No Fap: Reddit's Anti-Masturbation Movement

How the internet spawned an orgasm-free self-help movement

by lizzie plaugic

Brian Stark* is on the verge of breaking a record. It’s not for the 100-meter sprint, or the number of hot dogs eaten a minute, nor is it an academic pursuit capable of changing our notions of science forever. It’s not much more than a personal record for a personal goal, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. At the time of publication, he has gone 985 days without masturbating.

Stark grew up (is growing up, in fact—he’s 18) in what he describes as a “very conservative” town in the southern United States. He’s gay, in the closet (excluding a few friends and one cousin) and isn’t having sex. He’s also one of the what seems like thousands of people (mostly men) taking part in what has come to be known simply as “No Fap,” an online community and personal improvement movement focused on the benefits of not masturbating. Stark’s motives for continuing his No Fap lifestyle have changed over the years, “When I started No Fap, I was under the impression that it would make God ‘happy.’ Now I realize I do it much more to make me happy than my God.” But his reasons aren’t just a product of socio-political ideals or an experiment influenced by the reddit community. Brian considers himself something of a trailblazer, “I started No Fap as a challenge to myself about a year before the No Fap subreddit was even created. I'm a No Fapping hipster, if you want to call me that.”

In March of 2003, a study completed by researchers in China linked testosterone levels in men to the frequency with which they ejaculated. The researchers found that on the seventh day of ejaculation “abstinence,” there was a clear peak in testosterone levels of the participants, reaching 145.7% of the baseline testosterone levels.

A Reddit user posted the study’s abstract to the "Today I Learned" subreddit, earning over 5,000 upvotes and more than 2,000 comments. Intrigued by this manhood-boosting revelation, the fearless pioneers over at Reddit decided to try it out first hand, and the No Fap subreddit was created. The ejaculate-free revolution had begun. 

The benefits were (supposedly) numerous: increased confidence, clearer skin, more energy. Some even claimed No Fap lead to a streak of good luck, or was guaranteed to get you laid. People already in committed relationships claimed No Fap revived their slowly decaying sex lives. Memes were created. Calls for motivations and advice popped up, pleading, “Why couldn’t I have found No Fap sooner?!” I even found a few redditors who claimed No Fap completely got rid of their stutters. In the No Fap subreddit, everyone is on the same team, and the goal is a sum total of zero masturbatory emissions.  

Benjamin George* is also on a No Fap diet, but he’s more of a newcomer to the game. He’s just three weeks in but already is reaping the benefits of not beating: he says work is better, he’s lost weight, and says, “with girls, it's made me do some things that I probably wouldn't have done in normal circumstances.” This includes “jumping on the opportunity” for a sexual connection with a woman he’s known for awhile, and scoring high points in the sexually charged mating ritual of eye contact. His No Fap discovery happened serendipitously.

George says the connection between No Fap and increased social confidence come to him one week when he was at the US Open and didn’t have time to masturbate. “The week before I [officially] started No Fap, I had this incredible week, and I was noticing a lot of weird things, especially in social settings, like extra attention. I play the "eyeball game" a lot I guess--just making eye contact with women I find attractive--and it's usually a good gauge of where I'm at in terms of confidence. For some reason I was on fire that week.”

Masturbatory fasting is nothing new: in 1716 the term “onanism” was coined to described masturbation (in a medically sterile way) by Dutch theologian Balthazar Bekker, who, in his succinctly-titled essay, “Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, And All Its Frightful Consequences, In Both Sexes, Considered: With Spiritual and Physical Advice To Those Who Have Already Injured Themselves By This Abominable Practice," lists among the side effects of masturbation: “lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy and fever.”

Thus, masturbation became something that not only made you a sexually perverse heathen, but could also make you lose your mind. Thanks to the work of sexual science pioneers like Alfred Kinsey who, in the 1940s, insisted that masturbation was an instinctive and natural practice for both males and females, the taboo of masturbation in the developed world has greatly subsided. But that’s not really relevant to people like George and Stark; it’s not the taboo they’re trying to lose, it’s the social confidence they’re trying to gain.

“I think the deeper aspect of all of this is,” George says, “that post No Fap I’ve started to look at things in my life as either ‘sweating’ or ‘jerking off’ and so I've just felt l more inclined to sweat.” He describes “sweating” as putting himself into situations where he’s actively working towards something bigger, something with risk, rather than just scoring an easy, safe win. For Stark, the benefits of No Fap are also framed as freedom from an addiction. “Before I stopped,” he said, “I was usually masturbating twice a day—sometimes more. I used to have an actual problem, and it felt amazing for it to be alleviated.” Though some members of this community feel they had a “problem” with masturbating too often, it isn’t framed as a space for those with sexual addiction. 

One of the most frequently discussed benefits of No Fap is an increased interest from potential sexual partners. One redditor even claims No Fap is “guaranteed” to get you laid. Maybe it’s biological: if you choose to forgo the “easy” route for ejaculation (doing it yourself), then your body must find some other way to ejaculate, and you’ll magically find your penis nestled between someone’s thighs. The term “no pmo” which stands for porn/masturbation/orgasm, is thrown about in the No Fap community, but the “no orgasm” part of it doesn’t seem to apply to sex with a partner. Some “fapstronauts” (the title many no-fappers claim) seem to being doing it—or not doing it—with the end goal of getting laid, even though the higher ups in the No Fap community advise against it. 

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