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Like it or not, we are in the golden age of pornography.

Okay, sure, the scripts (when they even bother to have one) probably aren’t as good as they were in the 1970s, when films like “Deep Throat” captured the popular consciousness, and luminaries like Martin Scorsese and Truman Capote admitted to seeing it.  But from a consumer perspective, it’s never been easier, faster, cheaper, or less embarrassing to access riches of smut. No need to hide your face in a trenchcoat upon entering a porno theater or the backroom of a video store. On sites like Pornhub (NSFW), you don’t even have to search for it. The porn finds you.

But there’s a growing concern over what happens to our brains, our bodies, and our relationships when we have an inexhaustible wealth of porn at our disposal. A recent study showed that men who say they are addicted to porn experience changes to their brain in the same spots as drug addicts. This notion has also infiltrated popular culture: Two recent critically acclaimed films, “Shame” and “Don Jon,” focus on it.

Porn doesn’t destroy your lungs like smoking, or your liver like alcohol. As far as I know, no one has ever died of a porn overdose (though not for lack of trying). But compulsive porn-watching can affect relationships, sex drive, and sexual performance. That’s what Sam Deford found when he observed a survey of men and women on a Reddit community devoted to abstaining from masturbation and porn. Of the 73,000 use who comprise the subreddit “NoFap,” 1500 of them filled out a survey asking about their habits and the effect that watching porn has had on their lives.

Deford and his team analyzed the survey data and found that sixty percent of respondents reported an increase in sexual function after abstaining from porn and masturbation; that includes sex drive, sexual performance, ability to achieve orgasm, and/or sensitivity. Fifty-six percent of self-reported addicts said they are more likely to talk to potential sex partners after joining the NoFap community. As for psychological effects, sixty-four percent found that over time, their tastes in porn had become more deviant and/or extreme, and forty percent of self-described addicts felt ashamed about those tastes.

It’s important, however, to note that research also reveals the earth-shattering discovery that sexual arousal and release, including masturbation, can relieve stress. (That said, the same study found that masturbation can make depression worse.) Another caveat is that the survey was limited to users of the NoFap subreddit. Although not every NoFap user identifies as an addict, their participation in the community suggests that they already have a concern over their masturbation habits. Deford, who analyzed the data and created the infographic below, admits, “Because this survey was set up without much scientific rigor, I would consider the results exploratory rather than scientific.”

It’s also worth asking if Internet porn really has a worse effect on our attitudes toward sex than the magazines and movies of earlier generations. Deford thinks so.

Online pornography has much stronger negative effects on peoples lives than Playboys of past decades. The instant and endless novelty has an effect on people’s relationships, the way they view the opposite sex, and their sexual functioning. Part of why we gave this topic our attention is because these negative effects are not commonly known. People may be experiencing the negative consequences from such an addiction without even being aware where they are coming from.

This observation bears out in research done by filmmaker Beeban Kidron. In her film, “InRealLife,” one 15-year-old boy tells Kidron,

You’d try out a girl and get a perfect image of what you’ve watched on the Internet … you’d want her to be exactly like the one you saw on the Internet … I’m highly thankful to whoever made these websites, and that they’re free, but in other senses it’s ruined the whole sense of love. It hurts me because I find now it’s so hard for me to actually find a connection to a girl.

That said, the Playboys and VHS tapes of old featured plenty of depravity. Is porn inherently bad for us, distorting people’s view of sexuality so their tastes become disassociated with the kinds of things sexual partners might actually like to do? Maybe. But the barriers of access to porn are much lower today, which likely exacerbates those effects. Whereas older generations lived in constant fear that their parents or partners would find their dirty magazine hidden in the sock drawer, today keeping your dark secret safe is as easy as hitting, “clear history.” And with the channels for accessing porn thrown wide open, whatever negative sexual and psychological effects of consuming it may be amplified.

It doesn’t mean we all have to be “masters of our domain.” But like with all vices, perhaps it’s best to exercise moderation.

Check out the full analysis of the survey, collecting into this infographic made for ProjectKnow:

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[Top photo source via Music Box Films]

[Infographic via ProjectKnow]