A major limitation of atypical sexuality studies is the survey sample – that is, the people who answer the researchers’ questions. The first problem is selection, because differently from other fields, one cannot stop people on the street or phone them at random to point blank ask what their most private habits and fantasies are. Therefore you usually recruit students from the nearest psychology faculty… who, however, are by no means representative of the general population and its wide diversity. An alternative is to issue online questionnaires and publicize them on topical websites: more people will undoubtedly respond, but they again suffer from pre-selection, which is likely to skew the results.
The other major challenge is successfully collecting honest responses. In fact, most subjects tend to exaggerate, omit the most embarrassing parts or to pass off their fantasies as reality. A neat trick I often reference was the one devised by the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts, who covertly collected online sex-themed search terms worldwide over the course of a year, and mapped out what people were really into when they didn’t know they were being spied upon. With the exception of this most unique case, however, when you hear about a new study in the field of sexology – especially a kinky one – you better keep in mind that it is probably based on just a few hundred or dozens of people, and thus not terribly significant. And then Aella came along.
Cute beats academy
This is where I have to make a very important premise, because we are going to talk about a groundbreaking, fundamental… and controversial study. While official research is busy smashing its face against the above-mentioned problems, in the United States someone has used their social media clout – more than 750,000 followers – to carry out the most colossal kink survey ever. There is, however, one small hitch: that someone knows how to run such a project but seems to have no formal qualifications, so “real science”, which rightly relies on the peer review mechanism, stands unconvinced. And to further complicate things, the person in question is only known by her pseudonym and she is a sex worker, with the whole stigma attached to that profession.
Mind you, though. We are not talking about a sycophant like some “alternative scientists” who believe they have discovered perpetual motion or cold fusion. As I understand it, Aella (who unfortunately did not respond to my interview requests) does indeed have a solid scientific background: she simply has a different job and originally considered this survey a mere pastime – although the results sparked her enthusiasm for it, and she is now focusing more on analyzing data than on posting sexy photos on OnlyFans. In fact, she is the first to point out where her method could be improved, although its 39,000-plus results shame even the best other works on the subject, such as Justin Lehmiller’s Tell Me What You Want with its “mere” four thousands interviews.
The content is also outstanding. The survey included 302 questions related to some 850 different erotic practices, which in turn were divided into 30 categories. Such a broad field of interest combined with an impressive sample size ensures a certain reliability of the data, on which Aella is conducting several correlation analyses she is publishing bit by bit in her Knowingless newsletter. The observations released so far range from the relationship between political orientation and type of paraphilias (to summarize: we are often aroused by what we most repress), the approach to relationships according to gender, which categories of people are most attracted to zoophilia… What interested me most, however, was obviously the general map of sexual interests.
The paraphilias atlas
The above picture answers two questions: «what arouses you?» and «what do you consider a taboo?». Let’s see how to read it.
- Bottom to top – The higher you go, the more people enjoy a practice
- Left to right – The taboo (immorality, inacceptability, forbidden) factor increases as you go rightward
- Color – The more a word tends to red/brown, the more it is a female interest. The greener it is, the more male fans
- Grey curve – Indicates the logarythmic scale of the graph. In other words, as you move toward the bottom, the chart appears to “zoom in” to allow us to discern the distances between less common practices, or they’d look all squashed together
And talking about zooming: click the picture to enlarge it.
Making a complete analysis of so much bounty would require an extremely long post, but you don’t even need it: once you catch the drift, interpreting the chart is rather easy. My suggestion is to spend a little time on it, however, because on closer inspection you can make several surprising discoveries. In my case, I was shocked to see how the interest for the most destructive paraphilias – such as weapons, burns, wounds, experimental surgery and even necrophilia as the victim – is overwhelmingly female. Also, some kinks even escaped my own Dictionary of Unusual Sex. If a fetish for impossibly tiny people is almost irrelevant, I was amazed to find 4% of people into knees, or that forced chastity games turn on six persons in ten.
Now I can’t wait to read the next survey updates. In the meantime, would you like to let me know how close you feel the map represents you?