Digital Maps Reveal Hidden Geographies Of Sex And Religion

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When you create a marker on Google Maps, you could be revealing the most popular religious and sexual habits in your local region. At least, that's what a group of social geographers demonstrated with their "sex and religion" map.

A group of three geographers who research internet map data did an exhaustive study of user-generated markers on Google maps. These are flags and notes that people can leave on Google maps to let other people know what's going on in that area. University of Kentucky's Matthew Zook and Oxford's Mark Graham sifted through reams of this data looking for keywords that popped up in association with different regions. One of their most recent results is this map showing the prevalence of words associated with different religions (they picked the words "Jesus," "Hindu," "Buddha," and "Allah"). Perhaps not surprisingly, the terms tend to occur more commonly in areas of the world associated with religions that use those words frequently. Obviously, there are going to be more places with the word "Jesus" associated with them in South America, while there will be more places associated with "Buddha" in Southeast Asia.

Then the researchers added in places where there were markers that had the word "sex" in them. You get a nice view of sexy places and religious places.


Says researcher Mark Graham:

Here we included placemarks that reference the word ("sex"), a popular and international used term with very different connotations than the religious keywords used earlier. The purpose of including this term is to compare user interest in religion to user interest in sex. If (as some say) the three topics to avoid in polite conversation are religion, sex and politics it seems only right that this Internet blog (the antithesis to polite conversation if there every was one) takes on the question. Sadly, the inclusion of politics will have to wait until another day.

In Asia there are very few places where there are more references to sex than Allah, Buddha, Hindu or Jesus. Constrasting this is Western Europe (especially the UK and Scandinavia) and North America (especially the East and West Coasts) there are more references to sex than any of the four religious terms that we searched for . . . There are, however, exceptions such as the Iberian countries of Spain and Portugal which continue to show more references to Jesus.


And then there's this map, which I adore, showing placemarkers with the word "strip club" in them. Of course Vegas leads the way.


UPDATE: io9 spoke with researcher Matthew Zook, who clarified how they gathered the data. He said via email that these maps are based on gathering data from:

Half a million geotagged places that have been contributed to Wikipedia, 10 million contributed to WikiMapia, 800 million GPS points uploaded to OpenStreetMap, and almost 10 million placemarks uploaded to Google.


He also noted that "all terms were in English." Zook added:

Using translated terms is something we are working on but it is a tough nut. Which language should be used at which point? What is the best translated term for "sex" in Chinese, Thai, German, Danish, etc.?


You can find more intriguing maps like these on the researchers' blog FloatingSheep.