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The Internet and Human Sexuality

Posted on Oct 13, 2011

Robin Shamburg

Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals
About Human Desire”

A book by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

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

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
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

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.


book cover


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


Buy the 


“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

To see long excerpts from “A Billion
Wicked Thoughts” at Google Books, click here.

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.


    To a human male searching
the Internet, this translates into pornography, where exaggerated and
tumescent sex organs can be ordered up at whim, often devoid of any
distracting context. And these disembodied images are just as popular
with gay men as with their straight brothers. In fact, the researchers
discovered, for every female body part that heterosexual men fancied
(breasts, vaginas), there was an analogous male body part (chests,
penises) sought after by homosexuals.

According to Ogas
and Gaddam, the male brain’s desire software can best be compared to
Elmer Fudd. Bugs Bunny’s perennial antagonist, Fudd is a solitary,
trigger-happy hunter with a single goal in mind: rabbit. Just as the
human male can be aroused by artificial breasts, the cartoon Fudd will
point his gun at anything remotely resembling his target—Daffy Duck
dressed up as a rabbit, for instance, or a pair of bunny ears set up by
Bugs to trick him. But even when he’s been fooled, he’s undeterred. He
reloads and gets back out there. Every new day is a chance to bag a

For female
arousal, however, context is everything. It’s why Big Pharma and biotech
companies have yet to develop a Viagra for women. It takes more than
increased blood flow to the vagina to make a female want to have sex;
she also needs to be mentally stimulated. This is a far more daunting
and complicated process, one that can’t be kick-started by disembodied
images of male genitalia, no matter how attractive.

So when women are
looking for online stimulation, their aphrodisiac of choice is the
written word. Literotica, for example, is the most popular erotic story
site on the Web, with more than 200,000 sexy stories—the vast majority
of them written by women—and 5 million visitors per month—the vast
majority of them women. These stories pique female desire in a way that
is all about context. By the time the heroine beds down with the man (or
men, or woman, or whatever) the reader knows what she needs to know to
engage her unique circuitry. She knows who’s having sex, why and—just as
in real life—where this relationship is going.


book cover


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


Buy the 


According to Ogas
and Gaddam, this need is an evolutionary imperative. “When
contemplating sex with a man, a woman has to consider the long term,”
they write. “This consideration may not even be conscious, but rather is
part of unconscious software that has evolved to protect women over
hundreds of thousands of years. Sex could commit a woman to a
substantial, life-altering investment: pregnancy, nursing and more than a
decade of child raising. These commitments require enormous time,
resources and energy. Sex with the wrong guy could lead to many
unpleasant outcomes. If a man abandons her, she would face the
challenges of single motherhood. If the man turns out to be cruel, he
might injure her or her children. If the man turns out to be weak or
incompetent, he might fail to protect her from threats.”

Because of these
risks, the female brain has developed a highly sophisticated kind of
vetting software. A man must pass the test in order to be considered
arousal-worthy. According to the authors, if a man is Elmer Fudd, a
woman is Miss Marple. Agatha Christie’s fictional detective is a shrewd
judge of character with a deep knowledge of the darker side of human
nature. The detective skills of the female brain were developed over
generations, as amateur female sleuths investigated the characters of
potential mates in a wide variety of situations. “Like the fictional
Miss Marple,” Ogas and Gaddam conclude, “a woman’s Detective Agency
mulls over a variety of evidence concerning a potential partner’s
character, weighs clues from the physical and social environment, and
examines her own experiences and feelings before permitting—or

When so much of
modern life is lived online, Ogas and Gaddam’s data collection methods
may make some people uncomfortable. Granted, there is a technical and
ethical difference between analyzing Internet traffic patterns of
personal proclivities and collecting personal information. But how
difficult would it be for a motivated computer tech to connect the dots
between a fetish for rubber dresses and the fetishist’s home address?
His credit card numbers? His employer’s phone number? In 2006, AOL
released the search histories of more than half a million users; this
data set contained all the Internet searches of certain AOL users over
the course of three months. Typically, many of the searches contained
sexual terms. Although the users’ names were not included, this incident
was considered a public relations disaster for AOL; CNN
named it one of the “101 Dumbest Moments in Business.” It was
also considered a treasure trove for researchers, with some of the data
being used for Ogas’ and Gaddam’s research.

To see long excerpts from “A Billion
Wicked Thoughts” at Google Books, click here.

More recently,
Facebook has come under fire for transmitting users’ identifying
information to advertising and Internet tracking companies through many
of its popular applications, and yet Facebook’s membership continues to
grow. Have we become used to trading a little bit of personal privacy
for social convenience? Is this a case where the ends justify the means?

For people
looking for a long-term relationship where they are not only loved but
desired, that answer may be yes. Ultimately, Ogas and Gaddam’s ambitious
and thought-provoking book delivers a message of hope. If there’s one
thing their exhaustive research reveals, it is this: No matter who you
are, slender or obese, young or old, there is a group of people out
there who will find you attractive. All you have to do is go online. And
for a person who is looking for instant gratification—no matter how
exotic or debased—the news is just as good. For this, the authors cite
what has become known as Internet Rule No. 34: If you can imagine it, it
exists as Internet porn.

Robin Shamburg
is the author of “Mistress Ruby Ties It Together: A Dominatrix Takes on
Sex, Power, and the Secret Lives of Upstanding Citizens.” She is
finishing her second book, “Dungeon Confidential.”


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