Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why Do We Like The Things We Like?

Using neuroscience and online data to explain puzzling sexual desires

By Ogi Ogas, Ph.D. in A Billion Wicked Thoughts

While the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty.

—Sherlock Holmes, Sign of the Four

This is the first in an open-ended series of articles that will explain the source of many common erotic interests using neuroscience, biology, and online behavioral data. The goal is to provide you with a clear understanding of why you like the things you like—even if these things are embarrassing (they shouldn't be), strange (they're probably quite common), or befuddling.

Whether you are a heterosexual woman who finds Brokeback Mountain to be intensely arousing or a heterosexual man who searches PornHub for the largest penises you can find, this series is intended to provide you with knowledge and reassurance

Though sexual behavior is infinitely nuanced and complex, influenced by culture, experience, mood, free will, and what you gobbled down for breakfast, sexual desire appears to be bounded. The things that turn us on can be broken down into specific sexual cues. Our sexual cues are analogous to our taste cues (sweet, sour, salty, savory, bitter, possibly others): hardwired predilections shaped by evolution that perform specific functions and deliver varying degrees of pleasure. Even though human cuisine is infinitely variable, everything we eat can be resolved into its constituent taste cues. (Oreo cheesecake and baklava both trigger our taste for sweetness.) Similarly, though human sexual tastes are infinitely variable, everything that turns us on can be broken down into their constituent sexual cues.

There is one important difference between our gustatory tastes and sexual tastes, however. Whereas men and women share the same gustatory cues—lemons taste sour to all of us—men and women exhibit very different sexual cues. For this reason, each article in this series will address either a male sexual interest or a female sexual interest since they each require different kinds of explanations.

On the other hand, gay male sexual tastes are mostly identical to straight male sexual tastes, so a single explanation will suffice for both; for example, straight men's interest in women's feet can be explained in the same manner as gay men's interest in men's feet. Lesbian and heterosexual women's sexual tastes also mostly share the same explanations. There are exceptions, of course.

Our understanding of sexual desire is derived from research in sexology, neuroscience, primatology, social psychology, neurology, community health, and an enormous quantity of online sexual data, delineated at the end of this article. This online data supplied us with many useful tools for understanding the relationships between different sexual cues, including the following two graphics.

Correlation Map Derived from AOL Search Histories

Correlation Map Derived from PornHub Tags

They may look like constellations of the celestial heavens but they are actually constellations of humansexuality: correlation maps. The first visualizes the correlations between different sexual interests within individual search histories on the AOL search engine. The second visualizes the correlations between different tags on videos on PornHub. In the articles that follow, we will be discussing the significance of some of these correlations—such as why incest and bestiality seem correlated, and why an interest in feet and an interest in bondage seem correlated.

Online data used for the Sexualpedia:
Web searches (Dogpile; AOL; Excite; Google;
Individual search histories (AOL)
Website traffic (Alexa, Quantcast, Compete)
Website names
Erotic stories (Literotica, nifty,, fictionmania, Hindi)
Fan fiction stories (,
Digitized romance novels (including erotic romance)
Delicious tags
Erotic images and videos (, PornHub, xhamster, many others)
Personal sex seeking ads (craigslist)
Online dating site survey and user data (OKCupid)
Adult site-specific data (PornHub,,, others)
Credit card processing data (CCBill)
Other niche data (Webcam sites, adult star details, pirated porn downloads, others)

Most of the data was gathered in 2010. Since then, the number of porn subscription sites have dramatically diminished, while tube sites now dominate online visual erotica.

Published on February 24, 2013 by
Ogi Ogas, Ph.D. in A Billion Wicked Thoughts