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People Are Getting Astonishingly Bad Sex Advice From Siri

In the name of science and academia, we tested whether Siri is capable of giving decent sex advice.
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The days of Ask Polly, it seems, are well over—and more and more of us are getting our sexual health advice from the internet. Among the approx 40 percent getting their advice online, a growing number of people are seeking wisdom from online ‘assistants’ like Siri.

Thankfully, a group of enterprising academics in New Zealand have tasked themselves with discovering whether Siri and Google Assistant's sex advice was actually any good. A team of the researchers decided on 50 sexual health questions to pose to Siri and co, and published their findings, “In bed with Siri and Google Assistant: a comparison of sexual health advice,” in the British Medical Journal.


Their results indicate using Siri as your doctor is, at this point, probably ill advised—she provided the best answers to questions just 30 percent of the time. Maybe it's no wonder millennials are apparently having less sex han ever. But inspired by the vision of a team of academics yelling sex questions at Siri, we decide to try out the phone's prowess as an agony aunt for ourselves. She succeeds at the first task, drawing up some articles on STIs, but stumbles at the next hurdle.

“Siri, how do you have good sex?”

“I don’t know how to respond to that,” she demurs.

“Siri, define good sex.”

“Here’s what I found on the web for Siri define good six,” she announces, confounded by the New Zealand accent. “Siri in iOS 10 will only work with six types of third-party apps.”

“Siri, define sex, not six.”

“Here’s what I found on the web for six not six,” she continues: “Number six (the prisoner), or 6 - Wikipedia.”

“How do you have good SEX?” I holler into the phone as an office worker speeds up his walk past the glass doors to the corridor.

“Here’s 20 tips for succeeding at Rainbow Six Siege,” she chirps. We pause, defeated.

“Did you accidentally summon me?” Siri queries.

Possibly it is time to switch tack. “Siri, what is consent?” I ask.

She pipes up: “Here’s what I got! Consent: expression gaining permission; indication of agreement. As a verb it means, give permission for something to happen.”

Buoyed by this success, we continue the sexual politics line of questioning.


“Siri, how do you get consent for sex?”

“Getting directions to Saint Sebastian Elementary School,” she says smoothly, as I jam the home button.

The researchers, too, found Siri’s advice-giving capacities were patchy at best. According to their study, more than a third of Siri’s answers were considered “outright failures” in that they offered no useful information or failed to answer to the question. Google assistant did slightly better, especially with different accents, but a standard laptop search was still far and away the most successful.

The paper lists a few disappointments, noting “Siri’s response to, “Tell me about menopause” was to suggest the show Menopause the Musical in Wikipedia (this show is apparently running in Las Vegas at over 3600 performances) and interpreted “STI” (sexually transmitted infections) as a stock market code. Google Assistant had fewer such problems but responded to a question on STIs by providing a website link to the popular seaside resort of “St Ives” in Cornwall.”

Our academics also tried out a series of slightly more risque requests, including asking for videos and photographs of how people have sex. They note: “Siri lacked specificity by including pictures of sex with aliens, what looked like men wrestling, and photos of people kissing."

When I tentatively ask this of Siri, she simply responds, “Sorry David, I can’t do that,” probably while reporting my boss to Interpol. I have slightly better luck on a second try, which she interprets as “pictures of people six” and pulls up a series of images of people holding up six fingers.


Siri did excel some areas. The researchers write that “Siri was best at locating some nearby services, such as the nearest place to buy condoms or obtain emergency contraception, but less ideally suggested a local acupuncture clinic when asked for the nearest “sexual health clinic”.”

Overall, the researchers say their findings were consistent with other research “which found Siri and other smartphone assistants trivialised some important general health inquiries or failed to provide appropriate information.

So why bother to research it at all? Is anyone, realistically, going to turn to their digital assistants for help on these matters?

According to the study’s author Nick Wilson, a Professor of Public Health at Otago University, the answer’s a firm yes.

“That particular topic is somewhat sensitive, and people have trouble talking to their doctors about those issues—so they turn to the internet for advice,” Wilson told VICE.

A recent UK survey found that 41 percent of internet users go online for health related questions. Around the world, one estimate was 360 million people were talking to Siri.

Wilson says that while the study took place before Amazon’s Alexa model had its huge uptick in popularity—Amazon’s latest earnings report indicated they had sold upwards of 20 million Alexa devices—since then, voice-powered assistants are only growing more commonplace and sophisticated.

These ways of accessing advice are “much cheaper than talking to a health professional,” Wilson says, “so the health system needs to keep thinking about how to improve the quality of health advice people are getting.”


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that a standard laptop-based search was still superior to both Siri and Google Assistant for answering your pressing questions. A laptop search provided 72 percent of the best, or best equal answers to sexual health questions.

Google Assistant performed better than Siri with 50 percent, and Siri a paltry 32 percent.

But all that could change, Wilson says. Voice-activated assistants are constantly improving, and their algorithms grow more sophisticated all the time. When the team conducted a similar study on advice around quitting smoking a few months later, they found the advice was considerably better—perhaps partly because smoking questions provide more legitimate health advice on the internet in general, but also potentially because the assistants’ technology had improved.

Wilson says ideally, the providers would keep working to ensure their assistants provide quality advice from reputable sources—rather than say, Wikipedia, or commercially driven sites.

“Parents too embarrassed to respond to their children’s questions about sex, can reasonably say “just Google it,” but we would not suggest asking Siri until it becomes more comfortable with talking about sex (or at least has an opinion),” the authors say.

“Clearly, the ideal is to ensure that all sexual health advice searches, including those using slang, colloquialisms, or New Zealand accents, are always directed to high quality sites with up-to-date, evidence based recommendations,” they conclude.

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