The NoFap Movement: Why People Are Abstaining From Masturbation
What began as a way to battle porn addiction has morphed into a belief that not masturbating can give you superpowers.
To NoFap is to become a chick magnet, to have higher levels of concentration, to preserve valuable stores of dopamine, to have a better romantic relationship, and in some cases, maybe even acquire superpowers — or so believe some members of a Reddit forum r/NoFap, a community for “porn addiction recovery” comprising mostly men who believe abstaining from masturbation, especially masturbation while watching porn, improves health; pleasuring oneself, NoFap holds, is a practice that is unhealthy, and one needs to take a break, or withdraw, from it entirely.
In order to facilitate the abstention, the global community of more than 500,000 members hosts rebooting challenges, such as No Nut November, for its members called fapstronauts,who pledge not to masturbate or consume porn for an agreed-upon duration. The Reddit page also offers resources on how to finish the challenge, as well as daily journals to track how long the ‘hard mode’ lasted, i.e., the time period in which NoFapping occurred.
In a statement obtained by HuffPost UK, NoFap community manager Matthew Plummer says, “NoFap does not encourage lifelong abstinence from masturbation or sexual behavior. Rather, we encourage our users to abstain for a period of time for the duration of their reboots – typically around 30 to a maximum of 90 days. While some abstain for longer periods of time, many of our users return to masturbation having freed themselves of the need to use pornography. Our users choose their own sexual health goals.”
One of the major reasons the NoFap community has gained so much ground across the world is because of increasing research that warns of the dangers of porn addiction — the statement adds, “There is a growing body of scientific, statistical, and anecdotal evidence that pornography use can be addictive and harms many consumers. We rely on that evidence to form our opinions rather than on religious or moral doctrine.”
Speaking of the number of men upset with their porn-watching habits in the U.K., psychotherapist Paula Hall told HuffPost, “I’ve been in this business a decade, but every year the numbers double. We’re needing to train more and more staff to cope with demand. And this has all grown directly in correlation with the rise in free internet pornography.”
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And that’s all it is: correlation. Several studies have sought to determine the effect of porn on sexual dysfunction but failed to establish causation. However, studies have found men who experience sexual dysfunction with a partner often don’t when they consume pornography. This could, in turn, be due to a possible link between sexual dissatisfaction and intense porn consumption, for men and women. The impossible sex and beauty standards set in porn often influence viewers into increasing their expectations of porn-like sex in real-life encounters — one study noted how this can affect relationships especially if the porn-influenced dissatisfaction is one-sided. Porn use, however, has not been studied at length in a pathological, habitual manner; lack of established causation between watching moderate levels of porn and negative health issues, such as low testosterone or low levels of other endocrine hormones — as NoFappers believe — show most research the community hangs their hats on is non-conclusive, or often, plain false.
But when porn consumption or masturbation becomes an addiction, the problems it brings often mirror those of drug or alcohol addiction. Categorized as hypersexual behavior, intensive porn use has been associated with anxiety disorder, mood disorder, and substance abuse. The only physiological side effect of recurrent and obsessive male masturbation is swelling or chafing of the penis.
In light of this research, the fapstronauts, many of whom report feeling low levels of self-esteem, mental and physical strength and low energy levels from masturbating multiple times per day, abstain to right the wrongs they exclusively attribute to porn and getting off. A lot of this rhetoric is similar to how scholars viewed masturbation in the 1700s, when Samuel-Auguste Tissot, an 18th century Swiss physician, wrote that semen was an essential component of the human body and losing it meant losing strength, memory, and the ability to reason; one scientist at the time even warned masturbating could cause blindness, HuffPost reported. As sex research evolved in the subsequent centuries, and practices related to sex slowly became destigmatized (at least for men), these myths were debunked.
Approximately 5% of NoFappers are women, though, according to founder Alexander Rhodes, The Guardian reported. Many turn to NoFap to escape porn addiction, or the unrealistic standards porn expects them to imitate in real life, The Guardian reported. But in the largely male-dominated NoFap community, that escape isn’t completely accommodated. Despite the community’s attempts to launch women-focused rebooting challenges and sub-forums, most NoFappers’ within the movement have another goal — to attract beautiful women in what many have criticized to be incel-like fashion — which seeks to perpetuate the perception of women as prizes, which ultimately makes the movement itself seem misogynistic and unwelcoming.
At the end of the day, NoFappers might be following faulty science, but have still managed to find communities of like-minded people with either similar goals or at least similar fears. Despite what it seems on the outside, they claim they aren’t anti-porn or anti-masturbation; they believe taking breaks from both dilutes the effect of obsessing over porn and orgasms day and night, which can lead to a host of benefits, such as better sleep and better energy levels, both of which Hall tells HuffPost are not grounded in reality. As in any movement, those committed to the purpose and practice of NoFapping exist on a spectrum — from some fervently believing NoFapping will change their life forever, to some trying out a new thing while acknowledging that only abstaining from masturbating, without also fixing other problems, like diet and sleep, won’t result in better outcomes.
Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle's Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she's interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team's podcast, Respectfully Disagree.