Can abstaining from playing with yourself turn your life around?

A look into the world of Nofap

Julian A.
Julian A.
May 4, 2019 · 13 min read

If you’ve been on the Internet, you’ve probably heard of the NoFap Movement. The NoFap movement is a community of people that swear on the benefits of abstaining from pornography use and masturbation. It is largely comprised of men who affirm they have an addiction to pornography or compulsive masturbation. Some women, however, do take in part in the NoFap movement as well.

“Fapstronauts” will submit themselves to rigorous challenges that, in their words, help them ‘rewire’ their brain and get their life back together. These challenges usually range from 30–90 days, with the 90 day mark being considered a “reboot”. There are also different levels of difficulty: easy mode allows masturbation, but no pornography is to be used. Hard mode disallows both of these. Monk mode, as its name suggests, requires you to be completely celibate in every way.

r/NoFap

The movement of NoFap has grown to a formidable size. There are 430k members on the r/NoFap subreddit, and many more on the official NoFap site. People of all different backgrounds are finding value in this movement. Contrary to what some people belief, these are not just religious conservatives pushing old-fashioned ideas of chastity. These are people from different religions, backgrounds, and political affiliations.

Why NoFap?

If we want to understand the appeal, we must first understand why so many flock to the movement in the first place.

The majority of people whom enlist themselves in the Nofap cause do it because they feel that PMO (Porn Masturbation Orgasm) is having a detrimental effect in their life. Pornography addiction is the most common topic of discussion, and is attributed to a myriad of other problems. Some of these are erectile dysfunction, lack of productivity, lack of energy, low confidence, and many more. It’s clear that these (mostly) men feel like their addiction is having a profoundly negative effect on their lives, and that Nofap is the way to bettering themselves.

Moreover, a widely-held belief about porn addiction is that it “hijacks” the dopamine receptors on your brain, making you crave more and more stimulation. It is believed that if you regularly consume porn you will start seeking more ‘novel’ content, inevitably falling down a rabbit hole in which you end up watching some really strange stuff. As simplistic as that explanation sounds, it does have some merit. Drug addicts experience dopamine surges on the nucleus accumbens, which neuroscientists refer to as the brain’s pleasure centers, conditioning the brain to reward whatever activity caused the surge. The speed and intensity at which the dopamine surge is produced, the more addictive it becomes. On the surface, this makes a good case for Nofap, since PMOing can be an instantly rewarding activity.

Illustration of the brain’s reward centers (tdmu.edu)

Many also claim that PMOing has negative effects on their sex lives. Most of the “reasons why you should do Nofap” threads have some version of this belief in them. Quitting porn makes the sex better, more genuine, and allows you to connect more intimately with your partner, so they say. This also ties to the argument that porn consumption leads you to start objectifying women, which is not exclusive to NoFap.

These beliefs are shared and believed by most members of the community, but something’s almost always missing. Most of the threads and discussions about this issue rarely, if ever, provide a sound scientific basis for the arguments being put front. The few ones that are shared, such as the one that found heavy porn users have lower gray matter in their brains, are readily taken as proving the established theories. Yet that study can be said to be anything but definitive, due to the issue of causation. It could very well be that people with lower gray matter are more prone to consuming lots of porn. Correlation does not mean causation, and we don’t know if porn is actually causing the shrinking in those parts of the brain.

Moreover, the NoFap community assumes that PMO addiction is where most of the members’ problems stem from. But overuse of pornography would not be classified as a porn addiction, as there is very little knowledge on that field, but instead as a hyper sexual disorder. And even then, sex addiction itself is not even considered a disorder by groups like the APA. Some people do choose to call it a compulsion though, which is different to an addiction in subtle but important ways. This can be seen very clearly by the fact that many Fapstronauts experience feelings of shame and guilt due to their self-pleasuring habits. A true addict most likely wouldn’t feel shame for indulging in their addiction, and if they do they would try to rationalize their habits.

The Cocaine Abuser’s Brain (Pinterest)

The topic of addiction is very important because it allows us to determine where the problems might really stem from, as well as their scope. A very common analogy used in the NoFap community is to say that the brains of PMO addicts would look similar to the brains of cocaine addicts. However, a study done on both ‘problem users’ and ‘normal people’ shows that this isn’t the case. EEG tests showed that the brain activity of self-described porn addicts increased when they were shown sexual imagery. This response is identical to the response of ‘normal’ individuals when shown the same imagery. Neurologically, there was no difference between the ‘problem users’ and the ‘normal’ individuals.

This doesn’t mean that this is a closed case though. The study of pornography and its effects on the brain is at its infancy. The pro-NoFap site “Your Brain on Porn” has a list of studies on different types of Internet and video game addiction. Most of the related studies cover sex addiction and not porn though, with one of the porn ones listed being repeated. As it stands, compared to things such as sugar, there is little evidence that there’s such a thing as porn or sex addiction. In fact, some research suggests that pornography addiction is a failed model.

That said, the current literature on porn use suggests that it might in fact be detrimental to relationships. A study on porn use found that men’s usage leads to lower sexual quality for both men and their partners, but women’s usage can actually improve it. Another study found that men’s usage of porn led to lower relationship intimacy. And again, the opposite was true when women used it. It seems that, for some reason, relationships are better off when only the woman consumes porn.

There is also the morality of using porn. The porn industry has been known to be involved in sex trafficking and other types of abuse. Porn sites have come under controversies for verifying underage people into their site, with Pornhub recently allowing a 15-year-old to be featured in dozens of their site’s videos. Stories like these are not unusual, either.

Benefits and “superpowers”

Fapstronauts also claim that, as you progress through your NoFap “streak”, you start getting “superpowers”. This is mostly a meme in the community, yet people will vouch for the many alleged benefits that the challenge has on them. These benefits can be anywhere from increased confidence to combating erectile dysfunction.

A quick Google search on NoFap brings you to posts such as “25 NoFap Benefits That are Proven Scientifically” and Reddit threads outlining the reasons why you should join the challenge. When you join a NoFap community, you’ll eventually come across images or posts outlining the many benefits of abstaining from PMO.

The majority of Fapstronauts swear by these benefits. People constantly talk about how NoFap helped them turn their life around and become a better person. But does it, really? or are they just experience a placebo effect? Perhaps the answer will surface by going through the most popular benefits one by one.

Increased energy

This is one of the most common ones. Many fapstronauts report having more energy while on NoFap. Masturbating is basically a cardiovascular exercise, so it’s obvious that you might feel a little sluggish after you’re done. However, your energy is determined largely by your testosterone levels, and neither masturbation nor ejaculation seem to have any noticeable effects on it.

However, abstaining from ejaculation can increase your testosterone after a certain period of time. This study found that, after 7 days of retention, a 150% increase in Testosterone occurred. Another study also found an increase after 3 weeks of retention, but it was a very mild one. It’s safe to say that a week of semen retention will actually increase your energy for a bit, but then it returns to baseline.

Chances are that the people suddenly experiencing higher levels of energy have changed other habits as well. Undergoing NoFap could create a positive domino effect in which a person starts doing things such as eating well, exercising, getting better sleep, and other things that help increase energy, as they’re already on the path of self-improvement.

“Rewiring” of your brain aka beating addiction.

As discussed before, there is little evidence that pornography actually ‘wires’ your brain in any way that’s different from a more ‘normal’ person. Nevertheless, that still doesn’t explain why there are so many people seeking help for their addiction.

We’ll just have to use common sense for this one. If someone is being negatively affected by doing something compulsively, that person will probably benefit from quitting whatever that is. As the saying goes, everything in moderation.

Better sex

As previously mentioned, avoiding pornography can potentially improve relationship intimacy and quality, so this can be considered to be pretty legitimate.

It is still weird, however, that sex benefits are being pushed in the NoFap community. Given that a survey found that most of them were virgins and currently not in a relationship, which is probably still the case today, you have to wonder if this isn’t an attempt to make up for their lack of experience.

Increased brain clarity and reduction of brain fog

This is where we start diving into the pseudoscience, if not straight-up myths. There is absolutely no evidence that masturbation has any effect on your brain clarity or ability to concentrate. Again, this phenomenon is probably due to people who undergo the challenge adopting better habits that positively affect their health.

Increased self-control

This one is not as scientifically based as it is a question of willpower. Abstaining from masturbation for long periods of time is one of the hardest things for people to do, that’s for sure. It will definitely test your self-discipline, but this won’t necessarily carry on to other areas of life unless you make it so.

Makes you more attractive to women

Again, this has no basis in science or reality. Individuals who try to argue this point bring up the role pheromones can have in sexual attraction. It is true that pheromones can improve a female’s mood, making her more open to sexual advances. However, there is no evidence to suggest that semen retention has any link to the secretion of these.

Combats erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation

This could be the most scientific-sounding point that Fapstronauts make after the dopamine explanation. They argue that excessive porn usage leads to desensitization, which renders the person unable to get aroused during sex. This is a sound theory, but it doesn’t have strong evidence behind it.

However, research shows that “ Viewing sexual stimuli associated with greater sexual responsiveness, not erectile dysfunction.” They found no evidence of the “desensitization” process, or pornography having an effect on ED. In fact, sexual responses were actually stronger for people who watched VSS (Visual Sexual Stimuli).

It also doesn’t seem to cause premature ejaculation. In fact, logic follows that you could actually delay ejaculation because of the ‘practice’ you have. Again, there’s no real evidence to support this claim.

More confidence

This depends on the person, of course. There is no magic pill for confidence increase though. People who become more confident while on NoFap likely have preconceived beliefs about masturbation which makes them feel guilty every time they do it. Once they remove those ‘shackles’, it’s no surprise that they experience a boost in confidence.

‘Conserves’ important bodily fluids and “life force”

This belief dates back to Taoists beliefs, whom believed that “excessive fluid loss” resulted in premature aging, disease, and general fatigue. They considered bodily fluids such as a sperm to be Jing (essence) and held that abstaining from ejaculating would preserve good health. Preserving your sperm was considered as preserving your life force.

Despite that, there is zero evidence to suggest that life force is preserved by not ejaculating. Some people claim that it is not life force but important nutrients that are lost when ejaculating. That is also not true, since a typical ejaculate unit won’t even have half a gram of health proteins, and its calories usually range from 5 to 25.

Bonus: Nofap as a hair loss remedy

This isn’t that common of a belief on these spheres, but after seeing an article titled NoFap: One of the Best Natural Hair Growth Remedies it deserves its stop here.

Reflection on societal values and male sexuality

A great number of Fapstronauts discover NoFap and decide to take part in it because they feel ashamed of what they’re doing. Our society has stigmatized the act of masturbation for ages. Although religious influence has been wavering for decades, much of its moral foundations is still upheld. People who receive negative messaging about masturbation will end up having negative attitudes towards it. And, of course, since it’s so easy to like the action and it brings pleasure, an internal conflict ensues inside people who were taught masturbation is wrong.

Their learned values perfectly align with the movement of NoFap. For somebody who subconsciously considers masturbation to be wrong or immoral, the arguments brought up by the NoFap community are easy to get behind. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the NoFap community has these underlying notions, but it does explain why so many people are willing to accept the ‘NoFap wisdom’ without questioning it.

There is also the question of how ideas about masculinity impact the movement. A big theme in NoFap is that it allowing you to become more masculine. It is said that it deepens your voice, raises your libido, and makes you outgoing. Some people even speak of becoming more creative. All of these are traits that men almost invariably want. As one user put it on Reddit:

When you watch porn you are teaching yourself to be the spectator in life

James Bond

This reflects the values that have been associated with masculinity. NoFap promises to get you out of your addiction cycle and allow for you to become a go-doer. A leader. A creator. What a man strives to be. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ‘hegemonic’ masculinity. Becoming more masculine is a worthy goal to strive for, and every guy should be actively pursuing to be the best man they can be. The problem lies in the fact that many of these men probably have deeper issues than PMO addiction in their lives. NoFap is only serving as a band-aid, but the wound isn’t really healing.

A lot of the perceived problems people in these communities face could very well be caused by other factors, such as depression, substance abuse, stress, and lack of intimacy. It might be the case that NoFap is being used as a scapegoat — consciously or not — and leaving the real underlying issues unchecked. Someone suffering from mental illness or other problems might feel that NoFap is a Godsend for a while, but nothing ensures that it won’t eventually blow up in their face.

The case for masturbation

Now, it wouldn’t be a complete article if the benefits of masturbation weren’t mentioned. As much as abstinence can give you some benefits, rubbing one out also has its perks:

As previously mentioned though, everything in moderation.

Conclusion

The NoFap community definitely needs to do more fact-checking before bringing forth arguments. They heavily rely on anecdotal evidence and ideological groupthink to spread their message, which is obviously not good. That said, it’s also not particularly dangerous, as the act of abstaining from porn/masturbation doesn’t present any serious health risks.

Although it has its problems, the NoFap initiative is commendable. Even if “fight the new drug” is not entirely accurate, it encourages people to improve their lives, albeit sometimes not in the ideal way.

In terms of its effectiveness, you can point to threads such as this to show that, in fact, many people are experiencing success from this effort. But you can also bring up the fact that, at least in America, the lack of sexual relationships has reached an all time high, especially for young men.

Whatever the case may be, the important takeaways are: always be willing to question your own behaviors, and make sure to take everything in moderation.

If you enjoyed the article and want to read more, follow me on Medium. Also, check out my other self-improvement articles on Betterment Kingdom.

Betterment Kingdom

My self-imrprovement series

Julian A.

Written by

Julian A.

Might I say, an skeptic?

Betterment Kingdom

My self-imrprovement series

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