Rely on Siri for the weather. Ask Alexa about the best places to dine in your area. But when it comes to sex advice, you’re better off just Googling the old fashioned way, according to a new study in the British Medical Journal’s legendarily whimsical Christmas Edition. (Previous editions have shown that Peppa Pig promotes medical malpractice, orthopedic surgeons are smarter than anesthesiologists, and chocolates last barely 12 minutes in hospital wards.) This newer offering suggests that asking virtual assistants what to do when the kids walk in on “sleep-wrestling” is not a great idea.
“Our experiences suggest that people can find quality sexual health advice when searching online, but this is less likely if they use a digital assistant, especially Siri, instead of Google laptop searches,” study authors wrote.
Prior studies have shown that 80 percent of internet users in the U.S. use Google for health advice, and there’s evidence that sexual health is one of the most common topics searched. Nonetheless, few studies have looked at how more mature and committed couples search for sexual information, or how helpful virtual assistants are at finding the right answers.
In order to get more information, a team of researchers in New Zealand asked Siri and Google Assistant a series of 50 questions from current sex-related news, as well questions designed to test how good the virtual assistants were at locating videos and images about how to have sex. Study authors made a maximum of three attempts per question when speaking into smartphones, and then typed the same questions in a simple Google search. Googling gave researchers an appropriate response 72 percent of the time. Google Assistant got it right 50 percent of the time. Siri, a mere 32 percent. Typing a question into Google also had the lowest failure rate (instances where it turned up no useful answer), at 8 percent.
Siri performed especially poorly. The digital assistant misunderstood the term STI as a stock market code, would not find any videos about sex, and opted out of some sex questions with “I don’t have an opinion on that.”
It might be comforting to know that Siri won’t be accidentally pulling up porn anytime soon, but when it comes to uncomfortable sex questions kids might have, technology is a terrible substitute for family conversations. “Parents too embarrassed to respond to their children’s questions about sex, can reasonably say ‘just Google it’,” researchers warn. “But we would not suggest asking Siri until it becomes more comfortable with talking about sex (or at least has an opinion).”