Love, Sex and Music: How Technology Has Changed the Way We Do It

earth angel from back to the future

Before I even had a romantic relationship of my own, I was acutely aware that there was a soundtrack for love, dating, flirtation and sex.

In Back to the Future, “Earth Angel” was the song that Marty McFly’s parents fell in love to and in Say Anything, Lloyd Dobbler’s friend, Corey, obsessively wrote songs about her ex, Joe, as a means of dealing with their feelings Not to mention, Lloyd and Diane first made love – really made love, not just had sex – to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, a song he later (and iconically) played while standing outside her house holding a boom box over his head.

Before I came of age, teenagers and adults more often sat around and listened to records together (if you believe the movies, which I do) and developed flirtations, noticed chemistry and often acted on it. In most cultures, even without technology, people use instruments that are native to their cultures, as well as their own voices, to express affection, love or sexual desire. Or even to compete with other suitors.

In our culture we make mixed tapes. Or at least we did when I was growing up before we made mixed CDs. Mixed tapes and CDs were special because you could listen, on your own time, to the songs that someone had hand chosen for you and taken the time to put together for you. Was anything so magical as listening closely to the lyrics, wondering which ones he or she was using as a Secret Message meant just for you?

And what better way to communicate your love or your ridiculous chemistry-driven desire for another person than to put it to music, even if you had no singing or musical talents of your own? So you can’t sing! Who cares? Jeff Tweedy and Mick Jagger can and they are all yours to use on a mixed tape or CD as you please.

And yet technology has changed the way this happens – in some ways I like and in some ways that maybe have detracted from what we used to have. I remember one winter when someone I was involved with sent me not one, not two, but three mixed CDs. With printed playlists! I was in heaven. I had recently gotten out of a relationship in which the man I had loved had sometimes made me music (made as in recorded his own music for me, with him singing) but he had never made me a mixed CD. A tape once, I think, but that was early on. It had been a while. And now I had THREE.

My best friend was impressed. So was I. He had clearly spent a great deal of time selecting songs, creating playlists and – omigosh – which ones contained Secret Messages proclaiming his feelings for me? Though I’ve often been an early adopter, I wasn’t one with music programs. It was some time (though still well before iTunes) until I realized that the man I was involved with was a very early adopter of music programs and that it was unlikely he had spent much time selecting the songs or typing in the titles and artists thanks to the new automatic ways of generating playlists. Learning that made me a little less impressed and flattered.

Now mixed tapes and CDs have morphed into playlists and shared songs over email, Twitter or Facebook. I enjoy the immediacy – after all, one can share their feelings and thoughts in real time, as they happen.

Feeling love? Post a sappy YouTube video on your beloved’s Facebook wall or in a private message.

Wish you could be having sex with them right now? Better off sent privately via Twitter’s Secret Message system (aka “Direct Message” which is an unimaginative phrase).

Flirting a bit? Maybe send it as a Public but Secret Tweet (meaning, it’s out there for the world to see but its meaning is shared with only one other person).

Total player? Act like it’s a Public but Secret Tweet even though you yourself know it means something to several people at once. Or email music. Lots of it. Send a good morning song, a lullaby, a thinking of you in the middle of this boring workday song, a song that communicates how much you wish you were home together, lying in bed, if only you could (and you can’t always). Or board a plane together, switch iPods and DJ for each other, choosing what the other one will hear.

There is something unique about the way music can connect people and, whatever innate gifts of voice or musicality you have, or whatever technology you use, I hope it’s a pleasant, loving, sensual or erotic force in your life, too.

Related MSP Posts:
- Falling in love online
- Sex, love and stalking on Facebook and Twitter
- Stumbling upon love

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at