Between 1948 and 1953 the first, famous Kinsey reports turned most ideas about sexuality upside down through the simplest and most overlooked trick available to researchers: they actually asked common people what they liked, instead of building whole theories on a very few clinically anomalous cases. The modern concept of “normal” sex largely still derives from these surveys, which collected the answers of about 18,000 persons.
But we are living in the XXI century now, and the one thing we really don’t lack is access to data – any kind of. Neuroscience Ph.D.’s Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam did the logical thing and just mined all that information: a billion Web searches, internal data from many sites, tags, hundreds of thousands of individual search histories, video ratings, over a million online stories, hit counters and much more. All porn-related. Their goal was to actually check out what people were looking at to get aroused, and their findings – collected in the book – A billion wicked thoughts – were rather surprising.

The map of desires traced by millions of persons worldwide when the anonymity of the Internet encouraged them to let their libido loose turns out to be very different from whatever the professionals were using to study and define human sexuality. Both the academic literature and the popular divulgations (including my XXX – The dictionary of unusual sex) are apparently badly off the mark. Sure, all the weird and funny paraphilia listed by yours truly are actually out there – but according to this research, they are not fetishes at all.
As a matter of fact, the very definition of ‘fetish’ is the point here. Technically, a fetish is an anomalous compulsive attraction towards something which should be not erotic at all, yet does turn on the subject – think foot fetish. What Ogas and Gaddam found is that the popular interpretation of the word is definitely much more correct: according to their data, a “fetish” is actually just one of the many, many interests that make up a normal and healthy sexuality. It is just an expression of our human instinct for seeking novelties, and biology plays a big part in how women and men are usually wildly different in their approach to “unusual” pornography. The male half of this planet, still scratching its collective head about the success of 50 shades of Grey, will surely agree.

While most of my readers will probably be underwhelmed by all of this, these results have deep implication for sexology. The concept of ‘paraphilia’ itself, in example, might have to be scrapped just like ‘perversion’ was when we moved to a non-moralistic approach to sex. Also, the common list of fetishes used by professionals in their diagnoses should be rethinked: how come shemales and cuckolding don’t appear there, while they happen to be among the top pornographic interests expressed worldwide? Why the concept of the trenchcoated, wandering pedophile is still prevalent in the media and among researchers, when all data – not only Ogas and Gaddam’s – unquestionably point to an extreme general interest in everything incestual?

It would be wrong, however, also to believe this analysis of online fantasies to be sufficient to fully understand the mysteries of eroticism. A billion wicked thoughts also definitely demonstrates (yet again) that preferences in pornography content and actual sexual behavior are almost completely unrelated. On one side many pseudoscientific assumptions – i.e. «You will get addicted, desensitized and go looking for more and more extreme stuff» – are plainly wrong, but on the other the dimension of what really happens in bedrooms worldwide still remains mostly unexplored. In fact, the venerable Psychology today published a very interesting diatribe, complete with the authors’ counterpoint, about this very topic.
In any case, one thing is sure. Given your own search histories, you already knew that some “freaky” fetishes (oops! Dropping the verbal habit is going to be hard…) are actually more common than generally thought. Today you can however celebrate being more “normal” than yesterday before the vanilla world, if such a thing exist at all.