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The Seasons for Sex

When researchers examine sexual behaviors they tend to focus on who is most sexually promiscuous. For example, men and women with dominant personalities tend to sleep with more people than submissive individuals.1 But what about the equally interesting question: when are individuals most promiscuous? That is – is there a time of the year when people tend to be the horniest? Research using archival data (e.g., births records, condom sales, etc.) seems to suggest that sex and mating behaviors in the United States show a 6-month seasonal cycle. People seem most likely to have sex during the winter and summer.2,3

We wanted to tackle this research question a bit differently and a little more directly. We didn’t want to rely on information from archival birth records, which may not really capture when all people are thinking about sex (there is this thing called birth control). Similarly, condom sales might not accurately reflect when individuals actually utilize these purchases. Directly asking people when they are “in the mood” raises problems because people don’t always remember the days and the times when they were looking for some lovin’ (scientists refer to this as a “retrospective memory bias”). Another way to tap into people’s sexual desires at a specific period of time is by assessing changes in Internet keyword searches. By simply typing a few words into an Internet search engine (e.g., Google), individuals are able to obtain information on any topic of interest (like sex). For example, a person might type the word “porn” into the Google search engine when attempting to find pornography. A person might type in “eHarmony” when trying to find a mate or even “prostitute” when attempting to engage in illicit sexual activities. 

Link to Adam & EveSo, to help us further pinpoint the “seasons” of sex, we investigated internet keyword searches during the past 5 years for topics related to pornography, prostitution, and dating.4  Using data supplied by Google, representing millions of Internet searches, we examined various keywords, including: “porn,” “xvideos” (i.e., pornography keywords), “call girl,” “escort” (i.e., prostitution keywords), “eHarmony,” and “Match.com” (i.e., dating keywords), among other related keywords. In these analyses we found a clear and consistent 6-month cycle for keywords with peaks occurring most frequently during winter and early summer. Interestingly, we did not find similar 6-month trends for non-sexually related keywords (e.g., keywords related to car parts, pets, etc.) – suggesting this seasonal trend is unique for sex and mating related keyword searches.

These new results, just published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, fit well with past research on seasonal trends using archival data (e.g., birth rates, condom sales, etc). Within the United States it appears that people have higher levels of sexual desires during winter and early summer. Although the exact cause for these fluctuations is unclear, such findings are still useful. For example, just as drunk driving campaigns tend to target the Christmas-New Year holidays, when drunk driving fatalities are most common, safer sex programs for college students could be targeted during the fall semester (just before winter break) and spring semester (just before summer break). After all, it makes sense for safe sex campaigns to focus their energy right before people are most likely to be focusing their energy in the bedroom. 

What are your thoughts about the reason for this seasonal trend? Why do sexually related internet searches, birth records, and condom sales all seem to suggest a consistent 6-month pattern with sexual desires and behaviors peaking during winter and summer?

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1Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2007). The interpersonal meaning of sexual promiscuity. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 1199-1212.

2Levin, M. L., Xu, X., & Bartkowski, J. P. (2002). Seasonality of sexual debut. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 871-884.

3Seiver, D. A. (1985). Trend and variation in the seasonality of U.S. fertility, 1947–1976. Demography, 22, 89-100.

4Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2012). Seasonal variation in internet keyword searches: A proxy assessment of sex mating behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9996-5

Dr. Charlotte Markey - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey's research addresses issues central to both developmental and health psychology. A primary focus of her research is social influences on eating-related behaviors (i.e., eating, dieting, body image) in both parent-child and romantic relationships.

Dr. Patrick Markey - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey's research focuses on how behavioral tendencies develop and are expressed within social relationships, including unhealthy dieting, civic behavior, personality judgment, and interpersonal aggression after playing violent video games.

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