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Google surf: What does the search for sex online say about someone?

I recently read a transcript of a radio interview where Shankar Vedantam (the Science Correspondent of US National Public Radio) was talking about how analyzing Google searches could tell us things of national importance about what is happening before they reached the relevant public authorities. He gave a lovely example:

“A year or so ago, the folks at Google realized that as the flu was spreading from state to state, people’s search terms were changing. So people would search for things like ‘What do I do if I have a sore throat?’ or ‘What do I do if my child is running a high temperature?’. And by tracking these searches, Google discovered, long before public health authorities discovered, how the flu was spreading from state to state”.

Such observations tend to suggest that what people use online search engines for and what they type into them can be a useful indicant of human behaviour. But is the same true for sexual behaviour? A recent report in the Indian Times revealed that the people of Pakistan had the most searches for ‘sex’ on Google in 2011 (followed by India in second place) using Google Trends software. More interestingly, in an article by Alan Dunn for Business Insider (Top Google Searches – What do People Search for?) reported that:

The keywords sex, porn, free porn and porno pretty much blow any other keywords out of the water. The amount of exact match volume for these 4 terms alone is 22,820,000 searches a month. Individually they are ‘porn’ (11,100,000), free porn’ (7,480,000), sex’ (2,740,000), [and] porno’ (1,500,000). Sex is obviously not bad. It’s more popular than ever”.

Last year, Dr. Ogi Ogas and Dr. Sai Gaddam published their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships. Their book was an academic study of what people worldwide looked for sexually when they went online. As the title of their book suggests, they analysed millions of anonymous Web searches, pornographic websites, erotic videos, etc. The authors used the Dogpile search engine to analyse data from the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). Ogas and Gaddam’s book provided us with what the New York Post (NYP) claimed was “the most complete survey yet of our collective sexual id”. Maureen Callahan (who wrote the piece for the NYP) noted that there were many surprising findings. For instance:

“Straight men enjoy a wider variety of erotica than imagined, including sites devoted to elderly women and transsexuals. Foot fetishes aren’t a deviance; men are evolutionarily wired to look for small feet, which are a sign of high estrogen production, which itself is a sign of fertility. Gay men and straight men have nearly identical brains, and their favorite body parts, in order of preference, line up exactly: chests, buttocks, feet. Straight men prefer heavy women to thin ones. Straight women enjoy reading about and watching romances between two men – it’s not about the sex, which is downplayed, but the emotion, which is the focus. (The largest audience for ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ says the book, was straight women.) Straight men have a fascination with other men’s penises, which may be conscious or unconscious”.

In an interview with the NYP, Dr. Ogas said that “sex therapists haven’t known which interests are common and which are rare. We probably now know more than ever before.” He and Gaddam ranked the most popular terms types into the world’s leading search engines and compiled a ‘Top 10 sex terms list. The leading search terms related to sex were: youth (13.5%), gay (4.7%), MILFs (4.3%), breasts (4%), cheating wives (3.4%), vaginas (2.8%), penises (2.4%), amateurs (approx. 1%), mature (approx. 1%), and animation (1%). The data was analysed in great detail. The NYP article by Callahan reported that based on Ogas and Gaddam’s study:

Men fantasize about group sex far more than women and picture more men than women in the action. Straight men prefer to watch amateur porn online, and the authors theorize it’s because of perceived authenticity – a fake orgasm, it turns out, may be as disappointing as one in real life. One of the most popular and diverse areas of interest in sexuality is domination and submission, with straight women and gay men most interested in the latter role. Gay men enjoy straight porn in large numbers….Straight males enjoy a wide variety of erotica, including sites featuring transsexuals and elderly women. The study also found that both gay and straight men favor chests, buttocks and feet (in that order)”.

US academic Professor Donald Symons, one of the world’s leading evolutionary psychologists, was quick to point out some of the book’s flaws and did not seem to be persuaded that what people searched for online necessarily was directly related to what people found sexually desirable. For example, does the fact that someone watches ‘granny porn’ or transsexual sex indicate that they find it sexually alluring? Symons argues they may just be viewing such material out of curiosity. Symons was quoted as saying:

“One of the first things I asked Ogi about was curiosity versus arousal. Ogi is convinced that when people are searching for things, it’s primarily for sexual arousal. I’m not so sure about that. If there was a porn star with three breasts — I bet there would be a zillion hits. Would that be a sign men were suddenly aroused by that? I think not…If it had been the case that women were just like men, but society had been repressing women and once they’re online, they seek the exact mirror-image of porn – that could’ve happened. But it didn’t…The research shows that men, as evolutionary science has long held, are stimulated visually, while women require a host of stimuli – context, emotion, verbal expression…What would be really shocking would be fetish sites devoted to acne suffers, or people with no teeth – signifiers of poor health and high reproductive risk. I don’t necessarily think that all men are searching for women with clear skin, one head and two breasts. But when you’re doing a search, you’re usually looking for things that are uncommon”.

This is why Symons thinks there is lots of online searching for transsexual pornography. I also agree with Symons that the data that Ogas and Gaddam collected wasn’t based on a representative sample of online users (only those who typed in sexual words to search engines), and no-one knows what motivated the search. If anyone checked out my online surfing habits, there is no way anyone could infer what I liked sexually because almost all of what I type into search engines is for research purposes. Given the amount of coverage I devote to paraphilic behaviour in my blog, it’s not surprising that the sites I look at say little about my own sexual desires and sexuality.One of the arguments that Ogas and Gaddam have put forward is their assertion that sexual deviance is to all intents and purposes a myth. In his NYP interview, Ogas claimed:

“People who are attracted to mirrors, or to beards, or get turned on by ants in their pants – these are cases that, until now, have been diagnosed by clinicians who’ve seen patients. The Internet gives us a far better sense – rough, but still – of what is a likely anomaly and what is a far more common predilection. We discovered things even Kinsey didn’t know. Foot fetishes, for example, are common across all cultures. The discovery may lead to a re-classification; perhaps someday, the male interest in feet will be considered as normal an interest as breast size or facial attractiveness”.

Ogas is adamant that people who look at unusual sexual behaviour online are attracted to it. In response to Professor Symons’ view that most of the unusual viewing online may be curiosity-based, Ogas (again in his NYP interview) believes that his research:

“Proves that men who look at elderly women are actually turned on by elderly women. There are forums where men talk about picking up grannies, the kinds that they like. We studied AOL search histories over a period of months – if someone’s just curious, they’re not going to spend money for a subscription to a site, or search for something over and over again”.

I thought I’d end today’s blog with a little local analysis of my own. As my regular readers will aware, my own blog has its fair share of articles on sexual behaviour, and I always take an interest in what people are searching for to click onto my blog. Well here is a little insight for you. On October 15 (2012), I looked at all the search terms that people had used to locate my blog (which on that day I had a total number of page hits of around 115,000). I excluded all searches where people had typed in my name or ‘Mark Griffiths’ Blog’. Here are the top search terms that managed at least 50 hits:

My initial observations are that most people that stumble upon my blog are people interested in paraphilias (as the highest non-paraphilic term was ‘nose picking’ at 14, and 34 of the top 40 search terms are paraphilia-based). It certainly looks as though ‘sex sells’ even at a local level like my blog.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Callahan, M. (2012). You’re not as kinky as you think: Massive Internet study finds that we’re all sexual deviants, New York Post, January 22: Located at: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/books/you_re_not_as_kinky_as_you_think_PLXiPzN4aUnTjKK1asmWMK/0

Dunn, A. (2011). Top Google Searches – What do People Search for? Business Insider, December 21. Located at: http://www.businessinsider.com/top-google-searches-what-do-people-search-for-2011-12

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, in press.

Indian Times (2011). Pak tops Google search for sex, December 30. Located at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-12-30/internet/30572457_1_google-trends-fox-news-report-searches

Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2011). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships. Syracuse, NY: E.P. Dutton & Co Inc.

Smith, C. (2011). Top 10 Internet Search Terms About Sex: Study (Update). Huffington Post, April 26. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/sex-study-internet-search-terms_n_854034.html

Werheimer, L. & Vedantam, S. (2012). Google searches are a window into our culture. Located at: http://www.npr.org/2012/01/02/144572891/google-searches-are-a-window-into-our-culture

My Strange Addiction: The wonderful world of the weird

In a previous blog, I examined a case of so-called ‘hair dryer dependence’. The source material for this blog came from one of the people who had appeared on the TLC (The Learning Channel) documentary television series My Strange Addiction. Immediately after I had written the blog I was emailed by one of the researchers on the show asking if I could help getting people on the show for the next series (Season 4).

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, My Strange Addiction is a US TV documentary show that features stories about people with unusual behaviours. Very few of the behaviours they have featured so far would be classed as addictions in the way that I define them. However, some of the behaviours are genuine obsessions and/or compulsions while others have not been the focus of any kind of medical and/or psychiatric diagnosis.

So far, the show has featured people with various obsessive-compulsive disorders (some of which I have examined in my blog) including body dysmorphic disorder, pica (the eating of non-food such as paper, mud, glass, metal), exercise bulimia, trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking), thumb-sucking, furry fandom, excessive laxative use, urine drinking, paraphilic infantilism (being an adult baby), and dating cars.

MY STRANGE ADDICTION: A CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS

If anyone out there thinks they have an interesting story that My Strange Addiction might like to hear about, the show’s producers would really appreciate any help they can get in reaching people who may be good potential candidates for their TV show.

  • Are you currently struggling to overcome a strange obsession, addiction or compulsive behavior that is taking over your life?
  • Do you spend countless hours obsessing about something or engaging in behavior that others would say is strange?
  • Have you drained all of your finances into this obsession?
  • Are your friends and family members concerned about your wellbeing?
  • Would you like to regain control of your life and your health?

If you found yourself answering yes to any of these questions, you may qualify to be a participant in a major documentary series that offers professional assistance for those struggling with a strange obsession, compulsion, or addiction.

For consideration, please reply to this advert with your name, age, contact information, and brief explanation of how a strange addiction is taking over your life. You can also contact us directly at 312-467-8145 or 20westcastingteam@gmail.com. All submissions will remain confidential. Thank you for sharing your story.

Postscript: Alternatively, if you would like to tell me your story as part of my own academic research, then feel free to contact me at my academic email address: mark.griffiths@ntu.ac.uk.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading and viewing

Griffiths, J. (2011). Review: My Strange Addiction. US Weekly January 25. http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/review–my-strange-addiction-2011251#ixzz1tYHsItPh

Internet Movie Database. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809014/

My Strange Addiction Official Website. Located at: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-strange-addiction

TV.com. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://www.tv.com/shows/my-strange-addiction/

Warming Glow. The 10 strangest addictions from  ‘My Strange Addiction’. http://warmingglow.uproxx.com/2012/02/10-strangest-my-strange-addictions#page/1

Wikipedia. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Strange_Addiction

Wikipedia. List of My Strange Addiction episodes. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_My_Strange_Addiction_episodes