Feature Christmas 2017: Language and Literacy

In bed with Siri and Google Assistant: a comparison of sexual health advice

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5635 (Published 13 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5635
  1. Nick Wilson, professor of public health1,
  2. E Jane MacDonald, sexual health physician2,
  3. Osman David Mansoor, public health physician3,
  4. Jane Morgan, sexual health physician4
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
  3. 3Wellington, New Zealand
  4. 4Waikato District Health Board, Hamilton, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to: N Wilson nick.wilson{at}otago.ac.nz

Nick Wilson and colleagues find out how well technology answers questions on sex

To Google or not to Google, that is the question emerging for quality sexual health advice. We can all search the internet without shame or fear of embarrassment, whatever the question. A 2017 UK survey of 3221 people aged 16 years or older found that 41% of internet users go online for health related questions, with half of these (22%) having done so in the previous week.1 But do smartphones and their digital assistants offer quality sexual health advice? To find out we jumped into bed (albeit independently), pulled out our smartphones, and asked Siri and Google Assistant. We then compared their answers with a laptop based Google search.

“Hey Siri …”

We selected 50 questions to test the software. These were based on the subject titles from the UK National Health Service site Healthy Choices in the sexual health category2 and recent sex related news or designed to test functionality—for example, locating services or finding images and videos on how to have sex (table 1). Each author made a maximum of three attempts per question when speaking into the smartphones; one had a pure New Zealand accent, one a New Zealand/Scottish accent, and one a New Zealand/Ulster English accent.

View this table:
Table 1

Specific questions and results for sexual health advice provided by Siri, Google Assistant, and Google searches

“OK Google …”

We found that a laptop based Google search performed much better than the two digital assistants, providing 72% (36/50) of the best (or equal best) responses for the sexual health questions (table 1). Google Assistant performed better than Siri (50% of best (or equal best responses) versus 32%; P=0.036). Google searches also had the lowest outright failure rate, providing no …

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