Sex Searches on the Decline, New Book Says

Gretchen Gallen
PITTSBURGH – Researchers from Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh claim to have discovered a significant decline in the amount of sex- and porn-related Internet searches.

A new book co-authored by Amanda Spink and Bernard J. Jansen traces online search activity over a seven-year span. Among many findings, the authors claim that in 1997, 20 percent of all web searches used sex terms, whereas in 2004, only 5 percent of searches used sex or porn terms in the search field.

In Europe, the number of sex searches has reportedly shrunk to between 8 and 10 percent.

Titled "Web Search: Public Searching of the Web," Spink and Jansen attribute this recent shift to a preference among users for "everyday" information instead of entertainment, especially adult entertainment.

The authors also speculate that because common use of the Internet is more than ten years old, mainstream users aren't as excited by the web as they initially were and consequently expend less energy to surf than in previous years when it was more of a social anomaly.

Search terms that have risen in popularity, the two researchers say, are related to e-commerce and business, which have ballooned to 86 percent of all search terms used.

The study is the first of its kind to examine web search behavior from a theoretical overview to a detailed study of term usage, and integrate these different levels of analysis into a coherent picture of how people locate information on the web using search engines.

The two researchers also discovered that online searches have generally become more simplified, and that the majority of users don't fully maximize search engine technology to their advantage.

"The searches are taking less than five minutes and they're only looking at the first page of results," Spink said. "That's why people are wanting to get their results on the first page of search engine results."

Spink and Jansen used several different studies to determine their findings, including an examination of more than 1 million case studies in search behavior on engines such as Alta Vista. The two authors were able to dissect which search terms were used, how many times users entered search terms, and what the results were.

"We were surprised that people weren't doing more complex searches," Spink said. "If you put a couple of words into the web, you're going to get hundreds of thousands of results. I think people aren't trained very well to use the search engines."