5 Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

5 Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

In the last few years, Google Trends has become a favored research tools of sex scientists. Because not everyone is willing to participate in sex studies for various reasons, Google searches offer a handy means of looking at what a broader swath of the population thinks about sex. The appeal doesn’t stop there, though.

We also know that people don’t always answer survey questions honestly (even when they’re guaranteed anonymity) due to fear, shame, and embarrassment. For instance, some people may not honestly report their turn-ons because they’re embarrassed, while others might lie about how many people they’ve had sex with in order to look good to the researcher (some might overreport, while others might underreport). When people go to Google, however, they have a powerful incentive to tell the truth: if they don’t, they won’t find what they’re looking for.

Google searches are therefore thought to be very revealing because they can give us a glimpse into the things that people might not otherwise be willing to share. Several research papers have been published recently that explore the contents of Americans’ Google search histories. Here are five of the most fascinating things we’ve learned so far from this unique research tool.

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How Many Americans Have Paid For Sex Before?

How Many Americans Have Paid For Sex Before?

Purchasing sex used to be a very common behavior among American men. For example, Alfred Kinsey’s famous studies of human sexual behavior from the 1940s and 50s found that 69% of the men he surveyed had paid for sex at least once! However, more recent studies suggest that the number has dropped significantly as attitudes toward sex outside of marriage have liberalized. In fact, in the 1990s, a nationally representative survey of Americans found that just 16% of men said they had paid for sex before.

So what do the numbers look like today? And how do they compare for men and women? 

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Can Medications and Drugs Be Transferred Through Semen?

Can Medications and Drugs Be Transferred Through Semen?

Readers of the blog frequently send me questions about sex, and I’ve noticed that some of them seem to pop up more often than others. One that I find myself hearing over and over again is whether medications can potentially be transferred from one sexual partner to another through semen. For example, these are just a few of the many questions that I’ve received recently:

“My boyfriend is currently taking prednisone, which I'm allergic to. Will this steroid come to my body through his semen?”

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The Most Common Reasons For Becoming a Sex Worker in a Country Where Sex Work is Legal

The Most Common Reasons For Becoming a Sex Worker in a Country Where Sex Work is Legal

There are a lot of stereotypes about female sex workers, and one is that no woman would ever choose this profession voluntarily. Some people see sex work as inherently victimizing, which means that—in their view—no women could truly ever enjoy this job. But is it true? According to research on female sex workers in cultures where sex work is legal, it turns out that many women decide to become sex workers precisely because they enjoy the work.

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Three Observations About Sex And Culture In Europe

Three Observations About Sex And Culture In Europe

I recently finished teaching a study abroad course on Sexuality and Culture in the Netherlands. After the course was over, I did some personal travel around Europe, with stops in Germany, the Czech Republic, and France. While the latter part of the trip was mostly a vacation, my sex researcher brain was in full gear the whole time (it always is!). At several points, I couldn’t help but be reminded of just how dramatically different sexual attitudes are in Europe compared to the United States. Here are just a few of the many things I noticed on this trip:

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What I Learned From An Afternoon With Two 77-Year-Old Sex Workers

What I Learned From An Afternoon With Two 77-Year-Old Sex Workers

As part of the study abroad course I’m teaching on Sex and Culture in the Netherlands, I booked us a tour of Amsterdam’s Red Light District with the famous Fokken twins, Louise and Martine. The Fokken sisters have been employed as sex workers for over a half-century and the day we met just happened to be their 77th birthday. In addition to answering our questions, they talked with us about what it’s like to be a sex worker and how they’ve seen the business change over time. Here are a few of the most interesting parts of our conversation:

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Sex Laws in the Netherlands

Sex Laws in the Netherlands

I've been researching sex laws in the Netherlands as part of the study abroad course on sex and culture that I'm teaching. One of the ways sex laws in the Netherlands are unique compared to the US is that prostitution and brothels are legal and regulated by the government--but you probably already knew that. So here are a few other legal differences that might be new to you. 

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Do Sex Workers Have Better Mental Health In Cultures Where Prostitution Is Legal?

Do Sex Workers Have Better Mental Health In Cultures Where Prostitution Is Legal?

Today in my study abroad course on sex and culture in the Netherlands, we're focusing on sex work, especially the link between prostitution and mental health. Many studies have been conducted on the mental health of people (mostly women) who sell sex for a living. Most of this research has found that female sex workers suffer from rates of depression, anxiety, and PTSD that are much higher than the rest of the female population. However, virtually of all of this research is based on studies of female sex workers who live in countries where prostitution is illegal.

So what about places, like the Netherlands where sex work is permitted under the law?

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I'm Studying Sex in the Netherlands For the Next Two Weeks!

I'm Studying Sex in the Netherlands For the Next Two Weeks!

Greetings from Amsterdam! For the second year in a row, I’m teaching a study abroad course on Sexuality and Culture in the Netherlands. Today is the first full day of my two-week course, and I couldn't be more excited. Amsterdam is, of course, an awesome city—but it’s also a fascinating place to teach students about cross-cultural differences in sexuality for a couple of weeks.

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5 Fascinating Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

5 Fascinating Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

Google Trends has quickly become one of the favorite research tools of sex scientists. Why? In part, because not everyone is willing to participate in sex studies and, among those who are, we know they don’t always answer survey questions honestly. For instance, some people won’t report what actually turns them on because they’re embarrassed by it. Likewise, others lie about how many people they’ve had sex with in order to make themselves look better in the eyes of others. When people go to Google, though, they have a powerful incentive to tell the truth because, otherwise, they won’t find what they’re looking for. As a result, Google searches are thought to be very revealing because they can give us a glimpse into the things that people might not be willing to share with scientists, or anyone else for that matter.

In the last few years, several research papers have been published exploring the contents of Americans’ Google search histories. In this post, we’ll take a look at five of the most fascinating things we’ve learned so far from this unique research tool.

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What Sex Laws Look Like in the Netherlands

What Sex Laws Look Like in the Netherlands

As part of the study abroad course I’m currently teaching on Sex and Culture in the Netherlands, I’ve done some research into what sex laws look like over here. As I wrote in previous posts about this class, two of the ways that laws in the Netherlands are unique compared to the United States are that prostitution is legal and comprehensive sex education is mandated. However, those are just a couple of the most interesting differences. Here are a few more:

1.) Sex and the disabled. The Netherlands doesn’t just have legal prostitution—they also have government-subsidized prostitution for certain segments of the population. Specifically, disabled citizens are eligible to receive government assistance to hire sex workers. Why? Because sex is seen as a right—something that everyone who wants to participate in should be able to enjoy. Also, it’s something that’s seen as good for people’s mental and physical health.

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What Legalized Prostitution Looks Like in the Red Light District

What Legalized Prostitution Looks Like in the Red Light District

What would it be like if prostitution were legal? If you're from the United States or any other part of the world where sex work is (largely) prohibited by law, this might be a very difficult thing to imagine. However, if you look to countries where sex work is legal today, you can see that there are actually several different forms it can take. For example, in Switzerland, they’ve opened up drive-in sex garages, which you can learn more about here. And in the Netherlands (where I'm teaching a study abroad course on sex and culture at the moment), they have walk-up sex windows in the Red Light District.

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Video: The Laws That Sex Workers Really Want

Video: The Laws That Sex Workers Really Want

There are dramatic cross-cultural differences in the legal status of prostitution. These range from complete criminalization to legalized, government-regulated sex work. So which model is best? Well, that depends upon who you ask. One group of people who is almost never asked to weigh in on these laws, though, is the folks who are selling sex themselves. What laws would sex workers like to see and why?

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What It’s Really Like To Be a Sex Worker in the Red Light District

What It’s Really Like To Be a Sex Worker in the Red Light District

What does legalized prostitution look like? For people in the United States--and other parts of the world where the sale of sex is illegal--it might be difficult to imagine. However, when you look to countries where sex work is permitted by law, you can see that there are actually several different forms it can take.

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Infographic: Women's Reasons For Becoming Sex Workers

Infographic: Women's Reasons For Becoming Sex Workers

Many people are curious about the factors that lead some folks to sell sex for a living. Are they doing it because they actually like this kind of work, or because they don’t feel as though they have any other choice? Let’s take a look at what the research says. The infographic below summarizes the motivations reported by a sample of female sex workers in Switzerland. 

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Five of the Most Absurd Sex Laws in History

Five of the Most Absurd Sex Laws in History

History is full of examples of governmental and religious authorities going to great lengths to regulate people’s sex lives. Of course, these efforts continue in the modern world--however, sex today isn't regulated to quite the same extent as it was in the past, at least in the Western world. 

By today’s standards, many of the older laws—and their corresponding punishments—seem, well, downright absurd. Below are five such examples drawn from the book, Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz.

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Paying For Sex And The "Girlfriend Experience" (Infographic)

Paying For Sex And The "Girlfriend Experience" (Infographic)

Although prostitution is illegal throughout most of the United States, it’s not uncommon for Americans to buy sex. Most of the purchasers are men, but beyond this, we don’t actually know all that much about who's buying sex or why. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that researchers really began to start looking into this.

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Sex Question Friday: Can Medications Be Transferred To Sex Partners Through Semen?

Sex Question Friday: Can Medications Be Transferred To Sex Partners Through Semen?

A reader submitted the following question:

Can medications that men take regularly (like blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes meds) be passed through their seminal fluid to their oral sex partner? Many sex workers prefer to perform oral sex without a condom (bareback) and they often make the decision to swallow rather than spit. If medication can be passed like this, are these girls at any risk?”

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Sex Question Friday: How Many Men Have Paid For Sex?

Sex Question Friday: How Many Men Have Paid For Sex?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:
 

“How many men have paid for sex with a prostitute before? Is this becoming more or less common?”

Buying sex is a behavior that appears to have decreased among men in recent years. Just how much have things changed? As a starting point, consider this:

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Economics Of The Sex Trade In 8 Major U.S. Cities (Infographic)

Economics Of The Sex Trade In 8 Major U.S. Cities (Infographic)

With the exception of a few counties in Nevada, prostitution is illegal throughout the  United States. Given that sex work is something that largely exists in the shadows, next to nothing is known about the full size and scope of this industry. However, a new study just released by the Urban Institute sheds some light on the just how much money is exchanged for sex in the U.S. Every year, and I think the results will surprise you. The infographic below highlights some of the key findings from this study; however, you can find the complete set of results here.

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