May 22, 2013
The Internet and Human Sexuality
Posted on Oct 14, 2011
“A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire”
In the world of behavioral science, there is a problem that every researcher must confront. According to Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, the authors of “A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire,” that problem is people. There aren’t many adult humans who are willing to advance the cause of science by documenting their sneezes or their changing moods, who will consent to being injected with chemical dyes or doused with cold water. Those who have the time and the interest are college students, and college students tend to be WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic.
It may surprise you to discover that much of what we know about ethics, aggression and sexuality is based on research conducted on adolescent psychology majors. It will probably not surprise you to discover that the young, privileged and educated are not a representative sample of the species Homo sapiens.
The research challenges are even greater when it comes to studying sexual behavior. People simply aren’t that eager to disclose their most private habits and desires, and when they are, there’s no way to tell whether they’re being completely honest with the researchers, much less with themselves. The Kinsey Reports of the 1940s and ’50s, for example, are considered the most comprehensive study of the true sexual interests of ordinary people. Eighteen thousand men and women answered a total of 521 questions about a wide variety of sexual activities, including bondage, bestiality and homosexuality.
But even Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking research had its limitations. The subjects were educated, middle-class Caucasians. The data they provided consisted of secrets and memories they chose to share, rather than verifiable facts or direct observation. And perhaps the most compromising detail is that the information was collected through face-to-face interviews between scientist and subject—hardly the ideal setting in which to reveal one’s most private sexual fantasies.
A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire
By Ogi Ogas (Author), Sai Gaddam (Author)
Dutton Adult, 416 pages
“A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire” is an ambitious attempt to get to the bottom of what truly makes men and women tick. In it, Ogas and Gaddam seek to eliminate the problems of selection bias and less-than-candid research subjects. They ask the question: Where can we gather the most truthful, intimate information from the widest variety of people? It would have to be a place that would assure absolute anonymity, for even the subjects knowing that they were being studied would contaminate the results. For Ogas, a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience, and Gaddam, who conducted his doctoral research on biologically inspired models of machine learning, that answer was obvious: the Internet.
“The Internet search engine is a marvelous digital genie,” explain Ogas and Gaddam. “It grants us not just one, but an infinite number of erotic wishes. Ordinary folks can sit at their keyboards, liberated from any need for modesty, and express precisely what they would like to pop up on their computer screen. I wish for … Zac Efron in his bathing suit. If we want to make sense of the diversity of the sexual interests expressed on the Internet—and the mind software responsible for these interests—we should start by looking for patterns in these wishes.
“We collected about 400 million different searches that were entered into the Dogpile search engine from July 2009 to July 2010. We collected these searches through a process called scrapping: We wrote a program to capture the searches listed on SearchSpy, a Dogpile-run website that displays in real time the actual searches people entered into the Dogpile search engine. If you visit SearchSpy, it’s like looking through a window into a planetary stream of human consciousness—and you won’t have to wait more than a few seconds to see its sexual side. Of the 400 million searches we collected, about 55 million (roughly 13 percent) were searches for some kind of erotic content. These sexual searches represent the desires of roughly 2 million people. Two-thirds are from the United States, though some users are from India, Nigeria, Canada and the United Kingdom.”
Besides the Web searches, the authors also analyzed hundreds of thousands of online erotic stories and romance e-novels, adult websites, and sexually oriented websites and message boards.
Ogas and Gaddam went on to break down these searches by interest, coming up with categories such as “butts,” “cheerleaders,” “cheating wives,” “breasts” and “penises,” then rating them in order of popularity. After categorizing these 55 million searches, their first significant finding was that our interests—as expressed on the Internet—are not terribly diverse. In fact, only 20 different categories account for 80 percent of all searches. “With less than two dozen interests,” write the authors, “you can satisfy the desires of everyone who uses a search engine to find erotic content. In fact, the 35 top interests account for 90 percent of all searches. This doesn’t even include cheerleaders (No. 79), massage (No. 51) or virgins (No. 61). This means that most people’s desires are clustered together into a relatively small set of common interests. When it comes to our kinks, we all have a lot more in common than you might think.”
We are more alike, claim the authors, and also more unalike. When it comes to the arousal mechanisms of men and women, the differences are the most profound. No big revelation there. But the real eye-opener is how different we actually are—to the point where straight men have more in common with gay men than either group have in common with women.
Science has long understood that men are aroused by visual stimulus. The male brain is programmed to objectify women—a fact that can be distressing or reassuring, depending on your point of view. And this has been demonstrated in other animal species. A male rooster sees a hen’s red comb—head and body optional—and he begins to exhibit mating behaviors. Male baboons will masturbate at the sight of a swollen, red, female baboon butt, even an artificial one. The bigger and brighter the derriere, the swifter and more impassioned the response.
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