Friday, June 30, 2017

Massaging Numbers

Like most bookish gay men, I have a huge crush on Nate Silver.  Nate is the openly gay 40ish writer and statistician who founded and edits the popular website FiveThirtyEight.  Nate and his colleagues apply quantitative analytic tools to topics like politics (“Maybe Trump Didn’t Remake The Political Map”), sports (“Aaron Judge Is The Most Out-Of-Nowhere MVP Candidate Since Ichiro”), and culture (“Fidget Spinners Are Over”).  If he’d lose a little weight he’d be just my type, what Jack on Will & Grace once called “the rarest of the gays – the hot gay nerd.”  [Ed. note:  the next friend who blurts out my type is “younger” has to do a book report on Nate’s The Signal and the Noise, which is about the perils of reaching the wrong conclusion based on insufficient or erroneous data.]

Even before Nate and his website came into my life several painful elections ago, I was already fascinated by the ways quantitative data can offer insights into everyday life.  The current cover story in New York Magazine is about a recent trove of particularly revealing data, and concludes “Pornhub is the Kinsey Report of Our Times.” 

Pornhub is a monopolistic cluster of prurient websites catering to every kind of audience.  To mark its tenth anniversary, Pornhub recently released detailed information about the different kinds of porn categories and search terms that have appealed to various demographics over the last decade.  As NY Magazine reports, the overall observations are fascinating. 
However, I went straight to Pornhub Insights’ own Pride Month report to learn about the audience for its forty categories of gay male products.  (We nerds read Playboy for the articles about statistics.  That’s why Nate is so hot.) 

You should read both reports for yourself, although probably not at the office.  I just wanted to call out a few big gay highlights:

  • As American politics constantly reminds us, the country’s original sin of slavery left a lasting stain.  The top gay porn category overall is “Black.”  But drilling down, you discover it holds that position because of its overwhelming lead in the states of the Confederacy, and to a lesser extent the northern states where blacks moved during the Great Migration.   Compared to the rest of the world, NY Magazine reports that overall the three searches unique to American viewers are “big booty Latina,” “big black dick,” and “ebony.” 
  • The second most popular gay porn category overall is “Straight Guys.”  Again, the numbers are inflated by certain mostly red states.  Nevertheless, the perennial search for “straight-acting” guys says a lot about society’s internalized homophobia and our anxiety about masculinity.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever queried Google, Pornhub, or any other search engine for “Straight Guys” or “Black.”  Or for “Straight Latino,” like a good Texan apparently would.

  • As the articles in NY Magazine observe, Pornhub’s tracking data over time shows there can be an interactive dynamic between porn tastes and cultural phenomena.  Like FiveThirtyEight, Pornhub’s own data also suggests the fidget spinner fad peaked in May.
  • After Black and Straight Guys, the next most popular gay porn categories are “Bareback,” “Big Dick,” “Daddy,” “Interracial,” and “Twink.”  I like how age is a plus for once.   More good news:  compared to straight porn, gay porn viewers are almost three times more likely to search for “daddy.”                   
  • Pornhub helpfully crunched the numbers to identify for each state the term that is most often searched for when compared to all other states.  Weirdly, “tickle” is at the top in both Iowa and Massachusetts.  Utah and Idaho lead with “mormon,” which I can understand after sampling some of Pornhub’s hot missionary porn.  Kentucky and West Virginia:  “redneck.”  Connecticut:  “doctor.”  But my favorite is South Dakota:  “furry.”  Don’t ask.

  • Finally, viewer age makes a big difference.  Guys in my cohort, who came out in the shadow of AIDS, disproportionately search for “bareback.”  Guys who are a little younger have less baggage and more energy, and went with “group.”  And viewers over 65 are one and a half times more likely than average to search for “massage.”