Research & Insights

By Brendan O'Connor, August 20, 2008

Fleshmap: crowdsourcing sex

We all know crowds can tell us the weight of an ox, but can they help us in bed?

With artists Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, we took pictures of the nude human body, and asked people online to rate how much they’d like to touch, or be touched at, different positions all over the body. Here is where men most like to be touched, front and back:

We got this data by posting a survey on the Amazon service, Mechanical Turk — an online marketplace for simple tasks — and offered to pay a few cents for a hundred ratings. In a few days we collected more than 30,000 responses over 700 body positions, from about 280 different people. The above image is from Fernanda and Martin’s Skin to Skin visualization, you can compare silhouette heatmaps of the data. For example, from the woman’s back, here’s a comparison of where women want to be touched, versus where men (and some women) want to touch them.

Some patterns jump out — for example, the back of the neck seems to be a neglected area. (Take note!) But otherwise, desire to touch and be touched seem pretty well matched up.

What’s also interesting about this experiment is that, despite the subjectiveness of the task and large variability in the data, patterns still emerge. To get some idea of how noisy the data is, here are rating histograms for several of the “desire to be touched” locations for women. (You can explore all body locations with the Sorting Out Desire visualization.)

We had from 20 to 50 responses for most positions. While there are clear differences between these locations, there’s enough noise such that a large amount of data is necessary to discern the signal. This is exactly the same finding we have seen with other types crowdsourcing work. If we didn’t have access to such a large and available-on-demand pool of participants, we wouldn’t have gotten any coherent results at all.

Finally, we collected demographic data from the raters. 10% reported as gay, and 19% as bisexual. Interestingly, straight men are the least likely to report wanting to be touched. (Feel free to hypothesize why!)

picture-24.png

We also asked for the age of the rater. What ages have more desire? Is there truth to the stereotype of a lecherous old man? Our evidence is mixed. Below are average ratings when answering “How good would it feel to touch this area?” People in their twenties and thirties give higher ratings, but older men give higher responses than do women — even considering that men give higher responses overall.

touch-by-age.png

Many thanks to Fernanda and Martin for approaching us with this fun idea. This has definitely been the most ludicrous task we’ve ever worked on 🙂 Take a look at this — and other great work — at their site, Fleshmap.com.

Brendan