Instagram can often resemble a popularity contest with its system of followers and likes. There are many theories and algorithms that try to explain why some pictures are more popular than others, but there might be a simple explanation that we’re all overlooking: sex appeal. If sex really does sell, it’s likely that sexy photos get more double taps than their less-provocative counterparts.
To find out more, we scraped the Instagram accounts of 90 celebrities – 44 from the U.S. and 46 from around the globe – and looked at their posts from January to August 2015. These results give all of us – from the average user to the Insta-famous – some insight into how sexual attraction plays a role on Instagram.
Here, we looked at the total percentages of photos from each account that were considered sexually appealing. Of the top 90 celebrities, ranked by percentage of photos containing sex appeal, women made up the top 10, while the bottom 10 were males. The top 10 women included five models – three of whom are Victoria’s Secret “Angels” – four musicians, and two reality television personalities. In fact, 44 of the top 50 with the highest percentage of sexy photos are also women.
Here we looked at the top 25 of these celebrities with the sexiest photos and grouped their photos into 10 categories: pictures of the face (from the chest up), the body (from the neck down), the full body (head to toe), or a body part; wearing a bathing suit/lingerie or workout clothing; engaging in a display of affection; taking a group photo; or taking a photo in bed. Most of these users’ sexy photos fall into three major categories: group pictures, full-body (head-to-toe) pictures, or face (from the chest up) pictures.
Few of the top 25 have their sexually appealing photos taken in bed, at the gym, of a body part, or of their body from the neck down. Displays of affection also rank low. The models, especially Candice Swanepoel and the other Victoria’s Secret “Angels,” have the most bathing suit or lingerie photos, which makes sense: Victoria’s Secret is a major lingerie retailer. Luis Suarez and Neymar – Uruguayan and Brazilian professional football players respectively – have the highest percentage of sexually appealing photos as group photos, which might be due to a large amount of these pictures taken with their entire football teams.
The top percentage of each category looks much different than the breakdowns of the top 25 users, although there are some similarities: Most of the models who take the top spots in the sex-appeal percentages also have the most pictures in the bathing suit or lingerie category, full-body category, or face category. In fact, most of the categories that have to do with bodies – the least amount of clothing (bathing suits or lingerie), body only, body part, face, and full body – are dominated by women. Only five men total show up in these five top 10 charts.
However, men have a larger presence in these charts than elsewhere. There are an equal number of men and women in the group-photo category, four men in the gym category, and a few men in the displays of affection, body part, bed, and face categories.
Despite the low number of posts in the bed category, these photos have the highest number of average likes at nearly 419K. And although the body (neck down), gym, and displays of affection categories also have the lowest number of total photos, they rank the next-highest respectively in average likes.
Interestingly, pictures of the body – the face, full body, body part and bathing suits or lingerie – got less likes than the pictures in bed, at the gym, or in groups of people. This may suggest that the sex appeal that attracts likes does not necessarily depend on physical appearance. However, body only (neck down) is the exception to this, in second place behind the in-bed category.
Photos that are not sexually suggestive or do not fit into any of the above categories have the highest total number of posts but the lowest number of average likes. This suggests that the sexier the photo, the more likes it has on average. It looks like sex does sell after all.
Of the 90 celebrities, these top 25 have the highest percentage of liked photos that were found sexually appealing. Emily Ratajkowski, Kylie Jenner, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Rihanna make the top four of both lists – the highest total percentage of sexy photos and highest percentage of likes for those photos. Both rankings have similar top 10 lists, with the inclusion of Khloe Kardashian over Miley Cyrus in the total likes list.
Full-body and face photos dominate the top percentage of likes. Emily Ratajkowski with the most liked photos with sex appeal and Candice Swanepoel at No. 6 have the highest number of bathing suit or lingerie likes, which, again, can be attributed to their Victoria’s Secret modelling. Group pictures vary in their composition of total sex-appeal likes, although Neymar has the highest percentage at about 20 percent, perhaps – again – due to posing for a lot of photos with his football team.
Emily Ratajkowski, a British-born American model and actress, has the highest percentage of likes out of all of these 90 celebrities, 45.8 percent of which are attributed to photos that are not sexually suggestive. The highest category of her liked photos with sex appeal is full-body pictures, followed by face pictures and bathing suit or lingerie pictures. The rest compose a small percentage of her total likes.
Kylie Jenner, an American reality television personality and model, has the second-highest percentage of likes on her sexually appealing photos. While over half are not sexually suggestive, full-body and face pictures are collectively about a quarter of her liked photos. Group pictures take fourth place, followed by bathing suit or lingerie pictures – understandably, given pictures with the rest of the Kardashians and pictures related to her recent modelling career.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, an English model and actress, takes third place for the most-liked sexually appealing photos. Most of these likes are related to face pictures, at 13.62 percent, although full-body pictures come close at 12.63 percent. Bathing suit or lingerie pictures and group pictures follow, and the rest of the categories don’t break 3 percent. As a Victoria's Secret model, it’s interesting that only 7.89 percent of her likes come from bathing suit or lingerie pictures. This might be the result of her recent move into acting.
Rihanna, a Barbadian musician, comes in fourth with the highest percentage of likes on her sexually suggestive photos. Face and full-body pictures form her top two categories, followed by group pictures and, at a smaller amount, bathing suit or lingerie pictures. The rest of the categories are less than 2 percent.
Sex appeal goes far beyond pictures posted on Instagram: The media seems to glamorise sex on almost every platform. What the pictures, movies, and advertisements often leave out, however, is the importance of protection. Unprotected sex can lead to consequences like STIs, which – while often treatable – can be easily prevented. We think people should know the facts about STIs, but we also understand feeling the need to be discreet if you’ve contracted one. Visit onlinedoctor.superdrug.com for quick, easy advice and the products you need to test for and treat an STI.
For this project, we (Fractl) categorised photos from a list of 90 celebrity Instagram accounts to determine both who posts the most pictures and who gets the most likes on pictures containing “sex appeal,” between January and August 2015. We chose the 90 celebrities based on Iconosquare.com’s list of top celebrities on Instagram, sorted by their number of followers; out of the top 100, only 90 had enough images to evaluate (over 41 photos).
We then used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, asking Master Workers whether or not a picture from each celebrity’s account was in any way sexually appealing. Images that were considered sexually appealing were then sent back through Mechanical Turk, where Master Workers sorted each image into one of 10 categories based on its defining characteristic:
Select the category that best describes the following image.
Face (from chest up)
Body only (from neck down)
Full body (from head to toe)
Body part (legs, butt, breast, etc.)
Bathing suit or lingerie
Gym or Workout clothing
Display of affection
Other sexually suggestive imagery
Not sexually suggestive
A caveat: While Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is considered reliable, any service that relies on human input always has room for error.
Feel free to share the images found on this page freely. When doing so, we ask that you kindly attribute the authors by providing your readers with a link back to onlinedoctor.superdrug.com and to this page so they may learn more about the project and view any additional information.