Dear Alice,

I just want to ask what's wrong with my voice. I'm a twenty-year-old male and sound like a girl when I speak. Is there something wrong with my health? How can I have a deep voice?

Dear Reader,

Voices are individual characteristics. Similar to fingerprints, each person's voice has its own unique features, including pitch level. There are ways that we can change the depths and heights of the sounds we make; first, some facts on how men's voices develop in the first place.

Boys' voices change during puberty. This happens when hormones (particularly testosterone) stimulate the vocal cords to grow longer and the voice box (larynx) to grow larger: the larger the larynx, the lower or deeper the voice. Occasionally, however, the voice doesn't change at puberty. This is sometimes due to low testosterone levels, in which case there will be other symptoms, such as a small penis and testes, sparse fine body hair, low sex drive, small musculature, and larger-than-normal breasts. Puberphonia is a fancy medical term for a voice that doesn't lower as expected, despite otherwise normal puberty.

Your health care provider can make sure that you are completely healthy and can verify that you have progressed normally through puberty. If you do have low testosterone levels, this can be corrected medically with injections, patches, or a testosterone gel that you apply daily. Or, if your check-up finds that you are totally healthy, you'll want to decide whether you can be happy with your voice as-is, or whether you want to try to lower its pitch.

There are a variety of voice therapy techniques that you can be taught in order to lower the pitch of your voice. Speech therapists consider puberphonia to be a treatable condition, and most men are happy with the results. In a few rare instances, surgery may be used to change the shape of the larynx in order to lower the pitch of the voice. Since voice therapy is usually so successful, this procedure is seen as an extreme measure and last resort.


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