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Technology

4 Potential avenues for the next social network

Looking at the general tech landscape, we have a few ideas as to what potential new social media could look like.

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IMAGE FROM PIXABAY.COM

Over the years, three things have become very clear about social networks. The first is that broadly speaking, they’re drastically altering our day-to-day lives and the ways in which we interact with one another. The second is that the big players – namely, Facebook and Twitter – have probably become too big to be displaced. Suffice it to say if Facebook can’t be defeated by a recent, massive privacy scandal (it’s rebounded completely since the Cambridge Analytica news went public), it’s probably going to stay on top. The third thing that’s become clear, however, is that entrepreneurs and developers will never stop trying to open up new avenues for social networking interest.

If we could predict exactly what these avenues might look like, we probably wouldn’t be writing about it – we’d be trying to make money off of the ideas. Nevertheless, looking at the general tech landscape, we have a few ideas as to what potential new social media could look like.

1. Platforms For Women

This is something we’d never have predicted a few years ago, particularly since so much of modern social media is specifically about interacting with the opposite sex and sparking relationships. However, there are also growing concerns about women being harassed or otherwise treated unfairly online, and one company has also raised the issue of women having to make “carefully curated social media presences.” To solve this problem, Maverick has emerged as a female-only social media platform daring girls to be their authentic selves. It’s a fascinating concept that could certainly catch on and inspire imitation.

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2. Social Gaming Platforms

Gaming is already quite social, but we wouldn’t really call games social networks just yet. Instead, think back to earlier internet days, and the kinds of arcade sites that would allow for usernames and chats. This feels like something an innovative company could bring back with a little more organization, either tapping into retro arcades (which have been made popular again by mobile devices) or even casino games. Players today can visit any mainstream casino site and find dozens of the most popular games, along with other people playing. There’s nothing to stop a developer from building on this idea to combine social interaction and gaming – something like a virtual version of an in-person arcade where people might hang out.

3. Mixed Reality Platforms

Perhaps the most obvious avenue for social media, though one there’s been surprisingly little buzz about, is mixed reality. Encompassing both VR and AR, this is a concept that would allow for a more visual component to social interaction online. In VR we could actually walk up and speak to digital versions of our friends or family members; in AR we could control avatars of ourselves moving about digitally rendered 3D communities. Neither idea would be quite so convenient as basic, text- and image-based social media, in that real-time interaction would be needed. But it’s still a very intriguing concept that someone, at some point, is going to get just right.

4. Alternate Reality Platforms

This is not merely the same thing as mixed reality, at least as we’re describing it. We’re referring instead to an idea that was posted about at an Irish tech site, known as UHIVE. It’s actually a little bit tricky to grasp (it uses the blockchain to design a social media platform), but the interesting thing is that it comes packed with two worlds: the Civilized World and The Grey World. The former is essentially a version of an ordinary social network: you are yourself, you interact with real friends, there are social norms, etc. The Grey World, however, is an obscure, alternate reality that, as the write-up says, has successfully revived anonymity for users. It is, by the sound of things, a bit of a free-for-all for creative energy and anonymous social browsing. This sort of balance, between real and artificial social spaces, is something that could certainly catch on.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Is Lara Croft an LGBTQ+ icon?

Lara Croft paved the way for female representation in action games and movies, and in doing so created an icon and ally for the LGBTQ+ community. While her tomb raiding days are still ongoing, the wealth of other games means that so many more people can find characters that resonate with who they are.

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Screencap from "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001)

Lara Croft is one of the most recognizable and popular characters to ever be created. Whether fans know her from the classic PlayStation games, from the Angelina Jolie films, or even from the remake with Alicia Vikander, Lara Croft is an icon. While female gamers are more aplenty today, back in the early days of gaming, every corner was nearly entirely male-dominated. So Lara Croft was created to appeal to every gamer. As such, she fell between the two demographics and became a broad church to many, but a very niche fandom for some.

While the tomb raiding heroine offers some much-needed female representation in the action genre, is she also an LGBTQ+ icon?

Who becomes and who doesn’t become a queer icon is unpredictable, but since her debut in 1996, Lara Croft has proven she has the mettle to do more than just raid tombs. Action games are coded with high masculinity, so offering a female counterpart helps to take some of the testosterone out of the equation and offer a different kind of character. It has been well documented that LGBTQ+ identifying people are more likely to choose the female character in games – from Princess Peach to Coco Bandicoot and Eevee.

Women in games are often underappreciated, which helps the LGBTQ+ community identify with them. The disregarding of traditional femininity to be an adventurer also bridges the gap towards androgyny. Lara Croft eschews what is expected of her to do what she really wants to do – a trait that is both admirable and holds a deeper meaning for a lot of LGBTQ+ members of society.

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But, while there has been wider representation as of late and a more welcoming eye on all communities since 1996, Lara Croft and the strength she embodies still pervades in all forms of gaming today. As the Lara Croft Tomb Raider slot game at LeoVegas Casino shows, that utilises popular themes, artwork, and motifs from the franchise, the theme is still a popular one, still succeeding in offering something different for players. The fact that so long after her debut, and with so many more options available, Lara Croft is still the go-to franchise for many people, helps to prove her appeal.

While some of the marketing may look at Lara Croft through a male lens and focus on her physicality, for queer people, the adventurous nature that contrasts with this image helped cement her as a heroine. The 2013 reboot, written by Rhianna Pratchett, strands Lara on an island with nobody else except Samantha. Her mission becomes to keep Samantha safe and illustrates the true power in their sisterhood.

Lara Croft paved the way for female representation in action games and movies, and in doing so created an icon and ally for the LGBTQ+ community. While her tomb raiding days are still ongoing, the wealth of other games means that so many more people can find characters that resonate with who they are. There wouldn’t be as much representation across gaming had it not being for Lara Croft and the temples she raided, and the doors she unlocked.

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NEWSMAKERS

Facial recognition software has a gender problem

A study found that facial analysis services performed consistently worse on transgender individuals, and were universally unable to classify non-binary genders.

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Photo by Pierrick VAN-TROOST from Unsplash.com

With a brief glance at a single face, emerging facial recognition software can now categorize the gender of many men and women with remarkable accuracy.

But if that face belongs to a transgender person, such systems get it wrong more than one third of the time, according to new University of Colorado Boulder research.

“We found that facial analysis services performed consistently worse on transgender individuals, and were universally unable to classify non-binary genders,” said lead author Morgan Klaus Scheuerman, a PhD student in the Information Science department. “While there are many different types of people out there, these systems have an extremely limited view of what gender looks like.”

The study comes at a time when facial analysis technologies – which use hidden cameras to assess and characterize certain features about an individual – are becoming increasingly prevalent, embedded in everything from smartphone dating apps and digital kiosks at malls to airport security and law enforcement surveillance systems.

Previous research suggests they tend to be most accurate when assessing the gender of white men, but misidentify women of color as much as one-third of the time.

“We knew there were inherent biases in these systems around race and ethnicity and we suspected there would also be problems around gender,” said senior author Jed Brubaker, an assistant professor of Information Science. “We set out to test this in the real world.”

Researchers collected 2,450 images of faces from Instagram, each of which had been labeled by its owner with a hashtag indicating their gender identity. The pictures were then divided into seven groups of 350 images (#women, #man, #transwoman, #transman, #agender, #agenderqueer, #nonbinary) and analyzed by four of the largest providers of facial analysis services (IBM, Amazon, Microsoft and Clarifai).

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Notably, Google was not included because it does not offer gender recognition services.

On average, the systems were most accurate with photos of cisgender women (those born female and identifying as female), getting their gender right 98.3% of the time. They categorized cisgender men accurately 97.6% of the time.

But trans men were wrongly identified as women up to 38% of the time.

And those who identified as agender, genderqueer or nonbinary – indicating that they identify as neither male or female – were mischaracterized 100 percent of the time.

“These systems don’t know any other language but male or female, so for many gender identities it is not possible for them to be correct,” says Brubaker.

The study also suggests that such services identify gender based on outdated stereotypes.

When Scheuerman, who is male and has long hair, submitted his own picture, half categorized him as female.

The researchers could not get access to the training data, or image inputs used to “teach” the system what male and female looks like, but previous research suggests they assess things like eye position, lip fullness, hair length and even clothing.

“These systems run the risk of reinforcing stereotypes of what you should look like if you want to be recognized as a man or a woman. And that impacts everyone,” said Scheuerman.

The market for facial recognition services is projected to double by 2024, as tech developers work to improve human-robot interaction and more carefully target ads to shoppers. Already, Brubaker notes, people engage with facial recognition technology every day to gain access to their smartphones or log into their computers.

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If it has a tendency to misgender certain, already vulnerable, populations that could have grave consequences.

For instance, a match-making app could set someone up on a date with the wrong gender, leading to a potentially dangerous situation. Or a mismatch between the gender a facial recognition program sees and the documentation a person carries could lead to problems getting through airport security, says Scheuerman.

He is most concerned that such systems reaffirm notions that transgender people don’t fit in.

“People think of computer vision as futuristic, but there are lots of people who could be left out of this so-called future,” he said.

The authors say they’d like to see tech companies move away from gender classification entirely and stick to more specific labels like “long hair” or “make-up” when assessing images.

“When you walk down the street you might look at someone and presume that you know what their gender is, but that is a really quaint idea from the ’90s and it is not what the world is like anymore,” said Brubaker. “As our vision and our cultural understanding of what gender is has evolved. The algorithms driving our technological future have not. That’s deeply problematic.”

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Technology

Are you trying to find a safe software site? Look no further than these

We have chosen five websites that host software on their servers and is available to download 24/7. This not only makes it easier to categorize them correctly and more comfortable to choose the exact software you need.

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All the computers we need software to meet various requirements. For years, many software businesses and many skilled developers have produced some excellent programs to make our lives easier.

Having said that, it isn’t always easy to find the right software that we need, even when you believe you have found the right fit. It comes with some caveat; it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find safe access to the software you need. As this process becomes more difficult, people tend to find one trustworthy source and stick with it.

We have chosen five websites that host software on their servers and is available to download 24/7. This not only makes it easier to categorize them correctly and more comfortable to choose the exact software you need.

There is another crucial aspect of those software download sites; they can scan all the software programs on their websites to ensure they have no spyware or viruses attached. Nearly all the suggested sites have an existing user community, who evaluate the software and give you their feedback. This information will allow you to make the most informed decisions possible you can make an informed decision before you download and files.

#1 Rocket Files

First on our list is a site called RocketFiles.com. They are among the most moderated sites on the internet. Despite the fact that they are relatively new to the market, they are quickly building a solid reputation for being a reliable and safe source for free software downloads. They offer software solutions for Mac, PC, and mobile phones. Rocket files base most of their recommendations on what software is most prevalent in any given category. The site provides a thorough review of each and every piece of software they recommend. The site also has many other useful features that include how-to articles and practical guides to other aspects of computing. Every review on the website is carefully vetted and verified, all software contained in this site will only include fully approved software ratings.

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#2 QPDownload

QPDownload is a new player on the market, even though they may not be as famous as some of the sites on this list. They are developing a solid name for producing some of the most reliable and safe software downloads on the market. All their software is thoroughly vetted, and they present it free of charge. The software database is extensive and still very well designed. They pledge to find a solution to what you are looking for, if you are unable to find the correct software, there are sure to be many practical options available. Do yourself a favor – check out one of the Internet’s fastest growing software portals, and you will not be disappointed.

#3 Download

Download.com is one of the original and biggest software download sites. It’s the most beloved of its kind and was built around 14 years ago. This site is maintained by CNet, one of the essential names in Tech News and reviews on the internet. It has an extensive repository of software for all kinds of platforms like Linux, Mac, and as Windows as well as Mobile Applications. They also incorporate web-based services and applications. Their Software segment boasts over 100,000, try-first, shareware, and freeware downloads.

Downloads are usually rated and evaluated by readers and contain a review of the file provided by the software developer. Designated users can also submit reviews and ratings of the products they have downloaded.

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#4 FileHippo

FileHippo.com is fast becoming a favorite freeware download websites for new users. They offer many freeware options and shareware. It additionally provides the FileHippos own Update Checker, a little program that examines your computer for any previously installed software from the FileHippos site, and they recommend possible updates for it. Keeping a computer’s software functionally up to date is an essential step in maintaining your computer’s security.

#5 ZDNet Download

ZDNet’s Directory claims to be the largest source of free downloadable software. Including software compatible for Mobile, Windows, Mac, and other systems, ZDNet’s Software portal is among the best around for the provision of specialized software. They have been busy over the last few years, they have focused on providing a better selection of software to their users. Thye now lists both shareware and freeware.

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Technology

3 Surprising ways business security is evolving

Security is perhaps one of the most important aspects of any business. By knowing about the latest and greatest technological innovations, you can keep your business’ security systems up to date and as safe as possible.

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With CEOs in the United States placing cybersecurity as their main worry – even ahead of a recession, it’s clear that tight security should play a role in every business. However, when it comes to the latest innovative technology, there are many ways that security has improved greatly, both for online and physical premises.

Whether you’re new to the business industry or have been a part of it for some time, here are some new security technologies you might want to consider looking into the next time you’re looking for an upgrade.

Surveillance has come a long way

Integrating a  surveillance camera system is a common way that many businesses protect themselves when it comes to physical premise security. However, these cameras have come a long way, from increasing the image quality to adding new and modern features in terms of the tech involved. For example, with smartphone integration, you can easily get notified of any movement detection, even if you’re miles away from the office. This can enhance your security experience by allowing you to monitor your business in real-time, as well as  keeping you stress free and in the know of what’s going on.

Cameras have come a long way, from increasing the image quality to adding new and modern features in terms of the tech involved.

However, newer technology has even taken it a step further with facial recognition software, which can allow you to create a database of familiar faces, such as employees, along with the benefits of being able to identify those who are responsible for a crime in a much easier way.

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Artificial intelligence

When it comes to technological advances in terms of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence can be a game changer when it comes to keeping a business’s sensitive information safe from hackers. For example, artificial intelligence can help a business by working to detect certain anomalies or patterns that can identify potential threats in the security system, which would otherwise be extremely difficult for a human to do.

Artificial intelligence can be a game changer when it comes to keeping a business’s sensitive information safe from hackers.

Not only that, but it can also respond to the threat much more quickly too. Not only is this incredibly helpful, but a shocking 61% of enterprises say that they can’t detect threats without the help of this technology, proving just how effective it can be.

Cloud technology

With many businesses converting to online information storage to store large amounts of valuable data, it comes as no surprise that much of that data is stored in a cloud, thus making cloud security an absolute necessity for those who choose to use it. However, with security threats becoming more and more complex, even the cloud can become at risk for breaches, especially since it’s expected to continually grow and evolve in the coming years.

For that reason, Netskope predicts that by 2020, 60% of large enterprises will use a more complex solution called  a Cloud Access Security Broker (or CASB), a type of security policy enforcement point that can monitor all activity as well as actively enforce security policies.

With security threats becoming more and more complex, even the cloud can become at risk for breaches, especially since it’s expected to continually grow and evolve in the coming years.

Security is perhaps one of the most important aspects of any business. By knowing about the latest and greatest technological innovations, you can keep your business’ security systems up to date and as safe as possible.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

3 Most popular activities for boosting digital sociability

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The digital age, despite its wonders, has formed a negative image for causing users to isolate themselves in their favorite virtual worlds. Another truth, however, is that digital technology has given us global connectivity, vast social spaces and diverse ways for users to inhabit them. Technology has brought people and services together, offering someone infinite opportunities to expand their knowledge, experiences and quality of life.

IMAGE SOURCE: Needpix

Here are a few examples of popular social activities the digital world is loved for.

Social Video Games

Gaming has definitely improved in leaps and bounds, increasing its range of genres and platforms. MMORPGs are the pinnacle of video game accomplishments, entire fantastical universes where players can charge into battle or sit in a tavern and chat with their friends, each using an avatar tailored to their personality and tastes. Special social features in massively popular titles like Guild Wars, War of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online include the forming of guilds, mentor/student systems for newbies to learn the ropes and even marriage that gives virtual couples unique buffs and abilities depending on the game.

Online Advisers

The internet is full of spaces for people to socialize about their passions and questions. Whether your interest is medical or academic, historical or astrological, there are reliable experts, forums and social media groups holding all the answers. Even online psychic readings are possible with trained practitioners. They don’t need to be in the same room as you to use their abilities of clairvoyance or precognition to pick up on problems and offer insightful solutions of emotional, psychological and professional benefit. The digital world is a network designed to entertain, but also to share information more easily than sifting through library books or waiting hours in line, often just to get a single, vague response.

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Online Causes

IMAGE SOURCE: Maxpixel

As already mentioned, the limitations of the physical world in terms of response and visibility can be a problem, especially if you have a cause to fight for. That is something digital technology has remedied by giving people the power to express themselves through several mediums – written, visual, audio and more. A particular trend today are petitions. In addition to serious campaigns from LGBQT to ecological importance, you will come across some hilarious ones, such as a 2013 petition signed by over 25,000 people for the US administration to build a Death Star. Changing the endings of Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame have also been demanded by disappointed fans. The internet has become a highly creative and interactive avenue for users to share and support causes they care about.

Even though it’s easy to forget to leave the house when having fun online, the virtual world is a social environment in itself. There is no limit to the variety of people you can communicate with or what can be achieved when like-minded users from every corner of the world band together to share knowledge and support a cause. Taking regular breaks from your digital screens is a good idea, but the connective power of the internet should not be underestimated.

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Health & Wellness

How too much porn causes erectile dysfunction

Here we list the ways watching too much porn causes erectile dysfunction (ED) and the spill-over effects it can have on everyday sexual interactions.

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Photo by @charlesdeluvio from Unsplash.com

It’s a slippery slope. At the beginning, it might not take much to get aroused. However over-consumption of pornography may lead the user to seek out more extreme content as they become desensitised to the things that once turned them on. Not only can this have an impact on erectile function, but it can also have unintended consequences when it comes to real-world sexual relationships.

Here we list the ways watching too much porn causes erectile dysfunction (ED) and the spill-over effects it can have on everyday sexual interactions. 

Desensitisation 

Watching too much hardocre porn can make it harder to get an erection because repeated viewing of extreme content may render normal, everyday sexual encounters unfulfilling. 

This is because as people watch more porn, their viewing habits tend to change. As porn users watch more x-rated flicks, they begin to develop a tolerance to the things that used to excite them. As a result, they branch out to more extreme content to fulfil their sexual desires and fantasies. 

However, this kind of extreme content is rarely replicated in real life. After being desensitised by porn, people may find it difficult to become aroused by real life – and comparatively “mundane” – sexual experiences. 

This was certainly the case for Alexander Rhodes, the founder of NoFap – a movement that supports men who have experienced relationship difficulties, erectile dysfunction, and other conditions as a result of their porn consumption. He began watching porn at the age of 11 or 12, and by the time he started having sex at 19 he “couldn’t maintain an erection without imagining porn”. 

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The desensitising effect porn can have is compounded by the fact that it is highly addictive. Research has shown that out of all the varieties of online entertainment (e.g. gambling, gaming, and social networking) “adult entertainment” is the most common reason for compulsive internet use.

Porn triggers the same reward centre in the brain that other addictive substances (such as sugar and drugs) do. This, in turn, floods the brain with dopamine and makes the brain crave the source of the pleasure more. 

The brain attempts to combat this dopamine overload with another chemical called CREB (cyclic adenosine monophosphate response element binding protein). CREB helps to limit the pleasure response generated by dopamine. However if the brain is repeatedly exposed to dopamine (and thus excessive amounts of CREB), the user can become desensitised to the stimulus that initially gave them pleasure. 

In fact, it can make the user desensitised to other things in life that once gave them pleasure – such as socialising with friends or even sex. This may make it harder for the affected person to get an erection because they do not get the same feelings of pleasure they once did from real-life sexual interactions. 

Performance anxiety isn’t always caused by porn. Sometimes it can be caused by general feelings of nervousness, or the fear of not being able to get an erection before sexual intercourse. However, porn can exacerbate feelings of anxiety by making regular porn watchers insecure about their bodies and/or performance.

Unrealistic expectations

Some people may experience erectile dysfunction (ED) after being over-exposed to porn because it gives them unrealistic expectations about what sex “should be like” in real life. The immaculately shaven bodies, exaggerated moans, and extreme positions exhibited in porn portray sex in way that is rarely recreated in everyday life. 

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If a person is repeatedly exposed to porn – particularly at a young, impressionable age – then they may begin to believe that the depiction of sex in porn is representative of sex in real life. When their expectations are not met, it may be hard for them to get aroused because real sex doen’t normally involve the same extreme positions, ear-splitting shrieks, and surgically enhanced bodies as porn does. 

Further, watching porn is a very individual experience. If a person is used to deriving their sexual pleasure from porn, they could find it difficult (and nerve-wracking) to make the transition over to a real-life sexual relationship in which two people need sexual satisfaction. The anxiety this could cause may result in the inability to achieve an erection. This is known as performance anxiety, and it is very common.  

Performance anxiety 

The infinite stamina and notoriously large appendages displayed in porn videos make many men feel anxious about their ability to please their sexual partners in the real world. Many men see sex as a performance and put themselves under immense pressure to “get it right”. 

But by putting themselves under such stress, men can experience anxiety-induced erectile dysfunction. The nervousness, worry, and fear that arises from feeling as though they need to perform “like a pornstar” can induce a “fight or flight” response and kick the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) into action. 

When this happens, the heart beats faster and pumps blood to the areas of the body that need them most in a “fight or flight” situation (such as the muscles). As a result, less blood is supplied to the penis – making it harder to achieve an erection. 

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Performance anxiety is relatively common. A survey by men’s wellness brand Numan revealed that 79% of men who had experienced ED had also suffered from anxiety. Performance anxiety isn’t always caused by porn. Sometimes it can be caused by general feelings of nervousness, or the fear of not being able to get an erection before sexual intercourse. However, porn can exacerbate feelings of anxiety by making regular porn watchers insecure about their bodies and/or performance. 

There is evidence to suggest that sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) can indirectly help to alleviate performance anxiety by improving confidence. Erectile dysfunction can have a profoundly negative effect on a man’s self confidence. However, sildenafil may help to improve confidence in men affected by ED because it allows them to generate harder erections. This, in turn, may help to relieve performance anxiety, as men treated with sildenafil might be less likely to worry about their ability to perform in the bedroom.  Like most other medicines, though, sildenafil does have its side effects (although not everyone gets them). Therefore, it’s best to consult a doctor before taking sildenafil to ensure it is safe to take and does not conflict with any medication you are on. 

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