Skeptics of pornography’s danger point out that porn has been around a long time. After all, the ancient Greeks painted sexual images on their pottery. But comparing paintings on Greek vases to today’s endless stream of live-action, hardcore videos is like comparing apples to…um…kumquats. Technology is changing not only the content of porn, but how, when, and at what age it’s being consumed.
The year was 1953, and Hugh Heffner had just published the first copy of Playboy.
Sex had just started to become a more prominent part of American’s cultural conversation, partly because of Dr. Alfred Kinsey who, five years earlier, had published a controversial but extremely popular book on sexuality.  He was heralded as one of the first scientists and writers to talk so openly about sexuality, and his books went flying off the shelves. 
Heffner saw a chance to make money from the changing cultural views about sex. But to maximize sales of his new magazine he had to change porn’s image from something your friend’s creepy relative might read to something sophisticated and mainstream. So Heffner put his pornographic photos next to essays and articles written by respected authors. In Playboy, porn started to look like nothing more than harmless pleasure engaged in by respectable and successful individuals.
Flash forward to the 1980s, when VCRs suddenly made it possible for people to watch movies at home.  For porn consumers, that meant that instead of having to go to seedy movie theaters on the wrong side of town, they just went to the back room at their local movie rental place. Sure, they still had to go out to find it, but porn was a lot more accessible.
Once porn hit the Web in the 1990s, suddenly there was nothing but a few keystrokes between anyone with an internet connection and the most graphic material available.  The online porn industry exploded. Between 1998 and 2007, the number of pornographic websites grew by 1,800%.  By 2004, porn sites were getting three times more visitors than Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Search put together.  It was “big business” in a way the world had never seen before. Thirty percent of all internet data was related to porn,  and worldwide porn revenues (including internet, sex shops, videos rented in hotel rooms, etc.) grew to exceed the incomes of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and Earthlink combined! 
As internet porn grew more popular, it also turned darker, more graphic, and more extreme. (See Why Consuming Porn Is An Escalating Behavior.) With so much porn available, pornographers tried to compete for attention by constantly pushing the boundaries.  “Thirty years ago ‘hardcore’ pornography usually meant the explicit depiction of sexual intercourse,” writes Dr. Norman Doidge, a neuroscientist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself. “Now hardcore has evolved and is increasingly dominated by the sadomasochistic themes … all involving scripts fusing sex with hatred and humiliation.”  In our post-Playboy world, porn now features degradation, abuse, and humiliation of people in a way never before seen in the mass media.  “[S]oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago,” Doidge explains. “The comparatively tame softcore pictures of yesteryear … now show up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.” 
As the popularity of internet porn grew like wildfire, so did its influence. Network television shows, pay-per-view channel series, and movies began to up the ante with more and more graphic content as they scrambled to keep the attention of audiences accustomed to internet porn.  Between 1998 and 2005, the number of sex scenes on American TV shows nearly doubled,  and it wasn’t just happening on adult programs. In a study conducted in 2004 and 2005, 70% of the 20 TV shows most often watched by teens included sexual content, and nearly half showed sexual behavior.  And for the first time, porn was becoming a routine part of teen life and a major way adolescents learned about sex. 
By now, porn’s effects have soaked into every aspect of our lives.  Popular video games now feature full nudity.  Snowboards marketed to teens are plastered with images of porn performers.  Even children’s toys have become more sexualized. 
Technology has changed not only the content of the porn, but also how, when, and at what age they consume it. Young men and women are all presented with the issue of today’s porn, and studies show that by the time they turn 14 years old, two out of three boys in the U.S. have viewed porn in the last year,  and many are watching it on devices they have with them 24 hours a day.
And for all of these changes to the nature and reach of today’s pornography, we haven’t even mentioned the most disturbing development of all: human trafficking. The modern-day slave trade (and there is one) is fueled by pornography. Over two-thirds of all calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center involve sex trafficking—an estimated 21 million victims worldwide , and in one survey, 63% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online .
This is not a Third World problem. Sex trafficking, and its dissemination through online pornographic sites, extends beyond prostitution and child trafficking rings to the many “revenge porn” sites, to the coercion, drugging, and/or physical abuse of porn performers, wannabe models, and runaways right here in the United States. Human trafficking includes any “commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion.”  (See How Porn Fuels Sex Trafficking.)
In fact, exposure to porn has been found, along with poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness, to be one of the most consistent risk factors associated with human trafficking.  And after victims are ensnared, porn is often used to desensitize them to the acts in which they will be forced to engage. Quite literally, porn feeds human trafficking and human trafficking feeds porn. 
The argument that porn is nothing new—that it’s been around forever and never caused any great harm—seems pretty silly when you think about how different today’s porn is from anything that existed before. Porn is incomparably more accessible, more widespread, and more extreme than anything that existed even a generation ago. Those centerfold magazines that were passed around among youth in previous generations were nothing compared to what youth have access to today,  and the consequences of looking today go far beyond young people hoping their parents don’t find out.
The good news is that in response to the unprecedented spread of pornography there are an unprecedented number of resources and people who want to help, whether by spreading facts about pornography or helping those who feel caught in its undertow. Today’s pornography is a new phenomenon, unlike anything humankind has ever seen, but the things that can push porn back are as old as humanity itself: wisdom, vigilance, and a commitment to real love.