How people search for pornography on the internet

Jun 30, 2014
Porn & Sex Worker Studies
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Searching for sexual information on internet is usually not related to one’s task or occupation (1). This behavior emerges due to reproduction and mate seeking concerns, social adaptation, and existing in an information age. From an evolutionary perspective, seeking information in general is related to human adaptation and survival (2). We constantly engage in foraging of our environment for data that will facilitate our survival. Looking for porn/sexual information can be seen as a subset of this type of behavior.

A study conducted in 1998 estimated there being at least 22,000 pornographic web sites (3). Since then the numbers have undoubtedly gone up. Some theorists view existence of porn on internet as being pathological, as internet sexuality can support deviant, addictive, and criminal behavior (4). Others take an adaptive perspective and view porn on internet as being part of human sexual development, exploration, love, and romance (5).


There are gender differences in internet sexuality as men more frequently go to sex related chat rooms and porn websites (6). Research has also shown that heavy internet users, or 8% of users, who spend largest amount of time browsing for porn, report significant problems with compulsive disorders and addiction.

When it comes to searching for porn on internet, terms such as sex, nude, and naked were used frequently in the Ask Jeeves web search engine (7). Research has also shown that the proportion of porn related searches in relation to all web searches went down from being the second largest category (16.8%) in 1997 to fourth largest category (7.5%) in 1999 and fifth largest category (8.5%) in 2001 (8). Web searches related to business, computers, and people have increased in frequency over the years.

Web search sessions related to porn tend to be longer than non sexual search sessions, and sexual sessions can extend up to 20 queries (9). In other words, when people are looking for porn they tend to spend more time and effort to create longer queries and use more queries. A person engaged in non sex related search typically does not view more than first or second page of ten web sites. But a person looking for sex related information may view more than 20 pages of websites.

In a study that looked at random samples of 6000 alta vista and 5000 alltheweb dot com web queries, about 4.5% of alltheweb and 3.5% of alta vista searches were discovered to be porn related (1). It should be noted that alltheweb dot com features more European users from Germany and Norway while alta vista users were primarily from U.S. 3.3% of sex related searches in alltheweb and 5.6% for alta vista were for child porn. 1.2% of sex related searches at alltheweb were for shemales and 0.6% for beastiality.

An interesting difference between alltheweb users and alta vista users was that about half of alltheweb users that browsed for porn also browsed for non-sexual material in the same session. In alta vista data, only 14.8% of users that browsed for porn looked at non-sexual material during the same session. This result is somewhat surprising even when considering 14.8% of alta vista users as opposed to almost 50% of alltheweb users looked at non sex related material, as the act of looking for porn is considered to be need based. Why then would a fair amount of users seek non-sex related information in the same session?

This behavior is easier to understand when we conceptualize the behavior of looking at porn on internet as being non-attentional information seeking foraging behavior. Evolutionary psychologists have hypothesized that our information seeking behavior is useful because we can take seemingly unrelated bits of data and transform them in order to better adapt to our environment for survival. Innovations in military and transportation may have taken place because prehistoric humans started modifying natural materials for funeral purposes. The act of searching for non-sexual materials during one’s porn search sessions then is simply a byproduct of our general information seeking behavior.


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