Suspicious Online Sexual Stats Deviate From the Norm

A recently published book appears to uncover some potentially surprising facts about internet pornography. But it’s led to criticism of the authors’ use of statistics and logic.

Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam have spent a lot of time on the pornography side of the Internet in recent years but, unlike most of us, they’ve got a good reason: they’ve been researching “A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire.”

What appears to be the 21st century take on the Kinsey report makes some big claims about the research, using the logic that size matters: the authors claim to have “quietly observed the raw sexual behaviors of half a billion people.” That sounds like a confession of the world’s biggest peeping tom, but it’s a figure based on “a billion Web searches”, “a million individual search histories” and 18,000 interviews.

That doesn’t really seem to add up as it appears most of the half a billion people covered by the book are represented through an average of two web searches each. Personally I wouldn’t like my entire sexual profile to be based on two random web searches because, well, sometimes you’re just a little curious and that doesn’t have to mean anything…

The surprisingly round-number claims also extend to a million erotic stories and half a million erotic videos, which sounds less like representative proportional research and more like somebody’s still working on dial-up.

Anyhow, turning to the findings (summarized by the Jezebel site), it appears that 25% of people who visit the most popular porn sites are female, but only 2% of those who then pay for access are women. Apparently this disparity is so great than one card processor automatically flags up any order in female name as a potential fraud risk.

The most prominent findings are that net users supposedly have an extremely high level of ¬†interest in so-called niche branches of porn. To back this up the authors point to stats that men are more likely to search for 50-year-old porn actresses than 19-year-olds, that there’s a significant level of interest in geriatric performers, and that men are three times more likely to search for performers who are described as fat than skinny.

Of course, as Jezebel’s readers quickly pointed out, that’s based on a major logical fallacy. The research here is based on the ubiquitous journalistic cliche of “a Google search for X brings up more results than a search for Y”, which is pretty much the modern equivalent of starting a school essay with “Webster’s Dictionary defines X as…”

The logic fail here is simple: the majority of actresses in pornography are of a particular type: young and slender. If that’s your thing, there’s no need to search for “young porn” (in fact, doing so could lead to misinterpretation and legal difficulties), and there’s certainly little need to search for “slim girl porn”. The fact that a proportion of people search for specific terms may show that a certain niche is popular, but it also shows it’s a minority interest.