How Much of the Internet Is Porn? Less than You’d Expect

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The Internet really isn’t as pornography-filled as you might think. In fact, according to one expert, only 42,337 of the one million most-trafficked websites online are offering sex-related content, which translates into somewhere around 4% of sites on the Internet.

That surprising figure—am I the only person who expected it to be much higher?—comes from neuroscientist Ogi Ogas who, along with his partner Sai Gaddam, collected porn statistics as research for his book A Billion Wicked Thoughts. He went on to say that 13% of all web searches between July 2009 and July 2010 were for “erotic content,” down from an estimated 40-50% ten years earlier. So has the Internet just become more family-friendly as it grows older?

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Ogas isn’t convinced; he thinks that what may have happened instead, is that hard fact has replaced fearmongering and rumor:

There have been a bunch of false and ultimately mythic stats floating around for years that say half the Internet is porn or one third of the Internet is porn, though this has never been remotely true… Web filtering companies used to always release competing figures on the number of porn sites they blocked, but these numbers were almost certainly boosted to get sensationalist headlines  and to seem competitive with other filtering companies that filtered “less” adult sites. For example, N2H2 claimed there were 260 million porn sites–haha, one for every American citizen! :) Conservative groups are always coming up with porn figures that are crazy high, too, especially with regard to children’s exposure to porn.

Perhaps the most surprising piece of information Ogas shares about Internet porn, however, may be that people still pay for pornography online. In fact, that may be more true depending on where you live. According to Ogas, “I’ve heard from different adult operators that the Republican states have higher per-capita subscription rates. Meaning they’re more likely to pay money—they don’t know about free porn viewing.”

I eagerly look forward to the next Republican Presidential Nominee Debate featuring candidates boasting about the jobs they’ve created in the online porn industry.

MORE: Yes, You Can Surf Porn at New York City Libraries

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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