Should You Have a Sex Playlist?

The sex playlist discourse is more complicated than you may think. Spoiler alert: We're all overthinking it.

February 18, 2021 8:43 am
sex playlist
Like your high school mix tapes, but for sex.
Getty Images/InsideHook

Somewhere towards the middle of the extensive outro to Lil Dicky’s “Truman” — the final track on his 2015 debut album, Professional Rapper — the rapper-turned-sitcom star reveals that he has recently had sex to music for the first time. High on his newfound success, Dicky tells us he made the executive decision to “fuck a bitch to music,” specifically, music by Miguel. 

While Lil Dicky goes on to admit he ultimately found the experience somewhat disappointing, claiming he will never attempt to do the deed to music again after finding “the whole thing to feel, like, completely cliché. Like, I don’t need my emotions dictated to me by, like, music. It makes me feel like I’m in a TV scene,” his choice in sex music would appear to be a popular one. Along with The Weeknd — whose Super Bowl halftime performance drew criticism on the basis that he makes music for sex playlists, not halftime shows — Miguel is among the most frequently cited artists in the sex playlist discourse. 

But debates over which artists do or do not belong on a sex playlist ultimately come second to a much bigger question regarding sex playlists: Should they exist in the first place? 

On this point, the internet seems very much divided. For everyone who insists having a sex playlist is essential, there are those who argue the exact opposite. For some, a partner pulling out a sex playlist to set the mood is even a red flag, suggesting that the sex-playlist-haver is playing his sex playlist for everyone in town, while still others argue anyone who has the time curate a sex playlist probably isn’t having much sex at all.

Clearly, there are some conflicting views on this matter. Let’s unpack.

Should you have a sex playlist, or is it weird?

From what I’ve gathered, anti-sex-playlist sentiment is rooted in one of two main schools of thought. According to one, the sex playlist is a tell-tale sign of promiscuity, a fuckboy starter-pack staple that suggests the keeper of said sex playlist is always ready to fire it up at any and every possible opportunity. This belief could be a real one people harbor against actual sex-playlist havers, or an imagined one that prevents would-be sex-playlist makers from embarking on that creative endeavor. On the other hand are those who consider — or are presumed to consider — the sex playlist a sign that a guy is “trying too hard.” 

This latter misconception hinges on the same flawed conception of masculinity that tells us that it’s “unmanly” for men to have thoughts or feelings or make romantic gestures of any kind: that real men are just horny, emotionally dead sex robots just here to get it in with as little effort as possible. This anti-sex-playlist belief system also seems to be informed by a similarly flawed notion that sex should be “spontaneous,” and any planning or forethought ruins the “romance.” Here’s the thing: most of us aren’t just accidentally falling into each other’s orifices. Yes, sometimes spontaneous sex is hot and fun and thrilling, but good sex is often the result of some level of planning. Planned sex gives you time to give and receive informed consent, figure out your birth control plan, purchase condoms and make sure everyone involved shows up ready to play at their preferred level of hairlessness. Planned sex gives you time to clean your room or arrange for a babysitter or get a nice hotel room and draw a sex bath. This romanticized notion of spontaneous sex is one men have been using to get out of planning dates for years. As we’ve discussed, women love a man with a plan, and if that planning process includes crafting a sex playlist, great. 

“There is nothing wrong with having a [pre-made] playlist,” says Tiana GlittersaurusRex, a polyamorous educator, activist and co-founder of The Sex Work Survival Guide, a nonprofit organization advocating for the rights and safety of sex workers. “I love a sexy playlist and think it can reveal insights into the person: what turns them on, what they desire,” she adds. “For many, music can be a love language.”

As for the other school of anti-sex-playlist thought — the one that accuses a man with a sex playlist of promiscuity — well, that’s just plain old sex-negativity at work. While we generally tend to view calling a guy a “fuckboy” as more permissible than slut-shaming a woman, shaming someone for sexual activity is still shaming someone for sexual activity, regardless of their gender identity. Moreover, a sex playlist indicates absolutely nothing about the frequency with which a person is having sex, nor with how many partners. Anyone who assumes it does or takes issue with it has their own problems to sort out. And even if a guy is putting on his sex playlist for every Tinder match, that’s really no one else’s business, and the idea that a woman would A) automatically assume that a guy with a sex playlist is getting around and B) find it off-putting, is inaccurate and insulting. Not all women are desperately trying to trap every guy we sleep with into monogamy. Some of us just want to fuck you to some cool music. 

All this to say that if you’re a person who enjoys listening to music during sex, having a pre-made sex playlist on hand is probably a convenient way to set the mood and you should absolutely have one if you’re so inclined. 

That said, there are still a few things to keep in mind when it comes to crafting a sex playlist and presenting it to a partner. 

Sex playlist etiquette

For one thing, as we know from Lil Dicky, not everyone likes having sex to music, and even those who do may not necessarily like having sex to the same music you do. 

“There’s a difference between playing music for yourself to be aroused, versus playing music that your date enjoys,” says Sex Hacker Kenneth Play, an international sex expert and educator and co-founder of Hacienda Villa, a sex-positive community. “So, it might be a good idea to have several playlists, and see which one they like most.”

Meanwhile, as is true of literally all sex all the time, when in doubt, just ask. “Asking a date what kind of music they like is never a bad idea,” says Play. “In essence, showing care and consideration is always good, and this includes when it comes to music.”

Tiana also recommends curating your own playlist rather than relying on pre-made ones from Spotify or other music streaming platforms: “If the playlist is made from scratch it says a lot more about the person compared to when it’s generated by Spotify or Pandora analytics. I was listening to a suggested playlist called ‘Black Love’ and it had 40 percent of songs I loved while the other 60 percent made me cringe.”

Alternatively, if you don’t already have a sex playlist made or don’t want to risk the possibility that your partner won’t love every single song on your list, you could just stick to a single artist you both like and let Spotify shuffle through their library.

What should be on a sex playlist?

Here’s where it really comes down to a matter of pure personal preference. While much of the internet seems to think The Weeknd is the epitome of sex music, I personally feel that’s only true if you’re having sex on a Twin XL in a college dorm room. Meanwhile, other people I’ve asked have told me their respective sex playlists include everything from African jazz to Billy Idol to the Les Mis soundtrack — “original London cast only.”

Just as people have different taste in music, people have different taste in sex music. Your sex playlist should include whatever music gets you most turned on: the soundtrack you’d most want to fuck or be fucked to. That doesn’t mean the sex playlist of your fantasies has to be everyone’s cup of tea. If your partner is into it, great. If not, pick something else that you both like. 

“Pick songs that have a personal meaning to you or the person you’d like to share it with,” suggests Tiana, while Play recommends anything that’s “sensual and builds the mood,” including more unique numbers. “Some more animalistic things like hand drums can be great to fuck to,” says Play. “It also tells the [other] person that you have taste and a personality, that you don’t just follow trends. You’re not the guy that just plays today’s top 40, like every other basic bro.”

No matter what kind of music you choose, it’s important to be mindful of the lyrics. “If you have songs that have cheesy lyrics, it can be a total turn-off,” says Play, who suggests going lyrics-free, and was even kind enough to share his own go-to lyrics-free playlist from DJ Arnaud Muller. 

Ultimately, there is but one rule when it comes to the sex playlist: Whatever you do, you’d better make damn sure you’re paying for an ad-free tier of whatever streaming platform you’re using, because nothing kills the mood quite like a jingle instructing you to upgrade to Spotify Premium.

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