Tech + Health

03.12.14

Are GFYs Bad For Your Sex Life?

GFYs are the latest technology to take off in the online porn industry—but could they be even worse for our attention spans than plain old Internet smut?

In Internet parlance, the use of “GFY” can be an encouraging, if sarcastic, acronym meaning “good for you,” or the more common and less encouraging command, “go f**k yourself.” But to a certain sub-community of porn-loving Reddit users, GFY is a marvel, a giant technological leap forward in the delivery of smut.

The GFY (pronounced “jiffy”) is essentially a more technologically advanced version of the ubiquitous GIF. The images still loop like a traditional GIF, but the GFY functions more like a video: you can fast forward, rewind and pause, the quality is better, the files are smaller, and, unlike ordinary GIFs, they incorporate audio. Unsurprisingly, GFYs took off on Reddit, when the technology’s creators, Canadian developers Joey Conrad and Dan McEleney, enlisted the help of the site’s hive mindset to expand and perfect GFY protocol.

And whenever a new technology beckons, the porn industry—and masturbating amateurs and porn distributors—are never far behind (Reddit’s GFY porn hub had 10,000 subscribers just two months after launching). Indeed, the GFY is particularly appealing to the short attention spans of porn viewers: the salivating user can swiftly jump from a GFY of “Cameron Diaz’s Hard Nipples in There’s Something About Mary” to the less subtle “Tied Brunette Orgasming,” and finish with the even less subtle “I Like This Kind of Face Painting.”

It’s no secret that most male porn viewers enjoy variety—and the Internet has provided them with a neverending stream of gangbangs, penetration close-ups, and bodily fluids. It’s “a Pandora’s box of visuals,” as singer John Mayer enthused in an interview with Playboy, admitting “there have probably been days when I saw 300 vaginas before I got out of bed.”

But when the porn GFY—tiny files that are easily embedded in webpages using HTML5 technology—inevitably become as mainstream as plain old Internet porn, will viewers’ increasingly short sexual attention spans become even shorter? Gary Wilson, author of Your Brain On Porn, argues that the “hyperstimulation” of online porn can cripple men during the act of sex, and that “evolution has not prepared your brain for today’s Internet porn.”

The GFY is particularly appealing to the short attention spans of porn viewers.

This is true of all technology: the more advanced it becomes, the more we are forced to multitask and adapt to choice overload. And the same principle applies to porn—the more stimulating and intense the visuals, the more intense the dopamine rush one feels from orgasm, and the harder it is to derive the same pleasure during real sex. This is where porn GFYs could be particularly problematic, says Rob Weiss, an expert on the intersection of sex and technology. “When you escalate the imagery—the kind of sexuality you’re looking at and the speed at which it is delivered—viewers get more of a dopamine rush from the experience.”

Psychological tests measuring excessive and perpetual porn consumption in men have shown that the more one consumes porn, the more distance he’ll feel from his real, physical object of sexual desire, says Weiss. “He will see women on the street more as body parts and objects to be used as opposed to real people” because he’s “reinforcing [that perspective] over and over again for hours at a time with the six-second money shot.”

“The thing with Internet porn in particular is that it’s endless,” Weiss adds. “It has become like gambling. There’s always another hand to be dealt. So now it’s all about what lies over the next hill. [Viewers] aren’t focused on the chips in front of them.”

Many anti-porn crusaders argue that porn viewing can alter neurological processes, so much so that real partners won’t stack up next to their virtual paramours—and men who associate a majority of their sexual experiences with the women on their screens will have a harder time deriving pleasure from in-the-flesh intimacy.

Weiss sees a more subtle effect on relationships. “These people are going to become much less relational, period. And the idea of how women should be treated will be skewed because of what they’re looking at. Women tend to be more relational, and a lot of guys aren’t going to understand how to do that if they’re looking at porn from early stages [in their life].”

GFY’s might distill porn to its most XXX elements—the climax played back in 10-second perpetuity—and are perhaps easy to embed. But porn is still never more than a click away, and countless studies have demonstrated that hardcore sexual content makes up a significant percentage of data transferred across the Internet everyday. If we’re already desensitized, it’s unlikely that a compressed highlight reel of money shots will alter our brains significantly more than YouPorn’s money shots. But it certainly won’t lengthen our sexual attention spans, either.