As Ogi Ogas points out in the Wall Street Journal, you can see more naked bodies on the internet in one minute than the most promiscuous Victorian could have seen in a lifetime.
But as it turns out, women aren’t that interested.
He and his partner Sai Gaddam (what great names) have analyzed over a billion web searches, and gathered their findings in a new book: A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire
Search is, of course, a “database of desire.” as John Battelle says in The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture.It says a lot about what we want, and it’s not always very flattering.
Computational neuroscientists, Ogas and Gaddam have discovered “what most women seek out, in growing numbers, are not explicit scenes of sexual activity but character-driven stories of romantic relationships.”
That would be romance novels. In fact, only one out of fifty memberships on porn sites are women, but they buy nine out of ten romance novels. In 2008 about 75 million people in the U.S. and Canada bought a romance novel, a spike driven largely by ebooks. It’s about the same number of people who visited a porn site.
All romance novels, whether written by the likes of Jane Austen, Nora Roberts or Stephenie Meyer, employ a narrative formula that follows the gradual elucidation of the hero’s inner character, leading to an emotional epiphany between hero and heroine.
In other words, the heroine investigates the hero and then they live happily ever after.
This desire shows up in other ways too. Most fan sites are dominated by women, exploring aspects of character and motivation in fan fiction. Men’s comments on porn sites are seldom that thoughtful.
Ogas says this is because the female brain is wired differently. Who knew?
He claims this is an evolutionary reflection of some instinct for self-preservation, since women have to evaluate a mate’s ability to keep them safe. This detective role can also be called “women’s intuition,” he says. “Her fact-finding mission must be completed before mind and body are united in sexual harmony.”
And while this may say something about our design (intelligent design, in my view), it says even more about our fallenness. Because both men and women create unrealistic expectations built on self-serving motivations.
No matter how hard or soft our erotica might be, it little serves the sacredness of marriage, a gift rooted in sacrifice and commitment.
In the end, porn may be more dangerous, given a man’s physical capacity and disposition to force, but much of women’s literature today is fantasy nevertheless.
It doesn’t lead toward wholeness. Or holiness.
It does lead toward divorce and dissatisfaction.
And our culture and our children suffer in the end.