Treating Puberphonia: males with female voices


Amit is a young man in his early twenties and having just got his MBA degree, he looks forward to a bright and rewarding career. There is only one dark cloud on his horizon. He speaks in a high-pitched 'female' voice and it embarrasses him to no end. On the phone, he is often called 'madam' because he sounds like one. He tends to avoid using the telephone. Contrary to his extroverted nature, Amit has become a shy and withdrawn youngster and all because he is ashamed of his voice.

The quality of our voice is an important factor influencing our overall personality. Amitabh Bachhan's image would not be so impressive without his deep and 'manly' voice. It is commonly (and wrongly) believed that a male speaking with a high-pitched 'female' voice suffers from a predominance of female hormones or a deficiency of male ones. Any college-going boy with a voice like a girl becomes the victim of sexual innuendoes. So intense and continual is the psychological trauma that the person himself begins to doubt his 'manhood'. He might find it difficult to make friends especially of the opposite sex. He experiences rejection and ridicule every time he opens his mouth. One can very well imagine the day-to-day pressures such a voice problem entails and it is hardly surprising that Amit is not the exuberant youngster he'd like to be.

Amit suffers from a condition called Puberphonia, and in spite of its longish medical name, the problem is actually quite easy to overcome. Having suffered so much because of it, Amit might find it difficult to believe if told he can develop a normal, low-pitched voice in as short a period as 2 days - through speech therapy.

Children reach puberty around the age of 12 years when certain glands including the gonads (the 'sex' glands) become activated. In males, this is also the age when their larynx (or voice-box) has a sudden increase in size. The vocal cords become longer and begin to vibrate at a lower pitch (or frequency). This is why most boys go through a period where their voice 'breaks'. You could say the vocal cords are trying to adjust to their new dimensions. The Adam's Apple begins to become prominent on the male neck. No such laryngeal changes take place in females who continue using a higher-pitched voice.

Males who retain their pre-pubertal (or high-pitched) voice have nothing physically 'wrong' with their vocal cords or larynxes. It is just that for some reasons, they have not made the transition into using the deeper voice which their larger vocal dimensions would normally produce. These reasons are usually psychological and fairly easy to modify.

Actually, speech therapists welcome cases of puberphonia because it is one of the easiest conditions to cure: quickly and permanently without any medicines or surgery.

Like everyone else, Amit's vocal cords are also capable of producing a range of pitch levels. After initial counselling, he will be helped to realise this ability and get to a stage where he can change the tone of his voice to a lower, more desirable level. These differently-pitched voice qualities will be recorded and Amit will then select the voice he feels best suits his personality. During the treatment he will be encouraged to begin using this new voice. Such practice will help him stabilise his control over the quality of voice, which his vocal cords now produce. Soon, his puberphonic, high-pitched, 'female' voice will become history and Amit can begin to enjoy a normal social lifestyle.

The fact is that with puberphonics, the actual voice change is achieved easily enough. It is the person's mental readiness to use his newfound male voice that takes more time. It is generally observed that the 'cured' puberphonic is very conscious of his changed voice and takes about 4 to 6 days to adjust to using it. His initial apprehension about speaking in a normal, low-pitched, male tone centres around the surprised reaction from his friends and family who have always heard him speak differently. Once the ex-puberphonic is acclimatised to this newer, more desirable voice, his problem is solved.