, “You Again”; My Partner, “After the Bath." Ear image via Getty Images.
Design and development by Shannon Lin.
Produced by Shannon Lin