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Secret History: The World’s Porn Habits

You can probably tell a lot about someone from the porn they watch. I say probably, because it’s a hard theory to test. We classify people based on some pretty arbitrary characteristics – your star sign is one – but since porn is taboo, it’s difficult to discuss it in a public forum. You couldn’t plot a horoscope with it, for instance (although I’d buy that newspaper in a heartbeat).


Earlier this year, porn search engine PornMD released its top ten search terms for various countries around the world. The results make for… interesting reading, if only because it’s hard not to leap to conclusions. For a start, the world’s porn habits are super, super gay; unsurprising, but perhaps illuminating nonetheless.

Some seem relatively easy to decode: the top search term in our merry isle, for example, is ‘British.’ It stands to reason that British people might like to watch other British people doing the bump and grind. But the more – let’s say ‘eclectic’ – terms are difficult to classify. Without any understanding of cultural norms and mores in these countries it’s tough to work out why different search topics might be significant (but it’s fun to try. I don’t know what a ‘raincoat’ is, but I’m prepared to give it a shot!)

And these are national averages, completely anonymous. They might say something about the collective, but not the individual.

Occasionally, at dinner parties and suchlike, I find myself managing the music on someone else’s iTunes. Normally when I do so I treat myself to a sneaky peek at their Top 25 ‘most listened’ songs. The choices are almost always embarrassing, and are never in line with the kind of image that person is aiming to project. I try not to judge, because mine are even worse (and before you judge me, I suggest you go look at your own. Who knew you listened to so much Glee?).

Now imagine having access to the top porn search terms for people you know. The people you work with, the people you see every day. Your friends and (shudder) your family.

In days gone by – perhaps even as recently as ten years ago – maybe some people would have relatively vanilla terms, or none at all. It’s only the ease of access to online pornography that has made it ubiquitous, if not acceptable. Mine is the last generation of young men to scour rubbish bins and bribe tramps to secure smut, and so I’m also the last generation to not have complete control over what I look for.

Once, when I was visiting a distant set of cousins, I found the older kid in whose room I was staying had an extensive collection of skin mags hidden in a leather suitcase under his bed. It was like finding the Ark of the flippin’ Covenant (and had a similar effect on my eyes). Did I care what was going on in the magazines? No, I took the grot that was in front of me, and I liked it. Kids these days, don’t know they’re born etc. I took what I could get, because for a hormone driven teenager, any boobs is good boobs. Once I reached unfettered adulthood, my options increased exponentially.

There’s a tendency to look with disdain at other people’s sexual predilections. If you found the top ten porn search terms for, say, the chap who sits at the desk opposite, your initial reaction would probably be ‘… gross.’ But assuming you look at porn (and if you’re male, statistics are well on my side), would your search terms be any less mortifying? Would they be more like your iTunes Top 25: idiosyncratic, a bit weird? It’s an impossible scenario – surely no modern man is still unfamiliar with Google’s handy ‘incognito’ mode – but it works as a thought experiment.

Is our new freedom to watch this niche porn good or bad? A tricky question, and a story for another time. I’m certainly not advocating unfiltered access for teenagers: I was basically feral at the age I found that porn stash, and I doubt I was emotionally ready for the more… distinctive pornographic niches.

But among consenting adults it’s happening regardless, and happening worldwide. And with a few unfortunate exceptions, most of the terms searched for are less dark and unsettling than they are flat out weird or surprising. It seems that even given essentially unsupervised access, humanity doesn’t immediately head to the more morally ambiguous places.

So it’s a nice (if slightly grubby) metaphor for the individual nature of human sexuality, but it also demonstrates that perhaps that very individuality is more widely distributed than we’ve always thought. It’s not the majority of us in the vanilla middle, and a few kinksters right out on the fringe. It seems that when it comes to porn – things that we can look at, even if we’d never try them – the whole world is slyly shying towards the edges.

That makes me feel a little better about my recent Google search history, frankly. Till next time, Ctrl/Shift/N.

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