Over the past fews days, the Proud Boys — a far-right men’s club that celebrates “Western chauvinism” — have been all over the news. After several members were involved in a violent altercation outside New York’s Metropolitan Republican Club, various articles have dissected the organization’s numerous beliefs, including their enthusiastic support of violence, closed borders, and the patriarchy. Less discussed, however, is something the Proud Boys are emphatically against: If you want to be a true member of their club, you’re required to give up masturbation (or, as the group likes to say, adopt their policy of #NoWanks).
How did the Proud Boys become so invested in eschewing masturbation? The story of #NoWanks is a surprising one, beginning with a black liberal comedian and self-help guru named Dante Nero, who turned Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes on to the idea. For Nero, giving up masturbation was a way to kick-start one’s dating life: Rather than devoting sexual energies toward porn and solo sex, a practitioner of #NoWanks could refocus his energies toward making a connection with another person.
And indeed, a kernel of that sentiment still remains: The Proud Boys’ website explains that #NoWanks “gets young men off the couch and talking to women and it gets married men away from their computers and back into bed with their significant other.” (When reached for comment for the piece through their Facebook page, a representative of Proud Boys responded, “We don’t talk to ‘journalists,’” and threatened legal action should this piece “call us anything more villainous than a mens club [sic].”) But there seems to be something more to #NoWanks than merely a desire to encourage Proud Boys to have healthier relationships — and it’s something that connects the Proud Boys to a long tradition of organizations that seek to ensure their members’ loyalty by policing their sexual behavior.
“If someone with a PB tattoo starts talking about their fucking wet dreams I’m gonna kick their ass.”
In some sense, the #NoWanks requirement — which kicks in when a Proud Boy ascends to the second degree of Proud Boydom — can be thought of as a group bonding ritual, a way of connecting the organization’s members through a mutual taboo. In the same way that Jews are bonded by a shared rejection of shellfish and pork, and Mormons by a collective refusal to imbibe mind-altering substances, the Proud Boys are connected through their mass rejection of masturbation and porn. (Although not too connected — when a commenter on the Proud Boys Reddit board posted about the wet dreams he’d experienced a few weeks into his #NoWanks experience, he was met with revulsion rather than camaraderie, with a top response declaring, “I don’t want to hear about it, ever. If someone with a PB tattoo starts talking about their fucking wet dreams I’m gonna kick their ass.”)
And the Proud Boys are hardly the only organization to unite its members through a rejection of some sort of sexual practice. Although the organization positions its rejection of masturbation as a way of pushing back against the decadence of a modern, liberal culture that’s fueled by hookup apps and internet porn, a suspicion of self-pleasure is hardly a modern phenomenon. The Catholic Church — itself a bedrock of the Western civilization that the Proud Boys so dearly adore — has long positioned self-love as a sin, and various religious figures and moral leaders throughout history have cast aspersion on the practice.
It’s easy to understand why masturbation bans are popular among organizations that seek to enhance group loyalty. Masturbation is, on a fundamental level, a radical act of individuality. Engaging in masturbation serves no other purpose beyond giving pleasure to one’s self; it encourages us to consider what we want rather than what we are being told to do. This self-indulgence is often framed as a selfishness that prevents us from connecting with our partners, but it’s also a way of staking out our individual identities, wholly apart from the larger group — a mindset that’s hardly conducive to obeying an authoritarian leader, or, in the case of the Proud Boys, enthusiastically, and sometimes violently, supporting a pro-Trump platform.
“A man can only ejaculate if he is within one yard of a woman with her consent.”
And because masturbation is such a frequent and powerful urge for many of us, requiring someone to avoid it as a condition of being a member of a group can, perversely, help reinforce the importance of that group within a person’s life. If every time you get the urge to indulge in self-pleasure you’re forced to think instead about the organization that has banned you from masturbation, that group can feel increasingly essential to your life — purely by virtue of the fact that you cannot stop thinking about it.
But perhaps more telling than the masturbation ban itself are the circumstances under which porn consumption and masturbation are occasionally allowed. Under the doctrine of #NoWanks, Proud Boys are allowed to watch porn and engage in masturbation once every 30 days, so long as one very specific requirement is met: “A man can only ejaculate if he is within one yard of a woman with her consent.”
If you see porn and masturbation as just some unconscious itch that occasionally needs to be scratched, then this compromise offers Proud Boys a way to indulge their onanistic urges while maintaining a connection to a partner and a relationship. But if, on the other hand, you see masturbation as a way of enjoying your body and taking time to focus on your own sexual well-being and pleasure, then this ritualistic setup takes on a more sinister cast. Rather than being allowed to take a moment for themselves and their sexuality, Proud Boys are required to repurpose even an experience as private and personal as masturbation into something overseen and regulated by another person, something subject to a restrictive set of rules.
And this could be the biggest reason why #NoWanks has become an essential component of the Proud Boys’ way of life. Individual Proud Boys may find that giving up masturbation improves their sex lives, strengthens their relationships, and helps them focus more fully on creating the happy, traditional families that their organization holds so dear. But en masse, members of Proud Boys who adhere to #NoWanks are being asked to give up a core aspect of their individuality and relationship with themselves, abandoning a potential moment of self-exploration and connection in pursuit of a group cohesion.
Whether or not “Western chauvinism” is truly a celebration of fascism is something for commentators to continue to debate, but there’s no denying that a ban on masturbation is an effective way to create a loyal, unquestioning — if mildly frustrated — army.