The Truth about Human Sexuality? Google's Search Data Is Pretty Revealing

Data Scientist, Contributing Writer at The New York Times

Sex is a touchy subject. What people say about their sex lives—what they "self-report"—can bear little relation to the truth of the matter. Men famously inflate their number of sexual encounters while women, in a telling double standard, reduce their number of partners. So how can we strip away the social status that clings to our conversations about sex? Anonymous Google searches! Here, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reveals what people tell Google in the privacy and anonymity of their online searches. Many of the truisms we hold about sex are seemingly overturned in revealing and humorous style. Stephens-Davidowitz is the author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.

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TRANSCRIPT

SETH STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ: There are a couple of things that Google search has revealed about sex. One is the lack of sex. So the number one complaint in a marriage is that it’s a sexless marriage. A much more common search than “loveless marriage” or “unhappy marriage.” The number one complaint that everybody has about their partner whether it’s a husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend is that “the partner won’t have sex with me”. That beats the second complaint that “the partner won’t text me back.” And some of the searches go a little against conventional wisdom. There are twice as many complaints that “my boyfriend won’t have sex with me” than that “my girlfriend won’t have sex with me.” And I think we usually think, you know, the conventional wisdom is that men want sex all the time and women are more withholding or prudish. But I think the data from Google goes against that. 

I think the other thing that is revealed in Google search is widespread insecurity about one’s body. 

And with men it tends to focus on one particular area which may not be so surprising. Maybe you can guess like where men might be most insecure. It is their genital region. So men ask more questions about their penis than any other body part on Google. And it’s basically always how to make it longer. 

And one of the top questions men ask about their penis is how big is my penis, which is not clear why they’re asking Google that, right? Like that’s not really the way to find out. 

But some of it seems needless because women rarely search about a partner’s penis. For every 170 searches that a man makes about his own penis a woman makes one about a partner’s penis. And women when they’re complaining about a partner’s genitals they’re about as likely to complain that it’s too big as too small—even though like men never search on Google for ways to make it smaller. 

And then women, not surprisingly, also have a lot of insecurity around their bodies, and they make about seven million searches every year for breast implants. Only about 300,000 women actually get breast implants. So a lot more women look into it than go through with it. 

And women make almost as many searches insecure around their genitals as men do insecure around their genitals. And with women the big insecurity, which I did not know but I learned from this data, is odor. That’s kind of like a big theme. 

Yes, like men and women are kind of in their own little world, in their own heads I think. 

So men their second biggest insecurity after their size is the length of their sexual encounters, and premature ejaculation and how to make it last longer. 

And then women when they search are frequently looking how to make it go quicker. 

So it’s kind of an interesting contrast. Again I think you do see that a lot of people are kind of stuck in their own heads and very insecure and anxious.