Barry White's sperm quality: Why are deep-voiced men attractive?

Here's a fascinating study that shines a bright spotlight of nuance on some of those maybe-too-simplistic assumptions we make about evolution, physical characteristics, and reproductive fitness.

If you've paid any attention to reporting on the science of what humans find attractive and why, you won't be surprised to learn that studies consistently show that deeper voices are associated with stereotypically manly-man characteristics such as hairier bodies and taller height, that men with these voices and characteristics are judged as being more attractive, and that deep-voiced dudes seem to get more action from more ladies.

Based on all of that, you might be tempted to speculate that a deeper voice is an outward sign of how fertile and virile a dude is and that ladies have evolved to be attracted to that show of baby-making prowess. And that makes sense ...

Except that men with deep voices also seem to have lower-quality sperm. At the Anthropology in Practice blog, Krystal D'Costa explains:

These assessments aren’t entirely made up. There is evidence that secondary sexual traits can predict health and fertility of a partner. Brilliant colors and showy displays have long been natural indicators of potential sexual fitness. For example, deer with bigger, more complex antlers also have larger testes and more motile sperm. Lower frequency sounds have been linked to larger body size across all primate species

However, semen analysis reveals that men with deeper voices have lower scores on seven motility parameters (7)—even when the lifestyle and environmental factors are accounted for. While men with deeper voices may have more sexual partners, they seem less prepared to pass on their genes. Researchers believe the lower sperm quality reflects a trade-off that comes with having to compete for mates:

“Animals have finite resources to partition amongst reproductive activities, and the theoretical models of sperm expenditure assume a basic trade-off between male investment in attracting mates and in gaining fertilizations. Recent studies of non-human animals are providing empirical evidence for this basic life-history trade-off. A number of studies have also reported short-term declines in semen quality associated with social dominance."

Via DNLee


  1. I’m comfortable using this as evidence to support my ongoing campaign known as “skinny little dudes are the best mates”.

    Though really, since babies are NOT in my family’s plans, lower sperm motility would be a good thing… “Damn woman, I put all my energy into this rich voice, and muscular, yet tender hands. Even if we forget to use contraceptives, I will be unlikely to impregnate you. This appeals to your desire for an extended youth, unencumbered by children, lasting well into your early 30’s. This will make you wet.”

  2. So basically mammals have evolved to attract more mates when chance pr mating to produce offspring is low? As in the more times you roll dice, the more likely it becomes that it comes up six.

  3. Makes sense.  Women are attracted to men with deep voices because they are larger and offer more protection.  Larger men are better off with less bullets in the chamber so they don’t have to protect a villiage by themselves.

  4. I am a little bothered by the idea that what human women are evolutionarily drawn to men of high sperm count…  its just silly. 

    Also, this is a killer phrase

    “models of sperm expenditure “

    1. I think I see where you are going with the statement, and generally agree. It is easy to find correlations like this one, and it seems apparent that there is some sort of evolutionary link to the correlation, but when it comes time to answer “why”, we are really bad at it.

      Evolutionary psychology is one of my most disliked disciplines, since the history of it seems to be:

      1. Find a correlation between a cosmetic characteristic and some survivability characteristic.
      2. Using no evidence whatsoever, concoct a pretty story about why the two characteristics are linked evolutionarily that both a) explains the correlation, and b) confirms the researchers existing biases regarding aesthetics and sexual norms.
      3. Publish paper.

      V.S. Ramachandran semi-famously concocted a fake EP paper in which he claimed that men prefer blondes because it was easier for our ancestors to find parasites on their fair skin, making them healthier mates. He submitted it to a journal in order to mock them, and was surprised to learn that his paper was accepted.

      1. I think Evolutionary Psychology can be one of the most intersting and informative sciences because it links how we think with the way we evolved. Where I run into trouble is when folks try to create experiments teseting two factors, when and human trait has to intereact with a multitude of factors.

        IMHO they chose poorly here. High sperm count is not that big of a deal to humans. We have sex all the time, and we can’t suypport that many children at one time. Its not like we are salmon, just reaching the headwaters of a stream and the male needs to fertilize 1,000 eggs in the last 30 minutes of his life. It doesn’t really matter if it takes humans months to get pregnant, because it will take years to raise the child and repeated mating will just increase the bond between the parents and increase their chance of working well together to raise the offspring. IF anything its a good trait, not to succeed everytime.

      2. Is that the same Prof. Ramachandran who postulated that humans’ tendency to distort the figure in art (cf. “Venus” figurines) is connected to the tendency of seagull chicks to tap more vigorously on a popsicle stick with three red stripes than one which more closely resembles their mother’s beak? What a kidder.

      3. Considering the amount of academic fraud that gets published before being discovered, I’m not sure why you’re surprised that this particular instance of academic fraud slipped under the radar.

        Which is what this was: fraud. And since we already know the publishing system isn’t fraud-proof, that’s the only thing this proves.

        His own anecdote and just-so story explaining what it means is just as bad as the ones he criticizes.

  5. if there actually is any causative relationship between these two features it seems more likely to me that the causation flows in the opposite direction than alluded to in the maggie’s post.  that is, there is some other independent (and perhaps incorrect-from-a-fitness-perspective) reason why human females would prefer low voiced human males, and so to compensate for less virility, men with lower sperm counts evolved to have lower voices.

    i’m not sure that this or maggie’s reversed implication are actually believable, but i don’t see any reason for choosing one direction or the other. am i missing something?

  6. There’s two parts here: The slightly less fertile deep voiced singer, and the horde of groupies that hyper-ovulate the second they hear it.

    Things always level out or they’d have died out – it is always our understanding of the mechanics that is flawed in these situations.

  7. it troubles me that we (commenters, myself included) so quickly try to concoct a story about why this correlation was found. Maybe it’s chance. Maybe frequent sex is more important than sperm quality. Maybe many children would reduce survival to adulthood. This article doesn’t provide enough evidence to decide the evolutionary pressures involved.

  8. People sometimes talk before having sex. (and while, and after). It is more enjoyable to talk with sb who has a pleasant voice. Deep voices are more pleasant.

    As for the sperm quality, if a male has better chances to get a mate it would be overkill to make it effective too. Short said, man bad, sperm good. Man good, sperm bad. Gives same chance to everybody. Nature is great.

  9. The study fails to take into account the benefits of a deep voice to society as a whole: while Barry White’s voice may have reduced his own chances of reproducing, I can personally testify that his voice has considerably increased my chances of reproducing, as well as those of countless others.

  10. It’s because men with deeper voices are structurally larger (not just fatter, the underlying structure is dimensionally larger) and by primitive logic are therefore more likely to be stronger, better providers. 

    And, mind you I come by this information via 3rd party sources, being structurally larger suggests that they are larger and stronger in certain areas which may make them a more satisfying partner in other ways. 

    Yeah, you say size doesn’t count. If that were really true humans would be proportioned much more like our closest primate relatives. Saying somebody is “hung like a gorilla” is not a complement to the relative size of the tool kit.

  11. I’ve got this year’s influenza and I feel like I’ve been gargling razor blades, but my voice is so low right now I could sing bass in the devil’s choir.  Ladies, watch out!

  12. On a related note. Reddit’s “NoFap” area has an interesting ongoing discussion regarding ones voice deepening after a period without masturbation (and I assume, all ejaculation). Speculation is there regarding perhaps a deep voice increasing chances of getting laid being a evolutionary adaptation.

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