A New Study Reveals Our Deepest Sexual Insecurities

You know which subject tops men’s sexual anxiety list. What about women?

Posted May 14, 2016

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz uses Web searches to investigate America’s deepest anxieties. The former data analyst at Google earned a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard, and now writes for the New York Times about the hidden truths that Internet searches reveal. Recently, he analyzed one month of Google sex searches and discovered that, for many Americans, the joy of getting it on takes a back seat to all the anxieties the subject provokes.

Men’s Biggest Insecurity—No Surprise

Men are by far most anxious about penis size. Men register more searches about the little guy than any other organ. And among searches for “penis,” nine of the top 10 deal with size—why is it so small? How can I make it longer? Thicker?

Of course, men worried about penis size isn't news. What’s novel is the depth of men’s concern. Men should worry about heart attack and stroke, which together kill 40 percent of Americans. But searches for “penis” substantially outnumber searches for “heart” and “brain” combined.

Men also worry about aging. What’s their top aging-related search? Not heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or incontinence, but: “Will my penis shrink?”

Why are men so anxious about size? They’re convinced that women place great value on a big one. But for every time a woman searches  “penis size,” men search it 170 times.

In addition, when women search penis size, around 40 percent of their queries reflect concerns that it's too large and makes intercourse painful.

Now, some gals wish for men with phone poles between their les—but not many. Researchers at UCLA and Cal State LA posted a survey on MSNBC.com asking women: What do you think of your man’s genitals? Replies poured—26,437. Almost seven of eight replying women—84 pecent—said they felt “very satisfied” with their partner’s penis. Among those who had complaints, 14 percent wished it were larger and 2 percent wanted smaller. For more on this survey, see How Women Really Feel About Penis Size.  

For decades, sex educators and therapists have talked themselves blue in the face urging men to realize that there’s a great deal more to enjoyable lovemaking than penis size, notably,  kissing and cuddling, leisurely, playful mutual whole-body massage, and reciprocal oral sex. But alas, Google searches show that the entreaties have fallen on largely deaf ears. Men’s enduring preoccupation with size would be amusing … if it weren’t so sad.

After size, men’s #2 search term is another subject women rarely google— premature ejaculation: “How can I make sex last longer?” Fortunately for anxious men, sex therapists have developed a program that, in the vast majority of cases, cures premature ejaculation in a few months—without any of the expensive pills, potions, or weird exercise regimens touted on the Internet. Premature ejaculation is usually just a bad habit, a bad habit that's fairly easy to change. Want to last as long as you’d like? Read my low-cost e-booklet, The Cure for Premature Ejaculation.

Women’s Biggest Insecurity—Vaginal Odor

Men aren’t the only ones in a tizzy about their genitals. Stephens-Davidowitz discovered that women search “vagina” almost as often as men search “penis.”

Women’s biggest concern is odor. Women worry that what’s between their legs smells like (in descending order): fish, vinegar, onions, ammonia, garlic, cheese, body odor, urine, bread, bleach, feces, sweat, metal, dirty feet, garbage, and rotten meat.

This worry sends millions of women to pharmacies in search of douches. Trouble is, douching is less likely to prevent foul odor than produce it. Douching changes the vaginal ecology and significantly increases risk of several malodorous vaginal infections, among them: chlamydia, trichomonas, gardnerella, bacterial vaginosis, and potentially life-threatening pelvic inflammatory disease. Douching also reduces women’s fertility and increases risk of cervical cancer and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. For more on the many hazards of douching, read my previous post, Don’t Douche.

For a good 20 years, women’s health authorities have beseeched women not to douche, explaining that the vagina is a self-cleansing organ and that regular washing with soap and water is all that’s required for “freshness.” Women have listened. In 1988, 37 percent of American women age 15 to 44, douched regularly. Today, the figure is less than 12 percent (whites: 9 percent, African-Americans: 28 percent, Hispanics: 15 percent).

But douches continue to make pharmacy cash registers sing to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year. Ladies, the vast majority of men feel fine about how your vagina smells and tastes.

But just as a small proportion of women wish their man’s penis were larger, a small percentage of men wish their lover were more fragrant down there. When men search “vagina odor,” they’re usually trying to learn how to raise the subject without hurting their gal’s feelings.

Breast and Butt Insecurity

Women also feel insecure about their breasts. Every year Google tallies more than 7 million searches for “breast implants.” Around 300,000 American women have augmentation surgery annually.

The conventional wisdom is that men yearn for big breasts. Some do, but many men prefer small ones, and a substantial proportion of men don’t care one way or the other. For more, read my post Boobs! Men’s Complex Feelings about Women’s Breasts.

Finally, women feel insecure about their hindquarters. During the Internet’s first decade, 1997-2007, most searches for “butt” or “buttocks” focused on making it smaller. Searches about making it larger were heavily concentrated in locales with large African-American populations. But starting in 2010, “butt” searches increasingly dealt with enlargement, and by 2014, in every state, regardless of race, there were as many searches for “bigger butt” as for “smaller.” Searches for “big booty” porn have also increased. Why? That’s not entirely clear but two recent cultural phenomena appear to play a major role in the shift—the mega-popularity of Kim Kardashian, who’s quite large back there, and the popularity of “twerking” (added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013), a dance style that emphasizes booty shaking.

Anxiety About Sexless Marriages and Relationships

When people search “______ marriage,” the five most popular first terms were:

Sexless (21,090 searches in the month Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed)

Unhappy (6,029)

Loveless (2,650)

Sex Starved (1.658)

No sex (1,300)

And when people searched “_____ relationship,” the five top fist terms were:

Abusive (5,867)

Sexless (3,675)

Complicated (3,563)

Unhappy (1,450)

Bad (1,363)

So, is every couple miserable? No. People search unhappiness much more than happiness because they hope to find some way to change things. But it’s clear that sexual insecurities and relationship distress abound.

I think it's sad. I’m very interested to learn what you, dear readers, think of all this. Do these findings resonate for you? Please comment.

References:

Grimley, D.M. et al. “Vaginal Douches and Other Feminine Hygiene Products: Women’s Practices and Perceptions of Product Safety,” Maternal and Child Health (2006) 10:303.

Lever, J. et al. “Does Size Matter? Men’s and Women’s Views on Penis Size Across the Lifespan,” Psychology of Men and Masculinity (2006) 7:129.

Martino, J.L. and S.H. Vermund. “Vaginal Douching: Evidence for Risks or Benefits to Women’s Health,” Epidemiologic Reviews (2002) 24:109.

Stephens-Davidowitz, S. “Searching for Sex,” New York Times, Jan. 25, 2015.

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