Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam make quite a few bold claims in their new book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts. They’re billing it as the world’s largest scientific study on human sexual desire, although perhaps they’re using the term science loosely. In lieu of the admittedly flawed conventional research methods like interviewing subjects or giving them questionnaires to fill out, Ogas and Gaddam wanted to probe deeper into the secret realm of male and female sexual desire to determine what’s being fantasized about when no one’s watching, and what that can tell us about ourselves.
As Ogas and Gaddam point out, there has really only been one large scale scientific survey on sexual desire and human responses to particular sexual stimuli. This groundbreaking research conducted by Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 30s and 40s was published as the landmark “Kinsey Reports.” There have been some small scale studies since, but nothing near the 18,000 interviewed by Kinsey.
Upon first reading this, I was utterly astonished. Then I considered a notion touched on by the authors in the book, which is that obtaining reliable data from social studies on sexual impulses, desire and behavior can be extremely difficult, if not damn near impossible. With personal matters concerning sex, how can a researcher be certain the information from the subject is completely accurate? Some may be too ashamed to admit their true desires, while others may bias their answers based on the gender of the researcher. Also studies like Kinsey’s were limited to a narrow selection of the population with little variance in race or social standing.
Ogas and Gaddam have found the solution to this difficult quandary at a place where we head to solve all sorts of problems every day: the Internet. In total, they combed through 400 million different searches between July 2009 and July 2010 on Dogpile, a meta search engine (somehow it doesn’t surprise me that even search engines have gone â€˜meta’ now), that compiles results from Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Ask.com and more. Of those 400 million searches, about 13 percent were erotic in nature, the top 5 being youth, gay, MILFs, breasts and cheating wives. The authors also analyzed a million erotic videos, a million erotic stories, and millions of personal ads from sites like OKCupid and Craigslist, and extrapolated based on the data found during their research.
While this method of obtaining what the authors refer to as “unobtrusive observations of the actual sexual activities of millions of men and women” may not be entirely scientifically (the authors did not have to submit their research before any type of academic or institutional review board), it does provide for an entertaining, albeit at times patronizing, read. The book is very well researched with about one third of the text taking up the notes and bibliography, although some of the studies cited by the authors were very small or based on purely anecdotal evidence.
Being of a computational neuroscience background, Ogas and Gaddam put forth the notion that our minds are the software that runs the hardware of the brain, relying on a series of physical and psychological cues to get things done. They break it down into a rather ridiculous pair of characters to represent the sexual desires of males and females: Elmer Fudd, Wabbit Hunter, off to hunt whatever wabbit strikes his fancy versus the Miss Marple Detective Agency, the overactive voice inside net the female brain that is “designed to uncover, scrutinize, and evaluate a dazzling range of informative clues.”
They proclaim that while men are able to achieve physical and psychological arousal from one single cue, women’s brains are much more complex and require multiple cues incorporating different senses. Perhaps this is why men prefer porn whereas women get their sexual kicks through erotica and fan fiction, as “porn consists of visual cues appealing to men, romance consists of psychological cues appealing to women.”
To illustrate that men and women experience the states of physical and psychological arousal quite differently, Ogas and Gaddam present the results of a study from Florida State University. Nine lucky research assistants (four guys and five gals) went up to random strangers of the opposite gender on campus as asked if that person would go on a date with them, come over to their apartment, or go to bed with them later the evening.
The males overwhelming favored the sex option, with 75% of men saying yes to that question, compared with none of the women agreeing to such a brazen request. It’s as if for men, the very notion of having sex is both a physical and psychological turn-on, especially when so boldly offered by a female, whereas women require many more cues to activate her psychological arousal, which is instrumental in her physical arousal. However, this study runs into the same issues as Kinsey’s: it’s a small subset of the population that isn’t necessarily representative of males and females across different cultures and races.
I’m just grazing the surface of the intriguing and dubious theories that Ogas and Gaddam develop throughout the book. They devote one chapter to the homosexual male experience where they imply that while boys will be boys that consume porn in the same ways, homosexual men’s brains exhibit the female cues of submission as opposed to the alpha male dominance found in heterosexual men. Furthermore, the authors barely address the desires of homosexual women or bisexuals.
And while I found parts of the book to be quite interesting and compelling, many of their generalizations were a bit problematic for me, especially about female sexual desire. At the end of the day, neither of the authors are female and there isn’t enough science in the world to truly understand either gender’s sexual desires completely, although it can be entertaining to speculate.