Speech and men’s health isn’t regularly linked, but there are some very important topics to consider that can influence the transition from an adolescent to adult male. The voice breaks throughout this time for most, but for some, the voice stays high and can cause some concerns with self-esteem. Our Speech Pathologist, Niluka, discusses.
Why are men’s voices lower than women’s?
Features such as the quality, pitch, and loudness of a voice can be attributed to the appearance and functioning of the larynx (voice box) and vocal cords. Men’s voices are typically almost an octave lower in pitch than women’s voices, because the male larynx is larger and males’ vocal cords are longer and thicker. Voice occurs when an air stream passes through the vocal cords, making the vocal cords vibrate. Since male vocal cords are longer and thicker, they vibrate slower than female vocal cords, leading to a lower pitch. In fact, the pitch of the male voice can range from 85-180Hz while female pitch can range from 150-300Hz.
Why do males’ voices break?
Females undergo voice changes too, but their voices tend to drop only a tone or two. The key factor of the more pronounced voice change in males is testosterone. Puberty sees a marked increase of testosterone in males, and this hormonal change is responsible for many physical changes in males, which include the increase in length and thickness of the larynx and vocal cords. This increase can often be seen, as the ‘Adam’s apple’ becomes more prominent. Moreover, the voice ‘crack’ often heard in teenage males is caused by their voices adjusting to the physical changes in their voicebox, as the vocal cords tend to vibrate at irregular rates at times. However, the voice becomes stable by the end of puberty as the changes become fixed.
What is puberphonia and why does it occur?
While the onset of puberty is generally 12 to 16 years of age in males, it is common for different changes to come into fruition at different stages in puberty. Some teenagers become taller first, while others start growing facial hair earlier. This also applies to voice change: some males will experience it later than their peers- sometimes, as late as age 17. However, some males do not seem to undergo a voice change at all (or notice only a minor change). Puberphonia occurs when the voice of an adult male sounds higher in pitch than is usual for males. It is common for the puberphonic voice to be described as sounding female, but a more accurate description is ‘prepubescent male’.
Puberphonia could occur due to organic (i.e. biological) or psychogenic (i.e. emotional or psychological) reasons. Organically, a voice may be puberphonic since the structural changes in the voice box would not have occurred by the end of puberty. Consequently, the voice would more or less sound the way it did before puberty. Psychogenic factors for the condition could range widely; from emotional stress to discomfort with adjusting to an increasingly deeper voice and attachment to the ‘younger’ voice. Some believe that the condition could also be a result of habitual attempts to regulate the unsteady pitch of the pubescent voice.
Can and should puberphonia be treated? How can voice therapy assist men with this condition?
While the condition could be an asset for some men (for example, male singers who prefer to sing in a higher register; or those who are simply happy with the quality of their voices); to others, it could present with difficulties in their personal and working lives. Often, those with puberphonia may be mistaken for being female on the phone; or they may feel like they are not taken seriously by others due to how their voices sound. For these men, voice therapy is an option with good outcomes. Voice therapy involves 1-2 weeks of consultations with a speech pathologist. Typically, therapy sessions would involve the client and therapist using a variety of voice exercises to come up with exercises that would be most effective for the client. Although surgery and other medical interventions might be a necessary step for some men with puberphonia arising from organic causes, voice therapy by itself is often sufficient to ensure that the individual learns to use a voice that feels comfortable for him.
For more information about speech, language, communication or your voice, contact our Speech Pathologist, Niluka De Costa.