Deception, addiction or just a bit of fun? Whatever your position, with more than 2.5 million sites available, there's no escaping the presence of online porn. One man bares his soul – and his laptop – and explores the impact it's having on our love lives.

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You want to know what I have in common with Osama bin Laden? If the US military busted open my computer, they’d find porn on the hard drive, just like bin Laden. And if the leader of a movement that grew from a hardline religious revolt at the decadence of the West watches internet porn – well, who's left?

According to Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse, of the University of Montreal, the answer is – no-one. In 2009, he began a study into the different sex habits of men in their 20s who used porn, and men in their 20s who did not. Would they be different in bed? Would they treat women differently? Would they think of them differently? The professor hit a snag. "We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography," he said at the time. "We couldn't find any." It's 10 years since broadband rolled out, meaning there’s a generation of men who have always had hardcore at the click of a mouse.

Is Porn Adultery?

Speaking as a man, it's depressing. We're not bad people – but that does make us sound pathetic. It conjures up a kind of filth farm, a camera panning up from the earth to reveal millions of men leaning into their computer screens with a box of tissues and a distorted leer. This can't be how we're meant to live.

My friend Sarah, a 35-year-old nurse who started dating before the advent of broadband, believes men's imaginations are being shut down. "There's no sense of the joy of flirting or teasing,” she complains. “They all want the same positions, and my last boyfriend would wait for me to go up to bed before he logged on. There was a real woman upstairs, in his bed, but he preferred to watch films of women he’d never meet having sex with other men. It doesn't make sense."

Ironically, the recent arrival of homemade YouTube-style sites dedicated to uploading real girls having real sex (although there are more than a few professionals involved), or sites like xHamster that swamp the web with handmade porn and ripped-off clips, is close to bankrupting the industry. Online almost no-one has to pay.

Sarah is a confident, ballsy woman with a great figure and an appetite for adventure. Any weasel checking, say, PornTube while she wants him is a fool indeed. But men are simple creatures and we're kind of stunted by our biology. That thing where we appear to ignore you while watching sport on TV, it's because we don't hear you. "Men are very visually stimulated," explains sex therapist Paula Hall. "They respond better to visual signals than any other. That's why porn works so well for them. Women's erotic core is more complex."

Hall reports a huge increase in the number of women unhappy with their bodies compared to the surgically enhanced, waxed and shaven professionals, or the women trying so hard to ape them on the homemade porn sites.

Because porn isn’t confined to the world of the illicit, its iconography enters every facet of our lives. The Brazilian, for instance, was invented by the porn industry to help camera close-ups, while Lady Gaga's stylist Nicola Formichetti, ushered out this year’s Brothers Of Arcadia collection from Thierry Mugler in a show so inspired by the industry, he released his own X-rated video alongside. Things have changed in the culture – that’s got to mean something's changed in the bedroom.

Case in point

Chrissie, 24, is a teaching assistant with a penchant for older men. She says she's chasing FILFs (Father I'd Like to F**k) for one simple reason: "Boys in their 20s don't want to go down on a woman, and if you can persuade them to, they just don't know what they're doing. They expect you to be hitting orgasm in five seconds flat. And then they want anal sex. It makes you feel like you're re-creating some scene he watched with his mates."

Again, Chrissie is lovely – funny, smart and sexy. In one previous relationship, however, she found herself tied up with masking tape while her boyfriend played with himself. Unsurprisingly, she developed a self-confidence issue. "Was it me he was finding sexy there? It didn't feel like it."

So, are all men porn addicts? Although accurate numbers are notoriously tricky in an industry that's so veiled in shame and the forbidden, two computational neuroscientists, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam – authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts (Penguin, $29.95) – have crunched the numbers and concluded that in 1991, before the birth of the internet as we know it, there were about 90 porn magazines in the US. Today, more than 2.5 million porn sites are blocked by just one safe-search filter.

Personally speaking, my relationship with porn sometimes feels like an addiction, not because I am constantly trawling X-rated sites in search of some disgusting new thrill, but because I have given it up, then tiptoed back,then given up again in disgust. Sometimes – especially on a long trip away from home – I feel like a porn bulimic. I used to worry about it until I spoke to a few of my friends.

"I consciously gave up porn to get it out of my head," admits my friend Bob – a company director, married with two children and one of the most reliable blokes I know.

"I remember actively clearing out all my browser bookmarks, emptying the cache and resolving never to search it out again. I've stuck to it as well."

I know myself – I know my fantasies. They've been themed in the same rough area for a large part of my life – seduction, lingerie, a little light restraint, a blindfold and the soft brush of fingertips or lips on skin. If anything, porn has restricted me. Some of my most treasured mental images have been bent to fit the mass market.

Andy, 28, is in a happy relationship but still logging on to PornTube if his other half is away for the night or sometimes just for the afternoon. "It’s just a thrill, a bit of fun," he shrugs. "I know the difference between porn and sex – porn is like a bar of chocolate that you stuff down your face for the sugar rush. Real sex is like a meal – you love it much, much more. It is just that sometimes, after work, the quick fix is the only energy you have left. My girlfriend is the real thing."

I agree that entertainment doesn't affect my behaviour – I like a good action movie, but I'm not tempted to plant a bomb or hijack a train. So why do I worry about porn? Why is this the genre I fear might be drilling into my psyche and fundamentally altering the way I feel about love?

Psychologists are divided – half of those polled in a relatively unscientific phone-around thought that men who watch a lot of porn eventually do copy what they see – stunt sex, visually driven, and as risky as they can. Others think it's just curiosity – men would go to a site with a three-breasted woman. That doesn't mean that they want to sleep with one.

Personally, I can't imagine any one of my friends ever taking part in a threesome or gang bang. Least sexy thing ever. But there's a kick in the image.

You probably don't realise quite how hard men want women to be happy. We almost never say it to you, but we talk about it all the time. Take a look at the cover of a men's magazine like Men's Health – every issue has a coverline on how to keep her happy in bed, or how to look good and keep her happy. And by her, they mean you.

All men feel a little bit ridiculous using porn – especially at that final moment sprawled on the sofa with a tissue in their hands. Your imagination is richer than ours, and your fantasies more complex and thrilling. So, take us with you. Wherever your mind goes for all those hours you’re thinking about sex, but not watching PornTube or dialling up sex lines...let's both go there. From here, it seems like you are having much more fun.