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Real-time tracking by researchers has identified a risqué
trend in winter and early summer — people on the Internet looking for love — or
at least sex. 
In a new study published this month in the journal
Archives of Sexual Behavior researchers tracked Google keyword searches in the
United States for pornography, prostitution and dating sites between January
2006 and March 2011. Researchers wanted to gauge the real-time mood of the
nation and found that online interest in the mating game peaked around
Christmas and early summer.

This bi-annual cycle isn’t unheard of. A 2007 review of
research on sexual activity in young people published in the journal Health
Education found a six-month cycle for human sexual activity in the United
States. 
Research on the so-called “holiday season effect” and the
“summer vacation effect” has involved studying the outcomes of sex,
such as births and sexually transmitted infections (STI) — events
that occur weeks to months after doing the deed.
Scientists have also documented increases in condom sales
around Christmas week and during the summer months.
But psychologists Patrick and Charlotte Markey at Villanova
University in Pennsylvania and Rutgers University in New Jersey, respectively,
wanted to see if they could detect patterns and changes in sexual activity more
quickly, especially given health concerns such as STIs.
Data on how frisky people feel at specific points
in time are hard to come by. The difficulty of obtaining accurate self-reports,
and the sheer amount of information needed to detect trends has hampered
researchers’ abilities. So the psychologists turned to the Web.
Using Google Trends, the Markeys studied monthly patterns in
search terms people used when looking for sex or romantic partners online. They
included terms such as “porn,” “boobs,” “xxx,”
“call girl,” “massage parlor,” “eHarmony” and
“Match.com.” They compared the frequency with which people used the
titillating terms with that of neutral searches for pets (“dog,”
“cat” and “bird”), popular websites (“Facebook”
and “ebay”), and car parts (“tires,” “brakes” and
“windshield”).
Patrick Markey was surprised to find the bi-annual trend
in pornography searches. Porn-related keyword searches peaked during winter and
early summer, a trend not seen with neutral search terms.
“I was amazed that an almost identical trend existed
for dating and prostitution searches,” Markey wrote in an email to
LiveScience.
He hopes his study will be of broader use. “It would be
great if these findings could be used to target the timing of safe sex
campaigns,” he wrote.
The reason for the 6-month sexual seasonality is not yet
clear. The findings could represent a “primitive biological cycle,”
U.K.-based neuroscientist and blogger NeuroSkeptic, who was not involved in the
study, wrote on his blog in response to the paper. Or the findings
could have to do with free time.
“One possibility is that it’s purely a social
construction driven by the fact that in Western cultures, Christmas and summer
are the main holiday seasons,” NeuroSkeptic wrote.

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