You already know that everything under the sun is available as Internet porn. But in a new book, two scientists investigate what our online porn searches say about human sexuality. Their work isn't without its problems, but they turn up some pretty interesting data on age, body size — and dicks.
In A Billion Wicked Thoughts, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam examine people's Internet porn preferences through data from search engines like Dogpile and AOL and porn sites like Fantasti.cc and PornHub. They also look at depictions of sex and love in fanfiction and romance novels. In addition to a fascinating array of charts and examples, they offer some pretty pat — and often unsupported — assertions about men's and women's sexuality. I could spend a whole post critiquing their statements on gender and the brain (many of which are called into question by Cordelia Fine's excellent Delusions of Gender) or poking holes in generalizations like, "Men do not have sexual cues relating to their self." But I'm less interested in what's wrong with A Billion Wicked Thoughts than in what's cool about it: a bunch of fascinating facts about porn. A sampling:
Ogas and Gaddam write,
The most popular paysites featuring adult videos, including Brazzers, Bang Bros, and Reality Kings, typically attract an audience that is around 75 percent men. Of course, that does mean that one out of four visitors is a woman — a minority, though a significant minority. But when it comes to actually paying for porn, the gender gap widens into an abyss. According to CCBill, the billing service most commonly used by the online adult industry, only 2 percent of all subscriptions to pornography sites are made on credit cards with women's names. In fact, CCBill even flags female names as potential fraud, since so many of these charges result in an angry wife or mother demanding a refund for the misuse of her card.
It's true that "youth" is one of the most popular search terms in Internet porn. But when Ogas and Gaddam looked at searches for specific ages, they found something interesting — while teens were indeed popular, so were older women:
Though the popularity of adult women doesn't quite reach the stratospheric heights of teens, it's worth observing that more men search for fifty-year-olds than search for nineteen-year-olds. There is a rather shocking number of searches for underage women, but you may be equally surprised to discover there is significant erotic interest in sixty- and seventy-year-olds.
The authors note, amusingly, that "almost no academic research has been done investigating the appeal of MILFs." However, they speculate that interest in MILF porn may have to do with the older performers' perceived aggression and self-confidence, as well as their "large, round butts."
According to Ogas and Gaddam, "out of the 42,337 sites on the Alexa Adult List [a list of the most popular porn sites], 313 are granny sites." Such porn is especially popular in Britain — one "adult industry veteran" says "there's a lot of interest in older ladies from the Brits because when a lot of them were schoolboys they were spanked or slapped or pinched by a schoolmarm." The authors quote a Granny Sex Forum user named LoveSelsie, describing a new love interest: "She was about 5 foot 5 inches tall and just a little fluffy. Her hair was gray, short and straight. She was a very appealing lady and I wanted to get to meet her." They add, "It's worth observing that LoveSelsie focuses on the visual attractiveness of GILFs, as do many other granny fans." Shocking indeed!
Ogas and Gaddam write,
Adjectives describing body size (such as "chubby" and "thin") are the third most frequent category of adjectives appearing in Dogpile searches. Are most of these searches seeking the slender bodies of cover models? For every search for a "skinny" girl, there are almost three searches for a "fat" girl. [...] On the Alexa Adult List, there are more than 504 adult sites explicitly dedicated to heavy ladies (such as Fat Tube, Sugar Fat Girls, and Hippo Girls), and only 182 explicitly dedicated to skinny ones (such as Skinny Teens Naked).
However, the authors also point out that "the majority of women in mainstream porn are skinnier than average."
Ogas and Gaddam cite an eye-tracking study finding that "men consistently direct their gaze to the male crotch, though women rarely do so." They also note that "out of the hundred top-rated images on [adult content aggregator] Fantasti.cc, twenty-one feature close-up shots of a penis." Surely some of these fans must be gay visitors, but straight men like seeing penises too — and many prefer big ones:
There are 1,072 Web sites in the Alexa Adult List that feature heterosexual porn with large penises such as Monsters of Cock, Mr.Biggz, and Teens Like It Big. The number of Alexa sites devoted to small penises? Just three: PinkyDick, Little-Cock, and My Tiny Dick.
And it's not just porn aficionados who are interested in other guys' dicks:
[A]mong the Walbiri and Aranda people, when grievances need to be settled, the men participate in what is known as the penis-offering rite, which is said to represent "paying with one's life." Each man presents his semierect penis to all the others, pressing it into each man's palm and drawing it along the length of the upturned hand.
According to Ogas and Gaddam, "T-girl" is one porn term for "a transsexual woman who has been treated with hormones so that she possesses breasts and a female figure but still possesses a penis." The authors say, "if you categorize the sites on the Alexa Adult List by the names of the sites, then T-girl sites are the fourth most popular category of adult Web site." Also, "'shemales' is the sixteenth most popular sexual search on Dogpile, more popular than 'butts,' 'threesomes,' and 'interracial sex.'" So who's doing the searching? Ogas and Gaddam quote Housekeeper, operator of several transsexual porn sites:
My main audience, and the audience for most shemale porn, are straight dudes. That's how it's always been. I will say that all of the visitors to transsexual sites are straight.
They also quote a fan of T-girl porn: "I like her soft looks, sexy body. Very nice long legs. And then there's that added bonus ... I can't really explain why it affects me."
Rather than using these facts to make sweeping statements about the difference between men and women, it's more useful to recognize that a lot of the generalizations people make about desire, especially male desire, just aren't true. At least in private, not all straight men are looking for thin, young ciswomen — or even for ciswomen at all. And what Internet porn can teach us is that while there may be some differences in sexual preferences between genders, there's enormous variation within them.
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