Math was always a bugbear of mine.
Whilst my peers were nailing standard deviation I was stuck on algebra. Things picked up after I was moved into a class with a teacher whose name I reworked into a nifty innuendo, and then rapidly turned sour again after I accidentally answered the register using the wrong name.
"What did you just call me?"
"Was it Brick-dick?"
"Actually, sir. It was Grit-dick."
If only maths had been a little bit more salacious I would never have flunked class. Fifteen years on, my prayers have been answered.
The subreddit theydidthemath is a forum for people to present and solve esoteric mathematical conundrums. For example, "How many ducks would it take to pull an average sized car and get up to 35MPH?" and "How much pollution did the Volkswagen emissions scandal has caused on our planet?" (1.4 million tons of nitrogen dioxide, apparently.)
In amongst the vanilla requests and solutions are more NSFW ones: "How many miles of penis has Jenna Jameson received in her pornographic career?", "What is the lifetime average distance travelled of a man's hand during masturbation?" and the less appealing, "How long would a girl have to suck off a dude for her to burn off the calories gained from swallowing?"
I spoke to some Redditors about why they are so keen on putting pen to paper in the pursuit of penile arithmetic.
"My friends and I were sat around drinking and wondering if it were possible to calculate the 'dick mileage' of the pornstar Jenna Jameson," theydidthemath member Matthew explained over messages on Reddit. "It seemed like too good of a conundrum to not figure out. As I recall we accounted for individual 'pumps' at 7.5 inches with margin either side for what we referred to as the 'just the tip' factor and estimated 300 pumps per session."
Initially they arrived at a dick marathon of 27.7 miles of penis but were then corrected by somebody who adjusted their formula for a more accurate number of partners.
"The final figure was 6.14 miles," the 25 year old from Windsor, UK, says. "It inspired some controversy as to the veracity of the equation but we did the best we could without actually watching hours and hours of porn with a note pad."
But what draws Mathew to using math on sex, I wondered. What's the driving factor behind these mathematical proofs?
"There's something rebellious about applying mathematics, which is innately elegant, to the crude act of sex or masturbation," he told me. "I liked the work of the guy who figured out it would take 951 years of masturbating once per minute without stopping for food or sleep to fill an Olympic swimming pool. It's completely useless information but the conundrum was still intriguing."
James, 18, Colorado, USA, worked out how many Eiffel Towers it would take to fuck the world based off Kendrick Lamar's song "Backseat Freestyle."
"I chose this specific one because I was listening to the song and it got me thinking how big your dick would actually need to be, because even though the Eiffel Tower is big, it is small compared to the Earth," he said. "I first did my calculations very messily on a paper that would only make sense to me and later rewrote them to post online."
I just think everything should be questioned, considered, and refined—and sex is a part of life.
For James, it's no coincidence that he's drawn to salacious maths. "I think it can lend a bridge between two things that don't usually connect. It can lessen the contradictory stigma about sex, since it is everywhere in society but also taboo, and help us understand both sides of it," he continued.
For the other numberphiles, the forum offers a place for them to express their interests without judgment.
Lance, 26, from Detroit told Broadly that although his cousin is the head of a math department of a college in Michigan, there are some things he can't share with him because he's a conservative Christian.
"I take all my non-sexual questions to him and use Reddit to help with the more sexual things," he said. "[But] I wouldn't say sex lends itself [to maths]. I just think everything should be questioned, considered, and refined—and sex is a part of life."
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"I don't concentrate on math during or beginning sexy time. The only weird sciencey thing I do is think about David Attenborough narrating the scene like it was a nature documentary," he said.
Lance's favourite conundrum, which he is yet to post, was inspired by browsing /r/askwomen and stumbling upon the question: 'Describe what being horny feels like for a female?'.
"The standard response was, 'It feels like a void that needs to be filled with dick,' so I went through and did all of the volume calculations according to my averages," he explained. "It was a little awkward grabbing the empirical evidence I needed, texting women I hadn't talked to in six months to ask, 'Hey, remember that one time awhile ago…?'"
Helped out by his ex girlfriend, a social worker who was interested in his "sexy math" as she called it, Lance worked out 'the volume of the void of horniness' to be about 320 gallons.
Think about it: Being able to pull stats is a sure fire way to win an argument or at least be lauded as an authority.
"It came down to this: I'm about 7 inches long with a 6 inches circumference. That makes the diameter about 1.92 inches and a radius of 0.995. The volume of a cylinder is V=πr2h so that gives us 21.77 inches. From the empirical evidence, I averaged 170 beats per minute (BPM) with an average time of 20 minutes so 21.77 x 170 x 20 = 74,018 inches which is 320.39065 gallons."
Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, sociologist and author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment told me via email that from a sociological standpoint, we live in a world that claims to appreciate various forms of qualitative data, but what we really have been conditioned to value is the quantitative.
"Numbers are unbiased, uncorrupted by human opinion and irrefutable," she explained. "Think about it: Being able to pull stats is a sure fire way to win an argument or at least be lauded as an authority. So in terms of why we're interested in the empirical knowledge of salacious acts, it's exactly this—the same social norms that tell us 'numbers are most correct' also tells us that sex is weird or dirty or not a worthwhile query. If one can find a way to quantify those socially 'unworthy' questions, it suddenly legitimizes them as a preoccupation."
In other words, just as James said, salacious maths proves that sex is just like everything else: an amazing part of life that doesn't always have to be about fucking.
"It's unfortunate that we have painted ourselves into such a social corner with sex because it could be that the people who are doing these maths on Reddit see sex for what it is: interesting, compelling, and totally ordinary," Dr. Tibbals said. "Human behavior, though not always kind or uplifting, is fascinating. When we ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable because we have been conditioned to feel discomfort, we lose out on knowing that."
In her book Mathematics and Sex, Dr. Clio Cresswell praises the role maths has played in understanding human nature. "In many of our human endeavours, big or small, mathematics has been an invisible member of the team," she wrote. "The Human Genome Project is hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs in human knowledge, but it wouldn't even be a seed in either of Francis Collins', Eric Lander's or Craig Venter's eye if it weren't for mathematics."
Then, in conclusion, she offers up another subject for mathematical input: the orgasm. "A complex event incorporating many different aspects of the body, equations are bound to uncover some of the underlying mechanisms driving the complex orgasmic interactions."
A mathematical formula for coming? Now that I can get behind.