‘There’s this restaurant in New York that I love,’ says Caroline Spiegel. ‘And one of the guys working there has a great voice – deep, really flirty. So I asked him: “Has anyone ever told you that you’re good at dirty talk?”’
It might sound like Spiegel was seeking a potential hookup but no, she explains, she was actually hard at work. She thought the barman could grow a huge and potentially prosperous following for himself on Quinn, the new platform for audio porn that she co-founded with Jackie Hanley while studying computer science at Stanford University.
Alternately described as the YouTube or Spotify for erotic recordings, the site lets you listen to a huge range of pervy, romantic, fetishistic, ASMR-esque sex stories either out loud or through headphones in the same way you would your favourite artist.
But listening to Quinn, Spiegel explains, ‘You get very hot and bothered, and want to masturbate, so I wouldn’t recommend listening to it on the subway.’ She adds: ‘We find people tend to listen in bed, mostly at night but also in the morning. And it’s great to listen to with your partner.’
Like any online platform, the quality of content can be patchy. Some of the audio is made by amateur porn enthusiasts; others by people who make a living from recording erotica. ‘From CEOs to Uber drivers, anyone can be a porn star on Quinn,’ says Spiegel, who is just 22.
When Quinn launched, it was only meant to be for women. But, as the site experienced 11% growth week on week, Spiegel noticed that just as many men were visiting the site as women. Users can like and comment on the audio, as well as tip and message the creators directly. When it comes to the content, pretty much anything goes. ‘But we have some golden rules: no incest, no beastiality, no minors, nothing non-consensual,’ says Spiegel.
So far, most of the content on the site is written erotica that’s read aloud. Storylines are as varied as they are in visual porn – everything from ‘snuggle fucks’, where people cuddle and have sex, to men and women tying each other up, to ‘punk girl honey fucks drummer’ and ‘steamy hot tub sex’ to ‘wet and wild with my parents’ friend’. But there isn’t a standard type of audio porn. Some creators produce 20-minute-long guided masturbation clips and others post 30-second snippets of them moaning. ‘Anything within the boundaries of fantasy or play,’ Spiegel confirms.
Demand for audio porn isn’t necessarily anything new, but the distribution method and customer experience has never been much good. Lots of audio erotica of varying quality is already available on sites such as YouTube and Reddit, for example, while Tumblr had a burgeoning community before it banned pornographic content in 2018.
One of the early frontrunners was Dipsea, an app-based platform for short-form erotic audio stories which customers subscribe to for $5.99 a month. The San Francisco-based company raised $5.5m from Bedrock and Thrive Capital last year, and today is one of the top 100 grossing entertainment apps. Other competitors include Bawdy Storytelling, a podcast featuring longer form stories, and Literotica, a site mostly known for its written stories but which also hosts audio content.
Spiegel, however, is looking beyond the immediate competition. She has bigger aims. ‘Something feels right about launching an audio porn platform in this moment,’ she says. ‘The rise of audio more generally is something we’re riding. But we don’t think of ourselves as just another podcast platform. We want to show that the future of porn can move beyond graphic imagery. We want to be the next Pornhub – but much more fun and much less gross.’
Spiegel is ‘audio porn’s biggest fangirl’, she says. She is also the younger sister of Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s CEO and co-founder. Like her brother, she dropped out of Stanford to follow her startup dreams. In her junior year, she had taken time out because of an eating disorder. After recovering, she found that masturbating was no longer pleasurable and that she felt uncomfortable with how mainstream visual porn objectified women. ‘Also, I found it all so boring and obvious,’ she says.
Discovering audio porn for the first time, ‘I felt so turned on. It felt so new. Audio porn emphasises all the intangible parts of sex – the buildup and the intimacy and the kind of desire that you find in real life. I really believe it’s going to be massive.’
Quinn’s lofty plans come at a good time for companies working in industries previously considered taboo. Vice Ventures, for example, has just launched, reflecting the increased investment in this sector. Focusing on investing in ‘good’ companies in traditionally ‘bad’ industries such as sex tech, cannabis and alcohol, Vice Ventures closed a $25m fund last year, with Marc Andreessen among the group of high-profile investors. Rob Franklin recently joined Quinn as head of content, and there are plans to significantly expand the team this year. ‘This is the future of porn,’ says Spiegel. ‘Also in our favour is the fact that sex doesn’t ever go through a recession. Hopefully a lot of people have positive feelings about it.’