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A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire Hardcover – May 5, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In a stroke of ingenuity, Ogas and Gaddam circumvent the deepest limitation of standard psychological surveys: that they merely tap undergraduates' socially acceptable responses, a flaw nowhere more damaging than in the touchy realm of sexuality. A Billion Wicked Thoughts is a goldmine of information about this hugely important topic, and, not surprisingly, gripping and sometimes disturbing reading."
-Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate

"A refreshing look at the big picture of human sexuality, informed by the ultimate unobtrusive source of data, the internet... Regardless of your background, you're in for a treat... If you want answers to pretty much anything about sexual desire, this is the book for you."
-From the Foreword by Catherine Salmon, coauthor of Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fantasies, Evolution and Female Sexuality and author of The Secret Life of Middle Children

"This is an amazing book. For the first time ever, Ogas and Gaddam skillfully tie together the latest findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, social psychology, and millions of internet users. Everything you always wanted to know about your desires in the bedroom."
-Daniel J. Levitin, bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs

"Every invention in communication technology--the printing press, photography, motion pictures, videotape, the Internet--was quickly co- opted to produce and disseminate erotica. Just as the microscope and the telescope illuminated for the first time the very small and the very large, A Billion Wicked Thoughts uses the power of the Internet to illuminate with unprecedented wattage human male and female desires. Ogas and Gaddam analyzed a mountain of Internet data to produce a breakthrough in the study of human sexuality."
-Donald Symons, Professor Emeritus, University of California Santa Barbara, author of The Evolution of Human Sexuality

"A Billion Wicked Thoughts provides a brilliant, thoroughly researched, and totally engaging analysis of human sexuality using vast and original analyses of the Internet. It furnishes an x-ray of male and female sexual minds and explains why they differ so profoundly. The insights it yields are often surprising, sometimes shocking, and never boring. I couldn't put the book down."
-David M. Buss, author of Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind and The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating

"On the Internet, the evolutionary past meets futuristic technology, enabling the blossoming of all manner of sexual tastes, fantasies, and desires. Ogas and Gaddam have mined these new sources of information- arguably the world's largest experiment on human behavior--to produce a fascinating and terrific book on human sexuality, in all its timeless mysteries and ultra-modern manifestations. This well-written, entertaining book is packed with information, ideas, and insights. There is no better way to understanding your desires, your partner's, or anyone else's."
-Roy Baumeister, Professor of Psychology, Florida State University

"A brilliant romp through the darkest recesses of our sexual minds, based on the unwitting confessions of millions of anonymous Internet users."
-Simon LeVay, author of The Sexual Brain and Gay, Straight and the Reason Why

"Ogas & Gaddam mine the power of Internet for expressions of male and female mating psychology that are unfiltered by social expectations. In the process, they unearth A Billion Wicked Thoughts, many of which depart radically from our standard script for human mating psychology. These counter-intuitive insights into the sexual psyche of our species should provide much fodder for discussion among sex researchers."
-Paul Vasey, Professor of Behavioral Science, University of Lethbridge

About the Author

Ogi Ogas studies computational models of memory, learning, and vision. He was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow.

Sai Gaddam
studies large-scale data analysis and serves as a data mining consultant in India. They both received their Ph.D.s in computational neuroscience from Boston University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; First Printing edition (May 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525952098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952091
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #273,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, is neither as good nor as bad as its polarized readers maintain. Its real flaw is that it starts from a very reasonable - intriguing, even - analysis of a research project and then unfortunately overextends.

Before we throw away the baby with the bath, let's look at what is worthwhile about it. Knowing how hard it is to study human sexuality directly, because of an overwhelming tendency toward preserving our modesty and privacy, the authors decided to study the best available proxy - the internet search patterns for porn subjects by literally millions of people from publicly available aggregate databases of search queries. You have to give them credit for a clever insight - what we are "googling" is as revealing as a million questionnaires, but can be accessed without the time and trouble of sexological data gathering.

From that data come some remarkably interesting insights, such as:
* Although the cultural meme, "Rule 34," (There is a porn site for every taste and twist imaginable) may be true, 95% or more of porn searches congregate around less than a dozen, mostly vanilla, themes.
* Men and women, in broad generalities, have hugely different tastes in and appetites for porn, but homosexuals and heterosexuals do NOT have the significant differences: gay and straight porn for men are almost exact thematically duplicates of each other, and in the same proportions.
* Interest in feet may be considered a fetish, but at least on the internet it is so common as to be on par with interest in, um, more directly-involved body parts.
* Predictably to anyone who has observed the social preoccupation with youth, porn about the barely-legal is the most popular theme of all, accounting for over half of all porn use.
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Format: Paperback
This very interesting book on sex was viciously flamed when it first came out. It's been called disorganized, "man-splaining," "science-fail," and worse. The New York Times Book Review unfortunately assigned it not to a sex writer but to a culture critic, who called it a "farrago."

It's none of those things. It's a very creative, cleverly written, tightly argued book on sex differences, erotic cues, and the authors' massive dataset concerning sex searches and other offerings on the web that are countable and categorizable. True, the book has real weaknesses -- the one that bothered me most was its liberal crossing of species lines in search of analogies for human behavior. Its "biologizing" becomes irritating after awhile. I would have preferred if the authors stuck to their data rather than jumping into purely biological explanations for everything. This was distracting to me, and I think needlessly alienated lots of readers.

Its Chapter 11, however, is alone worth the trip. I wonder how many of the book's critics actually made it to Chapter 11 -- or really paid attention to the book's argument on the way to Chapter 11.

Fortunately, the book is beginning to attract more reasoned attention. Now that it's finally in paperback, let's hope the book now starts to generate more intelligent discussion. Especially since the mass popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is confirming some of the authors' ideas about desire.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked up this book enthusiastically after hearing part of author Ogi's interview with Dan Savage. (Oh, Dan Savage, you are usually so awesome, but when you lead me astray, you lead me astray so hard!) In theory I am the most ideal of possible audiences for the authors: I'm a PhD student in a related quantitatively-oriented discipline, have a similar perverse love of wrangling revealing insights on humanity out of large datasets, and also have a side interdisciplinary interest in applying the techniques of my own field towards understanding human sexuality. In fact, my partner and I once conducted a similar private 'study' of a popular erotic website that I will not name here - crawling a subset of the website and processing publicly-available user information into an array of revealing figures and tables, just for fun and to satisfy our own curiosity.

The disdainful recent Sunday New York Times review of a Billion Wicked Thoughts gets it right - this book is a "farrago" (I had to look it up, too: meaning a "confused mixture"). It feels as if the authors spent years carefully collecting and curating a number of different sexual datasets that were of particular interest to them, then realized their book deadline was in two weeks, and hastily strung one summary statistic from the next in a jumbled narrative arc, using only their own stereotypes as a guide.

The authors try to justify their most foundational stereotype, that men and women are separated by a vast sexual gulf, with the observation that men like porn and women like romance novels. On first pass, I found this strange because I am a woman who is attracted to men, and while I have watched porn, I have never read a romance novel.
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Format: Paperback
"A Billion Wicked Thoughts" is a remarkable and brilliant book that was unfairly attacked by the critics when it first came out (at least those few critics who bothered to pay any attention to it). It uses a vast reservoir of previously-untapped data - the internet - to draw conclusions about human sexuality. Some of those conclusions may seem familiar to you and have the effect of confirming hypotheses at which you've already arrived. Most of their conclusions, however, will be quite startling and profound. First off, men and women are different (like you needed to read a book to tell you that). But "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" proves it with reference to a wealth of empirical data: men respond to visual cues, women respond to psychological cues. That makes sense when you think about it: men and women have different biological imperatives. Men need to be "at the ready" at a moment's notice for as wide as possible an array of fertile sexual partners; women look for "dominant" men, the proverbial alpha male, the "top dog" as it were, to give their offspring the best chance to survive and thrive. That's why women just don't like porn and men will never read romance novels - our brains are just designed differently for different biological imperatives. Read this book in conjunction with Norah Vincent's book "Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man". The authors are coming from different angles of approach, but each in his or her own way is saying the same thing: gender lives in your head. It is definitely NOT a social construct, i.e. something that you can just swap out like a suit of clothes.Read more ›
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