New Delhi: On planes, trains and buses, Indians, increasingly, are glued to their phone screens. In public, they may be on WhatsApp or watching cricket highlights, but what do they do in private? The men, at least, watch porn–and a lot of it. Google Trends, which quantifies search interest in particular terms or topics across regions, and over time, is a particularly useful tool for analysing porn interest. Search terms can often reveal what people are truly interested in.

Mint examined the popularity of a collection of porn-associated terms (“sex video", “porn", “porn website", “free porn", “porn video", “xxx video") searched on Google over the last decade, to find that search interest in these terms has increased steadily.

The search interest in porn seems to have spiked especially since September 2016, when Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani shook up the telecom industry with the launch of Reliance Jio, precipitating an industry-wide decline in data tariffs, which has brought down the costs of accessing online porn.

The scale of this interest in porn, though, is better illustrated when compared with other search terms. Porn-related queries far exceed queries on more innocuous Indian passions, such as recipes, cricket and Bollywood. For example, over the past year, the number of porn-related searches were at least 10 times cricket-related searches or Bollywood-related searches.

Even by global standards, Indians are among the most fervent pursuers of porn. After adjusting for search volumes, only Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia and Trinidad and Tobago make more porn-related queries than India.

Of course, Indians do not just search for porn, they also consume it in large doses. According to data from Pornhub.com, the world’s largest pornographic website, Indians are the third largest consumers of porn in the world (behind the US and the UK in terms of website traffic) and spend an average of 8 minutes on the website. The bulk of these visits come from men (70% of traffic) browsing via mobile phones (more than 90% of total traffic). All this comes even as the government tries to clamp down on porn: Since 2013, Indian visits to Pornhub have more than doubled.

Sites like Pornhub, which hosts an estimated 115 years worth of video material, offer a diverse selection of porn. But yet in this buffet of porn, Indians, more than others, stick to home comforts. Among the most searched terms on Pornhub over the last five years, ‘Indian sex’ and ‘Hindi’ featured most prominently. Indians also seem to have a familial fetish with ‘bhabhi’, another popular search term. This domestic preference extends to regions within India and, especially, South India. Examining regional Google Trends data for porn-related terms, we find that the most commonly related queries are simply regional porn variations. For instance, over the last decade in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, commonly related queries to a porn-related term are variations of ‘Telugu sex video’, likewise for Tamil Nadu (‘Tamil sex video’) and Kerala (‘Malayalam sex video’).

While South Indians may be interested in regional porn, the east of the country is simply interested in porn. City-wide analysis suggests that places such as Siliguri, Guwahati and Bhubaneswar are the hotbeds of pornographic Google searches.

India’s erotic searches are not limited to just heterosexual content. Despite overall conservativeness towards homosexuality in surveys, on Google, at least, search interest in homosexuality is increasing over time and is in line with other countries. Examining Google search interest for a collection of same sex-related terms (e.g. “gay sex video") reveals that, over the last decade, queries from India are in the same range as English-speaking countries (such as Australia, the US and Britain).

What does all this porn mean for society? Some critics argue that excessive porn can lead to sexual violence. Others argue the opposite, claiming that porn provides an outlet for suppressed sexual desires and decreases violence. Globally, the evidence is inconclusive. India, with its rising porn consumption and sexual violence problems, may provide a definitive answer in the coming years.

This is the second of a three-part data journalism series on what Google searches reveal about India’s taste and preferences. The next part will explore how Indians search for films and filmstars online.

Part 1: What Google reveals about search interest in Indian politics

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