A Billion Wicked thought Book

FAQ Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t human sexuality much more than data and technology?


In our book, we focus almost exclusively on a single component of sexuality: desire. We use data and technology to identify the specific stimuli that trigger arousal in men and women and analyze the brain software that responds to these stimuli.

But sexual behavior is complex, with many different cognitive, emotional, and physiological components. Different methods may be better suited for illuminating other aspects of sexual behavior, including the subjective experience of one’s own sexuality.

How can you make broad claims about male and female desire, when *my* own desires don’t match what you’ve described in the book?

Sherlock Holmes said, “While the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty.” Ultimately, our book reveals statistical truths about human desire.

When we say that men are taller than women, it doesn’t mean that all men are taller than all women—for example, Katie Holmes is taller than Tom Cruise. It’s simply a convenient shorthand for the fact that the average man is taller than the average woman. Moreover, there are sound biological explanations for this statistical height difference: one direct cause is hormonal differences in men and women, one indirect cause is different evolutionary pressures on men and women. Similarly, there are direct and indirect biological causes that partially explain differences in male and female desire, even if your own desires—like Tom Cruise's height—vary from statistical norms.

What large-scale surveys have investigated sexual interests?

Only one large scale scientific survey has included questions about a variety of sexual stimuli: the “Kinsey Surveys” conducted by Alfred Kinsey and his associates from 1938 to 1963 using more than 18,000 respondents. It included questions about a broad range of “psychosexual stimuli” including bestiality, bondage, and cross-dressing.

Another large scale scientific survey that explored sources of attraction is the “BBC Internet Survey,” conducted by Richard Lippa in 2006 using 218,195 respondents. However, Lippa’s survey explored the “preferred traits of mates”—such as religion, industriousness, and honesty—rather than sexual stimuli.

Several other large-scale surveys confine themselves to a very narrow range of sexual interests (including sexual orientation, oral sex, anal sex, and extramarital sex) in order to investigate sexual health issues. Some of these surveys include Edward Laumann’s 1991 “National Health and Social Life Survey” (3,432 respondents); the 2006-2008 “National Survey of Family Growth” (13,495 respondents); the 1991 “National Survey of Men” (3,321 respondents); and the 2009 “National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior” (5,865 respondents).

All of these surveys suffer from one major limitation: they rely on the respondent to voluntarily share intimate details about their sexual interests. In contrast, the data presented in Billion Wicked Thoughts consists of unobtrusive observations of the actual sexual activities of millions of men and women.

Aren’t searches for sexual content on Internet search engines dominated by sex addicts and thus not reflective of the interests of normal people?

No, Internet searches for sexual content reflect the interests of a very comprehensive range of people, and are dominated by the interests of “normal” individuals, which we might define as individuals who possess the most common sexual interests in the population. Though there is no way of determining in isolation whether a million sexual searches reflect one “sex addict” searching a million times, or a million individuals searching one time each, it is possible to obtain a clearer picture of the true distribution of sexual interests using multiple, convergent sources of data.

In our book, we also analyze:

  • the search histories of individuals over time
  • the relative popularity of adult sites devoted to different sexual interests
  • comments about sexual content
  • paid subscriptions to adult sites
  • sexual interests expressed by members of online dating sites
  • sexual interests expressed in online personal ads seeking sexual partners
  • downloads of sexual content

...and the list doesn’t end there. The entire mosaic of online behavioral data reinforces the interpretation that the distribution of sexual interests searched for on Internet search engines reflects the distribution of sexual interests across the human population.

But the book tells the complete—and surprisingly counterintuitive—story.

Aren’t you overemphasizing the role of biology in sexual psychology when most contemporary research emphasizes cultural influences?

Actually, contemporary research on sexual psychology is dominated by theories with a biological component. Here are the five most cited researchers on the topic of “sexual psychology” since 1980, according to the bibliographies of 1,500 peer-reviewed articles on the academic citation index Web of Science:

1. David Buss (1141)
2. Steven Gangestad (437)
3. Martin Daly (401)
4. Donald Symons (350)
5. Randy Thornhill (333)

All five of these researchers focus predominantly on biological influences on sexuality. However, all five researchers also grant an essential and influential role for culture in shaping sexual desire, as do we. The challenge is identifying exactly when our sexual brain software is designed to respond to cultural inputs, and when it is designed to ignore cultural inputs.

What is your response to the Internet controversies regarding A Billion Wicked Thoughts?

Our book is our response. All original data presented in the book is from publicly available sources or shared with us by private enterprises. None of the original data is based upon surveys.