Why do some men squeak? Simple. High-pitched voices exist thanks to vocal cords that aren’t as long, strong, or ready for good vibrations as others, Ingo Titze, executive director of the National Center for Voice and Speech, told Fatherly. Now, size isn’t everything. But the discrepancy does explain why some men aren’t all about that bass.
“The larynx is a sexual organ, because it’s very different between one sex to the other and that has to do with how much testosterone there is compared to other hormones that balance it out,” Titze told Fatherly, adding that testosterone levels shape the length and musculature of the vocal folds, which vibrate to produce sound and ultimately dictate pitch.
Substantial vocal folds also explain why men tend to have deeper voices than women. During puberty, a surge of sex hormones causes vocal folds to lengthen and build up muscle, more so for boys who experience a spike in testosterone at this time. On top of that, there’s a part of the vocal folds that vibrate and a part that does not, and the part that vibrates is about 60 percent longer, on average, in men. That’s why men speak at about 130 Hz, and women at around 190 to 200 Hz, and why pitch fluctuates with age as the concentration of sex hormones in the body rise and fall. (Titze assures us that the temporary testosterone decline from fatherhood won’t impact vocal pitch).
Men might also experience pitch changes as a result of injury to the vocal folds or disease and, if your voice suddenly changes pitch, it’s important to have your vocal cords checked out by a specialist. But don’t worry too much—the most common vocal disease Titze has seen has been acid reflux. “These days, people have a lot of reflux and those acids go onto vocal folds and change the tissue properties,” Titze says. “But there are many diseases and injuries that can happen in our larynx that can cause our overall pitch to change.”
Lifestyle decisions and environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke, can also play a role in vocal changes. Adjusting some of these unhealthy habits can help with pitch, and exercise can help ensure that you maintain vocal muscle in your old age. Otherwise, there’s not much to do except embrace that Grandma and Grandpa are starting to sound alike. In fact, embrace your progressive vocal cords — pitch is as much cultural as it is physiological.
“You speak at a pitch that is modeled to you,” Titze says, noting that genders are becoming more equal across the board. “This equalization of gender we have a lot of in our culture right now does affect how people use their voices pitch-wise.”