In March of 1994, Tool’s single “Sober” became a smash-hit in the I’m-mad-at-mom circle, courtesy of a video directed by Fred Stuhr, which featured stop-motion animation conceptualized by Tool’s guitarist, Adam Jones. I wasn’t quite a teenager yet, but I fell in love with the song, the band, and, most of all, the voice of the frontman, Maynard James Keenan. While I will attribute part of my initial fascination to a “centerfold” spread of him in Hit Parader magazine which featured a live shot of him wearing little more than salmon pink lace-up thermal shorts and sporting a mullet-hawk, most of my neophyte sexual urges were tied to his voice.
While the past…oh fuck, seventeen years have been filled with all kinds of stuff, like actual sexual partners outside of my eardrums for yours truly, and more than one new career for Mr. Keenan, I still have a visceral reaction when I hear his voice, whether he’s making mouth sounds with Tool, A Perfect Circle, or his other project Puscifer. (Which has a new album that you should buy.) It doesn’t matter what form it’s in. If it’s his voice, it’s like there’s a gerbil high on methamphetamine in my pants.
But why? My spectrum of taste in men ranges from one extreme (physically imposing alpha males with a penchant for whisky and skirt chasing) to the other (diminutive designer-types who can share pants with me and give me advice about artisanal hand-rolled cigarettes.) It’s not like I’m a super-picky star-fucker and only have a “thing” for singers. Additionally, Maynard James Keenan has always fallen in the “wouldn’t be kicked out of bed for eating crackers or donkey punching me in the act” category based on his physical appearance alone but, my arousal response is mainly centered around his voice, which isn’t linked to any particular image, even this YouTube video of him using his black belt in jiu jitsu to kick a fan’s ass. Honestly. It’s not.
While I’m leery of people who worship celebrities, and I only keep up with popular culture in order to make jokes about it, I find the physical response to a stranger – let alone a specific behavior or product created by one – to be perplexing from a pseudo-scientific and psychological perspective. What if I got turned on by Joel McHale raising his eyebrows, or Guy Fieri stuffing his face? Is there a direct link between particular external stimuli, such as voices or auditory mnemonics, and human sexual response?
A psychological theory regarding the construction of language based upon interactions with ones environment, Relational Frame Theory research has uncovered some evidence that getting turned on doesn’t always have to go hand-in-hand with traditional sexual cues. And while I couldn’t find any documentation to necessarily prove that an album from the early ‘90s can consistently activate the internal faucet controls of my nether-regions, those who study RFT are working towards discovering why some people get aroused by stimuli that haven’t been previously linked to “sexual reinforcement.” I started to wonder if, like the popularity of raves, this response was purely based on chemicals, since it can’t necessarily be attributed to conditional learning or repetitive behavior.
The neurotransmitter dopamine exists in our brains as a jack of all awesome trades. It operates as part and parcel of behavioral functions and cognition, having ties to punishment, motivation, voluntary movement, sleep, mood attention, memory, and prolactin production associated with lactation and sexual gratification. But studies have concluded that the parts of the brain that control our dopamine systems don’t rule over the “hedonic impact” of so-called rewarding stimuli, and they don’t have any real effect on reward learning and association. What dopamine systems do do, however, is prioritize and grade the motivation of these rewards, basically allowing the brain to say that, yup, that sexy crooning might definitely lead to a toe-curling orgasm, or Ryan Gosling’s face would indeed make a lovely saddle.
But why is it that I don’t get clitoral convulsions from listening to Josh Groban, or his doppelganger, that hot dude from Maroon 5? I’m not exactly sure, other than the fact that the musical ministrations of both those gentlemen make me want to take pruning shears to my cochlea. Although I’m not likening myself to an amphibian, scientists speculate that certain animals respond in a particular way to very distinct frequencies of mating calls. Some naturalists have even studied a particular species of frogs who emit a distinctive croaky-ribbet when they want to get it on. In their electrophysiological recordings of these frogs’ cranial nerves, they found that lady frogs were excited by different audio frequencies of their little froggy cat-calls. Basically, guy frogs were sensitive to one frequency of the croaks, while lady frogs got hopped up by a different kHz.
I’m going to read into this study and believe that this means that I’m biologically predisposed to want to hump former US military men who make a living creating rock ‘n roll and drinking wine, so long as they hit a particular note. I probably would get a bit wet for Francis Ford Coppola if he sung a little tune.
I’m also going to believe that this is a sort of specific paraphilia, or sexual response that deviates from the norm. The same way that some people get off on leather or the abdominal muscles of fist-pumping cretins from New Jersey, I have a very particular, non-traditional hump response when it comes to one person’s voice. For some reason, when it comes to associative sexual reward learning in humans, a few of us weirdos find ourselves with our pulses racing over some mighty specific, interesting cues.
Okay. But why does biology trump my thought process? It’s not as if I have a particular guy-from-Tool-singing-in-an-elevator fantasy or anything. I just get aroused in a purely physical sense, separate from any mental maneuvering between the ears that are being titillated.
I wrote to the famed Kinsey institute to inquire about my Pavlovian panty response. I didn’t hear back. I sought out a well-credited researcher of disordered female sexual response and asked why biology would kick in and override all social cues only when exposed to one particular external stimulus. I didn’t hear back. I wrote a sociologist-and-human-sexuality blogger…and didn’t hear back. This leads me to conclude three very important points:
1. My question is not all that important.
2. It really doesn’t matter whether or not you have a name like “SlitSlicerx666” or “Girl2Ride44239” as your email address. Mine is very professional (my name) and I still don’t get responses from people with expensive letters after their monikers that indicate their job’s net worth.
3. The only way to uncover the answer is to perform a series of tests. You guys can be the non-Tool listening control group, ok? I’ll just sit here naked and press play on Undertow for the 16th time today. Ah, that feels nice.