There’s more and more ways to get “spyware” on your system – programs that monitor your web surfing and report back to third parties without your knowledge or consent. In some cases they’re buried in other programs that you installed intentionally, but if there’s any disclosure at all it’s always deeply hidden.
There’s another category of programs that hijack your Internet browser – setting your home page to something awful or periodically flashing ads on the screen. Porn sites are fond of doing this to you.
I just had a good experience with Ad Aware, available free from Lavasoft. It’s very easy to install and run, and it has a good reputation for thoroughly sniffing out all this nasty stuff. It might be worth it to see what has snuck onto your system while your back was turned.