Thank You, Porn! 12 Ways the Sex Trade Has Changed the Web

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4. Naughty: Malware

Porn sites in the past were notorious for siccing drive-by malware infections on good-time charlies who came looking for a little fun. Visitors could catch the malicious software either by clicking thumbnail galleries or by downloading new "video codecs" that actually contained Trojans (and no, not that kind of Trojan--Trojan horses). These days, drive-by infections continue to rage online--but they're no longer restricted to the seamy side of the Web; you can run into them (if you're unlucky) on legitimate sites, trying to exploit security flaws in Internet Explorer.

The results can be devastating. Just ask Julie Amero, a Connecticut substitute teacher who was horrified to find herself facing prosecution (and the possibility of up to 40 years in prison) after a computer loaded with spyware displayed pornography to her students. Fortunately for Amero, computer security professionals convinced the judge that she was merely an innocent victim of spyware programs that had taken control of the school's computer and had launched a blizzard of pop-up porn windows.

5. Nice: Live Chat

Artwork: Chip Taylor

Why would you limit yourself to watching videos of naked people when you could instead chat with them, suggest ingenious activities for them to undertake, test their grasp of Hegel's metaphysics, and whatever else struck your fancy--all while using the finest in modern electronics? Porn plowed the path for video chat and its boring cousin, Web-based videoconferencing.

"Video chat is a huge area of interaction and profitability in the digital adult business," says Mark Frieser, cofounder of, an adult content and dating destination that is scheduled to debut early next year. "Tons of women are selling one-on-one chat at really exorbitant rates. That sort of video technology has definitely been pioneered by the adult industry."

Meanwhile, "teledildonics," in combination with chat, gives new meaning to the term remote control, notes author and sex educator Violet Blue, proprietress of the Tiny Nibbles Web site [this site is Not Safe For Work].

"Live camgirls created the peer-to-peer direct sex work arena, heralded the death of the pimp, and forged new tech paths (such as teledildonic interaction with camgirls where the customer pays for the connection and operates her sex toy live)," Blue wrote in an e-mail. "It remains in lucrative commercial use today."

6. Naughty: Pop-Ups, Pop-Unders, Mousetrapping

Upon crossing the threshold of a porn site, a visitor might find it quite difficult to leave, due to site applets that took control of the visitor's browser to deliver ads or to launch new windows to replace each one the user closed.

7. Nice: Broadband

Artwork: Chip Taylor
In the 1990s, Penthouse magazine gave away 2400-baud modems with the periodical's logo on them, according to Gerard Van Der Leun, former director of and current contributor to American Digest. At the time these modems offered the fastest way to access the magazine's popular XXX bulletin boards. Clearly, in the early years of the Net, nobody had a greater need for a bigger, fatter pipe than the adult industry and its customers.

Though the evidence is largely anecdotal, various authorities believe that "acquiring higher resolution pornographic images faster promoted broadband connections," as Jonathan Coopersmith, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M, put it in a 2006 paper on the nature of computer-based porn [PDF].

According to an October 2000 report in the New York Times, nearly 20 percent of AT&T broadband customers were paying to watch "real, live all-American sex" online, at an average rate of $10 per film. A 2003 study by Nielsen/NetRatings found that online music sharing and pornography were the biggest factors underlying broadband penetration in Europe.

Of course, nobody from Time Warner Roadrunner or AT&T Broadband ever showed up at the door saying "We're here to install your porn connection, Mr. Clinton." But when broadband rear its head locally, users could thank the adult industry for getting it there just a wee bit faster.

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