Celebrity-Voiced Erotica Is The New Frontier In Online Celeb Thirst

People are exploring new ways to fantasize about celebs, as tech evolves and the fight for bodily autonomy continues. Credit: Mashable Composite; Ian Moore / Quinn / Cindy Ord/MG24 / Guillermo Spelucin / Moment / Getty Images

May is National Masturbation Month, and we’re celebrating with Feeling Yourself, a series exploring the finer points of self-pleasure.

If you’re the type of person to double tap edits of Josh O’Connor’s glistening thighs in Challengers, or the kind of fan still favoriting clips of Andrew Scott’s Hot Priest “kneel” command, you may have recently been led down another digital path: Celebrity-centric audio erotica.

A relatively new phenomenon pioneered by audio erotica apps like Dipsea and Quinn, actors have taken on the role of smut narrator, much to their fans’ delight. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Luke Cook plays an actor engaging in group sex with his wife and girlfriend on Dipsea and You star Victoria Pedretti plays a sapphic detective on Quinn, for example. Most recently, the Hot Priest himself recorded a three-episode story for Quinn portraying a queen’s guard with unresolved feelings for a fiery rebel. 

Apps like these debuted into a perfect online moment. More and more people are publicly posting about being horny on main, whether it’s through bold statements, innuendo-filled memes, or thirst tweets about their celeb favs. Cinephiles are energized by the revival of the “horny movie.” Popular, steamy romances are taking over the literary and streaming worlds. Celeb fantasies are exciting again. 

Simultaneously, fans have been negotiating what this general horniness means for their relationship to celebrities. Is it weird that I keep replaying that one Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate (Simone Ashley) scene in Bridgerton Season 3? That I get off to Jacob Elordi tapping Barry Keoghan’s much smaller knee? As evolving tech like AI deepfakes complicate how we consume depictions of real people, should celebrities be off-limits? 

Audio platforms offer an outlet for fandom thirstThe phrase “horny on main” dates back to at least 2016, but the ethos really took off on Twitter (now X) in 2018. That same year, Tumblr — longstanding home to horny fandoms — banned explicit content, and with it came an exodus of users to other platforms. FOSTA/SESTA, bills set out to curb online sex trafficking but failed to do so, also passed in 2018. A byproduct of FOSTA/SESTA was social media apps like Facebook and Instagram cracking down on sexual content and pushing sex workers, sex educators, erotic artists, and similar users off their platforms.

Being horny on main is now in a moment of fervent celebrity worship — but more implicit. Posters couch their sexual fantasies in innuendos and replies to photoshoots of bulging arms and glistening chests. No one outright says that an image turns them on or gets them off, instead they turn to dramatics and what’s left unsaid. It’s not uncommon to see an image of a ferocious dog, implying a feral reaction, or text like “don’t ask me the color of anything,” nodding to a horny tunnel vision, in the replies to these images. 

“You’re not talking about sex, you’re talking about Andrew Scott.” Quinn Originals, the app’s celebrity collaborations, capitalize on pre-existing thirst and posting habits. Caroline Spiegel, Quinn’s founder, hopes the platform can use celebrities and horniness for celebrities to remove some of the shame around talking about sex. “Women and queer people have been trained that talking about their sexuality, talking about sex, talking about masturbation, is not good. Whether it’s from a place of purity culture or homophobia or misogyny or slut shaming, it’s in [the] way them having a happy relationship with sex,” she explained to Mashable. “What’s cool about [Quinn Originals] is it’s really easy to talk about because you’re not talking about sex, you’re talking about Andrew Scott, you’re not talking about masturbation, you’re talking about Jesse Williams and Grey’s Anatomy.”

The comments on Quinn’s social posts reflect those language habits, with fans flooding its pages with requests and comparisons to their other celeb or fictional faves. Following the release of Scott’s first episode, Spiegel posted a TikTok video, captioned, “Pitch me on your Quinn celeb casting ​​👀🎧.” Spiegel explained to Mashable that this is part of a strategy to find celebrities, and even influencers, who already have built-in “thirst fandoms.”

Tyler McCall, the author behind Scott’s “The Queen’s Guard,” explained the levels of fiction and fandom involved in writing a Quinn Original. She was a fan of Quinn herself, inspired to join its batch of writers after profiling Thomas Doherty in 2022 — Doherty starred as a seductive Gilded Age inventor in Quinn’s “The Inventor’s Apprentice.” 

When commissioned for Scott’s story, McCall said she perceived the writing process cinematically, almost like writing a movie script. And she pulled in a lot of pop culture inspiration, like Game of Thrones and the sixth installment of a ’90s PC game called “King’s Quest.” “I was thinking a lot about Star Wars. There’s always a ‘Reylo’ at the scene of the crime,” she said.

Listeners may flock to Quinn Originals as fans of celebrities, but they also add their own desires for fictional characters, universes, and fantasy plots to their experience. 

Audio erotica and the ongoing sex stigmaIn 2016, intimacy brand We-Vibe released a national survey of more than 1,000 couples’ masturbation habits, cited at the time by publications like Refinery29 and Bustle. In it, 27 percent of participants reported fantasizing about celebrities while masturbating — but only 19 percent of polled women were in that group. 

Non-visual porn is extremely understudied, however, according to social developmental psychologist Amanda Gesselman. Gesselman, the head of Research Analytics and Methodology Core for the Kinsey Institute, studies emerging trends and the influence of technology in romantic and sexual relationships. “There’s very little research that exists on sexual material that is not visual based,” she explained, and any data and research on non-visual pornography, even virtual porn, is still “in its infancy.”

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For their own exploration of tech and sex, Gesselman and her team conducted a survey of 8,000 people nationwide to figure out the way people engage with sex online. They asked questions like: Do you watch pornography? Do you do camming? Do you look at fan sites, like OnlyFans? Do you read online erotica, like fanfiction? Do you have cybersex?

“Reading online erotica was the single behavior, out of all the things that we measured, that was more common for women than men,” said Gesselman. “Reading erotica was women’s path, basically, to online sexuality. That’s where women really stood out.”

As Gesselman pointed out, a year before the We-Vibe survey (which indicated a renewed interest in celeb masturbation fantasies), popular culture was navigating a more sexually liberated environment. This was instigated by the global phenomenon 50 Shades of Grey and perhaps incentivized by ongoing political threats to women’s bodily autonomy.

We are once again in a similar moment, in addition to new levels of celebrity thirst and forms of popular erotica. But that doesn’t mean society has completely rehabilitated its shame toward sex.  

“In all of my research and all of everyone’s research at Kinsey, there’s still a lot of stigma around sex. People feel that it’s very taboo, and doing things that are overtly sexual — and showing it off to people — is very stigmatized,” said Gesselman. 

“Even people who are very sexually liberal and very sex positive sometimes still have this innate bias or feeling that that is bad or negative. The stigma associated with crossing over into that full explicitly sexual territory is still a turnoff at the larger societal level, that it indicates something about the person, or it makes people perceive them differently.” 

Quinn aims to offer a less stigmatized way to explore sexuality for women. Spiegel sees fanfic — which Gesselman’s observations backs up — and celebrity crushes as female experiences. “The female erotic mentality is very much around who the person is, and what’s their backstory and what’s happening. Female eroticism is sort of like a detective. You’re trying to figure out: Who is this person? What’s happening? Are they safe? Where are they? What’s going on? Celebrity culture, the fanfic culture, reflects that,” explained Spiegel. Quinn taps into those desires. 

There’s a sense of safety for listeners provided by discussing sexuality through celebrity. Not only is the fan listener familiar with Scott’s voice and has a pre-existing relationship with his work, but the celebrity is consenting to the erotic content and Quinn co-signs it. It’s not like the fan-for-fan erotic fanfiction that’s produced and consumed on the depths of the internet. Instead, there are multiple faces for Quinn’s content, both Spiegel on its TikTok and the celebrity partners. 

“Quinn’s whole thing is erotic content and historically it has been this very overly graphic, off-putting uncomfortable genre. Our bet is that it doesn’t have to be that way, it can actually be something that’s talked about over coffee with friends. That’s a really mainstream, normalized, happy, healthy part of life,” said Spiegel. 

While celebrity-voiced erotica is opening up conversations about sex, it undoubtedly contributes to parasocial relationships. Gesselman previously researched sexually inexperienced adults and noticed many formed intense bonds with an unreachable crush. “At the time, I was calling this a kind of Prince Charming effect (but I think it’s more celebrity based than that), which is that many of them were fixated on an idol — a type of person, or a star, or some of them had a character in a book that they were kind of fixated on — and were comparing real life, potential partners to that person. That was creating a barrier for them,” she said. 

Spiegel notes the rise of celebrity worship. “Celebrities from 2000 to 2020 have become almost like gods in a way that I’ve never seen before. All of our internet attention is focused on 30 people. Celebrity culture has only intensified with social media. The ferocity of these fandoms and the intensity with which people track these celebrities… It’s unreal,” she said. 

“What I think does feel degrading is this AI porn that people make against your consent, or putting words in your mouth, or asking you inappropriate questions.” The right to a sexual likenessWith the continued growth of celebrity obsession, technology is changing the availability of celeb fantasy materials to fans. In January, deepfake pornographic images of Taylor Swift went viral on X, spurring a debate about the ethics of AI tech, celebrity idolatry, and the government’s role in stopping this harmful content. 

Deepfaked audio has also presented a challenge to conscientious consumers, spreading misinformation and threatening the authenticity of art. Just this month, actor Scarlett Johansson lambasted the use of an imitation of her voice to promote OpenAI’s new voice assistant. The rise of AI technology brings a celebrity’s — and all of our — right to their likeness into sharper focus. 

But if a celebrity can get ahead of this technology (and sometimes even their own fanbase), then maybe they can exert some control — or at least that’s what Spiegel proposes. It may explain a celeb’s unexpected collaboration with less explicit, non-visual platforms like Quinn. While the site’s marketplace of creator-uploaded audios speak directly to the person masturbating, almost like phone sex McCall explains, celebrity-narrated Quinn Originals ask listeners to become a character themselves, distancing users from celebs even further.

“This is a way for celebrities who have this sort of thirst culture around them to say, ‘Hey, this is gonna be on my terms. I want to feel empowered doing this,'” said Spiegel. “‘I’m acting in this real, elevated piece of art that’s also sexual.’ Being sexual doesn’t have to feel degrading. It’s actually a very empowering, cool thing to deal with sexuality. What I think does feel degrading is this AI porn that people make against your consent, or putting words in your mouth, or asking you inappropriate questions.”

Additionally, it’s not just that the celebrity is consenting to a Quinn Original, but consent itself is a major theme of all Quinn audios. Spiegel aims to bridge the gap of a topic that she sees as underrepresented in erotica. “[Consent] is a really hot thing that feels in line with the story,” she said. 

“Sex is a really big deal for a lot of people,” added Gesselman. She says she thinks there’s a lot of positivity to take from the popularization of websites like Quinn or Dipsea, even with their foray into celebrity culture, because they enable users to express themselves through a healthier outlet.

“A lot of people would love to be able to talk about sex more comfortably, and to be able to talk about what they like and dislike with their partner, to go find whatever it is that makes them happy and arouses them. I think a lot of people would really love that opportunity.”

Chase joined Mashable’s Social Good team in 2020, covering online stories about digital activism, climate justice, accessibility, and media repr