Credit: Foter CC BY SACredit: Foter CC BY SAPaying for sex may become a thing of the past, and the Internet could be the cause. A nationally representative survey suggests that the percentage of men who pay money for sex, or get paid, is at its lowest point on record.

The numbers come from the General Social Survey (GSS), a massive, decades-long project of the independent National Opinion Research Center (NORC). The Los Angeles Times reports some of the most interesting facts:

In a string of surveys between 1991 and 1996, nearly 17% of men said they had ever paid for or received payment for sex; that fell to 13.2% between 2006 and 2012. Last year, that number hit the lowest point since the question was first asked — 9.1% — though statisticians caution the unusually small number could be a fluke.

The survey drew no distinction between buying and selling sex, but men are widely assumed to be customers far more often than they are sellers.

The numbers seem to be shifting with the generations: Older men are much more likely to say they have bought or sold sex at some point in their lives. Younger men, in turn, have been less likely to report doing so than men of the same ages a few decades ago.

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The sweeping survey, funded principally by the National Science Foundation, has questioned more than 57,000 Americans since 1972. Nearly 11,000 men have answered the question about paying or being paid for sex since it was first asked in 1991.

The question is: Why? A range of possibilities exist, from fear of AIDS to changing dynamics in the military. Another possibility the Times points to is that the Internet makes it so easy to get off for free.

The scale and scope of online dating and the niche-conducive culture of the web make finding sexual partners easier than ever. As BuzzFeed points out, “ugly schmucks,” diaper-fetishists, and even people with mullets have their own Web sites to find like-minded mates.

For those not into commitment to other people, the Internet's endless terabytes of free, instantaneously accessible pornography satisfies the appetite. As an added bonus, statistics have shown for years that there is a correlation between the rise of porn and the fall of sexual crimes.

Although most Americans have a negative outlook about our collective moral well-being, as Nick Gillespie suggests in “Society is Coarser But Better,” the growing ubiquity of porn (and the relaxing of other taboos) is a pretty good trade-off for a society in which “youth violence, sex, and drug use are all trending down.” The GSS data indicates something even better. Consenting adults do not need to make a trade-off; The goods they want simply became more freely available.