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“”I’m not in opposition to them, but I do think their ideas are simplistic, naive and promote a sad, reductionistic and distorted view of male sexuality and masculinity.
|—Clinical psychologist David J. Ley|
NoFap is a pointless non-masturbation advocacy movement which promotes denying oneself self pleasure (or for the more extreme, any sexual activity) for a variety of terrible reasons. The community itself relies on a combination of pseudoscience, abstinence-based sexual ideology, anecdotal assertions, and whatever arguments the group's founder and followers can come up with to promote the idea that masturbation is harmful. Their largest online hub consists of the NoFap subreddit, as well as a website created by community founder Alexander Rhodes, which attempts to help people recover from the purported effects of so-called "porn addiction" and masturbation addiction. While NoFap claim that their views are rational and empirical, they have no basis in science or medicine — despite them claiming otherwise. Participants claim that abstaining from porn, masturbation, and orgasms (PMO) improves their mental abilities.
A scientific study of the group found themes of toxic masculinity, with members encouraging one another to conquer women sexually as a way of demonstrating their progress in "recovery". As is to be expected, quite a few NoFappers are a part of the manosphere. While it is true that brief periods without sexual stimulation may increase one's pleasure during their next sexual encounter, there is no evidence that complete abstinence from sex or masturbation offers any special benefits over regular healthy sexual activity. There is also no evidence that masturbation itself is physically or psychologically harmful, while the validity of pornography addiction is a highly contentious subject.
“”We’re here to help you quit porn, improve your relationships, and reach your sexual health goals.
100% science-based, secular, and sex-positive.
According to NoFap's website, porn addiction is defined as:
"[A] phenomenon of the brain marked by compulsive use of pornography which proves difficult to stop despite negative consequences, and which often worsens over time.
NoFap openly acknowledges that porn addiction is not an official disorder, yet treats porn addiction as a fact anyway. NoFap goes so far as to support the idea that porn is a "public hazard", but also "does not support legislation to restrict the creation or consumption of pornography".
Other studies suggest that porn addiction isn't even real, but seems to be a largely self-attributed problem in religious people. However, reporting feeling addicted to porn is not exclusive to religious people. While fear of masturbation has been a staple of organized religion since time immemorial, a modern shot in the arm of the controversy seems to stem from recent attention paid to a tract called Onania, which apparently had some impact on British society.
In 2012, a man named Gary Wilson gave a TEDx talk called "The great porn experiment", which has received millions of views on Youtube; his lecture focuses primarily on the topic of "pornography addiction", and has been cited numerous times on NoFap. Unfortunately, there are a couple of huge red flags. Firstly, comments have been disabled, which is usually a bad sign. Secondly, the video has a big fat disclaimer attached to it:
"This talk contains several assertions that are not supported by academically respected studies in medicine and psychology. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful, please do not look to this talk for medical advice."
According to an obituary published by his family (he passed away in 2021), Wilson "taught human pathology, anatomy, and physiology for years and [had] long been interested in the neurochemistry of addiction, mating, and bonding." He was also the posthumous recipient of an award from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly known as Morality in Media, an "anti-pornography group" founded by clergymen which recently tried to force OnlyFans to remove sexually explicit content from their site.
Psychologist Jason Winters, a lecturer on human sexuality at the University of British Columbia, was unequivocal in his response to Wilson's assertions:
"There is no research showing that Internet pornography causes mental disorders — none," [...] "Psychological problems and mental disorders can lead to problematic porn use as a means to cope and self-medicate."
"Wilson is simply presenting his ideology as fact [...] and in this case, it's dangerous."
On his website, Your Brain on Porn, Wilson argued that "porn can cause desensitization through brain rewiring".
So what do actual scientists make of such claims?:
"[W]henever you hear someone talking about anything rewiring the brain that's an immediate red flag – that's not how the brain works."
— Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
Wilson and Your Brain on Porn also deliberately misinterpreted and misrepresented scientific studies. For example, an article about a 2014 Cambridge University study by Dr. Valerie Voon was entitled "Internet porn addiction mirrors drug addiction". However, a Guardian article written about the study by Dr. Christopher Chambers, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cardiff University, debunked this claim:
"Do these results mean that compulsive viewing of pornography is an addiction like dependence on cocaine or heroine? [sic] No, and Voon is keen to emphasise this point in both the published article and the press release issued by Cambridge University. Addiction can’t be diagnosed with a brain scan, and even if it could, we still don’t know enough about CSB [compulsive sexual behaviour disorder] for it to be recognised as an addiction in mainstream psychiatry.
Do the results tell us that online pornography itself is addictive like a drug? No. Do they say anything at all about the non-compulsive viewing of pornography? No. Do they allow us to conclude that pornography “damages” or “changes” the brain in any harmful way? No. Do they even translate to all sufferers of CSB? No – the study tested a small sample of men only and, in any case, we can never draw strong conclusions from a single study alone."
Although NoFap touts itself as secular, a lot of the scientific claims they make are also repeated by Fight the New Drug, a group founded by Mormons which has been repeatedly criticized for peddling pseudoscience and purposely misrepresenting the results of studies.
On such websites, "[t]he claims and studies cited are, more often than not, poorly designed, suspiciously funded, misleading, incorrectly derived, or just outright false". One of these studies was even co-authored by Wilson, and attempted to link internet pornography to erectile dysfunction ("pornography-induced erectile-dysfunction (PIED)"):
"The researchers based this assertion on a quick literature review and all of three case studies [...] From such a small sample, no scientifically valid conclusions are possible. [...] [I]n my opinion, their analysis [was] scientifically irresponsible."
Other studies have thoroughly debunked this assertion:
"[There is] no evidence that mere pornography use is associated with changes in erection function. Sexually active men who also consume pornography showed very high levels of erection function. ED [erectile dysfunction] was rare. Our findings run counter to the popular narrative suggesting that pornography is driving an epidemic of ED."
"This supposed link between erectile dysfunction and pornography has fueled a lucrative industry, despite there being little scientific evidence to support the link. [...] In the absence of another factor, such as guilt about porn or sex or a physiological problem, pornography is unlikely to cause sexual dysfunction. Men may have other reasons for abstaining from pornography but should know that doing so will not directly address an underlying sexual health issue."
In one of the studies cited above, "a small number of men reported both frequent porn watching and ED." However:
They had one thing in common. They all held the most fundamentalist, conservative views about sex, and considered porn wrong, immoral, and/or sinful.
Thus, it seems that it's not porn, per se, that causes ED. The real cause may be the substantial distress some young men feel when they masturbate to porn while believing that both porn and self-sexing are tickets to Hell. That distress releases the stress hormone cortisol, which narrows the penile arteries and reduces blood flow into the penis. Less blood, bye-bye erections.
Number of deaths caused by tobacco use each year: 8 million
Number of deaths caused by watching porn each year: zero[citation NOT needed][note 1]
The American Psychological Association stated that "when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was being drafted, experts considered a proposed diagnostic addiction called hypersexual disorder, which also included a pornography subtype." Eventually, in 2018, a behavior called "compulsive sexual behavior disorder" (CSBD) was included in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases guidelines (ICD-11). However, it is important to recognize that this behavior can only be classified as such when it is an impulse control disorder, where the activity interferes with normal social functionality, and thus can be seen as similar to other impulse control disorders, including a few others that are sometimes labeled "addictions" in popular culture (such as compulsive gambling), and many others that do not (such as trichotillomania, or compulsive, excessive hair pulling). Whether compulsive behaviour "can or should be described as an addiction is far from supported or accepted."
Higher than normal frequency in itself, or being into sexual activities that violate the current cultural norm, are not qualifications for a diagnosis of CSBD (indeed, psychological researchers urge caution with this diagnosis due to fear of overpathologizing normal sexual behavior). There is no scientific justification for NoFap's reasoning for "pornography addiction" (it is "more available", "more novel", and "more stimulating" than "primitive sex" — all subjective terms). Indeed, the general consensus is that masturbation is a normal, healthy activity (except when compulsive to the point of harm). Studies do acknowledge that the concept of "pornography addiction" does exist within this impulse control disorder behavioral framework; there is considerable debate on whether or not "addiction" is a proper term. However, proponents of the "addiction" term, like Dr. Donald L. Hilton, do not help their argument when they falsely accuse individuals that do not believe the term "addiction" is accurate of "personally appear[ing] in pornographic films, attend[ing] the Adult Video Network awards, and molest[ing] children in [their] laboratory", suggesting perhaps that Hilton's Mormon background may have more influence on some of his conclusions than anything based on neuroscience.
Whether or not the term "addiction" is applied, it must be understood that the behavioral effects of pornography — while hotly debated, with a wide range of purported positives and negatives — are not ordinarily "addictive" outside of those with impulse control disorders. Furthermore, some of the reluctance of researchers to use the term "addiction" perhaps stems from evangelical misuse of the term "pornography addiction" over the last several decades.
The initial Reddit discussion regarding NoFap concerned the effects of abstention on testosterone levels. It is true that there may be a small increase in testosterone levels during abstention, with one study finding levels peaking after roughly one week of refraining from ejaculation. However, this phenomenon is currently not well studied, and other studies have found no differences in plasma testosterone levels after orgasm, nor masturbation having any significant effect on testosterone levels. The current data certainly does not scientifically justify the many other bro-science oriented claims that often both overplay masculinity traits and reflect typical, often religiously motivated, negative stereotypes about masturbation. For most people, masturbation is a normal activity which has a variety of positive health impacts.
NoFappers claim that sex addiction shows similar patterns to those of a cocaine addict. With actual drugs, each use should be desensitizing; however, this pattern was not found in the so-called sex addicts. In one particular study of "sex addicts", these individuals showed an increased response to erotica that was relatively higher compared to normal individuals. In fact, these so called "sex addicts" have matching brain patterns to those with high libido who don't identify as "sex addicts". The study deemed that there is no neural evidence for porn addiction. On the contrary, NoFapper's anecdotal evidence clearly has more authority than actual scientific studies.[citation NOT needed]
“”How about the fact that I don't give a FUCK about some random's[ ] opinion. I have my own experience as proof and that is all I need really.
|—Ex-moderator no_splattering of r/NoFap|
"Debating with them is akin to debating Genesis with an evangelical," Ley said, adding that belief isn't a substitute for evidence. "Like all true believers, they want to shout at the people they disagree with until they give in."
NoFap gives you superpowers
According to some rather opinionated individuals, NoFap gives you superpowers. X-ray vision? Super strength? Invisibility? Nope. Being horny all the time, no doubt. Ranting about people who are wrong on the Internet about the evils of porn, to the point of harassment and no-merit defamation lawsuits against neuroscientists? Oh, absolutely.
“”"My impression is that they tend to be highly obsessive individuals who transmute their obsessive use of porn into an obsession with attacking people who might expose that the problem is in them, rather than the porn. Ultimately, they’re the problem, not the porn."
|—Clinical psychologist David J. Ley|
The alt-right group known as the Proud Boys has a "no wanks" requirement as part of its hierarchy (second degree). Rhodes also has appeared on a podcast with the former leader of the Proud Boys.
The theme of nocturnal emissions exposes many of the problems inherent with NoFap "knowledge". A whole range of rather differing opinions on nocturnal emissions pepper the NoFap-o-verse. Opinions range from the "you cannot do anything about it so don't beat yourself up about it" (was there a pun intended?) to the judgmental and shaming view that "nocturnal emissions are your fault cause you aren't controlling your dreams" or at least controlling your lifestyle or diet choices that lead to wet underwear. In the extreme end of the surreal, one should correlate what food leads to wet dreams and stop eating that food. For many, a noctural emission is no different to having a wank, you've remitted and are a pornoholic again and must start over. The speculative nature and wide variety of takes on the issues reveal how factless much of NoFap knowledge is. One of the most recurring themes on nocturnal emissions is the sense of shame for having a wet dream, a symptom of a larger sense of self-hate for not being able to resist natural sexual urges. Interestingly enough, in many of the discussions hosted on Reddit and NoFap comment boards, there tends to be a lot of empathy and emotional support among NoFappers helping one another through not just nocturnal emissions, but all of their "failings" in getting control over their so-called porn addictions and accompanying sadness.
Postorgasmic Illness Syndrome
Another possible reason for the negative effects that some participants of the NoFap community talk about experiencing after PMO could be due to the Postorgasmic Illness Syndrome, a rare but possibly under-diagnosed condition. This condition is currently thought to be an autoimmune disorder, which involves the appearance of cognitive and physical symptoms after orgasm, whether after masturbation, sexual intercourse, or spontaneously in the sleep (nocturnal emissions); those symptoms include brain fog, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, concentration difficulties, and others.
It is possible that a portion of NoFap users experience the Post Orgasmic Illness Syndrome symptoms, but are not aware of it being a disorder and believe it to be due to the sexual activities themselves, and therefore when they abstain, their symptoms decrease, which they interpret as the NoFap superpowers.
- Short essay explaining why NoFap and Your Brain On Porn's claims are false (Pastebin mirror)
- /r/NoFap/ Subreddit
- NoFap website
- The discussion of this article on NoFap's forums (looks like you have to create an account to see that particular thread)
- Your Brain on Porn
- The NoFap Phenomenon, Psychology Today
- 'It gave me superpowers': The men who say sexual abstinence changed their lives. They are part of the 200,000-person strong 'NoFap' community by Kashmira Gande (Tuesday 4 October 2016) The Independent.
- 'I want that power back': Discourses of masculinity within an online pornography abstinence forum by Taylor & Jackson Sexualities.
- Lahdenpää, Reima. "The Warriors' Cult: representations of masculinity on the subreddit/r/TheRedPill." (2018).
- How does celibacy affect your health? by Valinda Riggins Nwadike & Zawn Villines (April 12, 2023) Medical News Today.
- Jennifer Abel, Researchers: pornography addiction isn't real; Though self-identified porn addicts are probably sincere. Consumer Reports.
- Christians fear porn addiction. health24,com, 3 April 2014.
- Religious People More Likely To Feel They’re Addicted To Porn, New Study Shows. The Huffington Post, 17 February 2014.
- Tom Hymes, Note to Religious Porn Addicts: You're NOT Addicted to Porn! avn.com, 3 April 2014.
- Man died while watching porn film, Metro Co Uk, October 31, 2008
- ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics, 2019-04, World Health Organization
- "Compulsive Sexual Behavior Is Now Recognized as a Disorder, But It isn’t the Same as Sex Addiction", Carolyn L. Todd, Self, July 27 2018
- "Porn addiction - what is it?", NoFap.com
- "NoFap Benefits: Real or Overhyped?", Adrienne Santos-Longhurst, Healthline
- "Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity", Donald L. Hilton Jr., Brain and Addiction, 2013 04 Mar
- "Is Pornography Addictive?", Kirsten Weir, Monitor on Psychology, April 2014
- "Porn feud, sex-harassment complaint lead to defamation suit" by Patrick Danner, San Antonio Express News, 2019 June 28
- "Sexuality and pornography", Gert Martin Haid, APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology: Contextual Approaches. ed. / D. Tolman; L. Diamond; J. Bauermeister; W. George; J. Pfaus; M. Ward. Vol. 2 Washington, DC : American Psychological Association, 2014. p. 3-35
- "The Development and Deployment of the Idea of Pornography Addiction Within American Evangelicalism", Jeremy N. Thomas, Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention
- "A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men.", Journal of Zhejiang University, 2003 Mar-Apr
- "Studies on the Relationship Between Plasma Testosterone Levels and Human Sexual Activity", Journal of Endocrinology, Jan 1972.
- "Can abstaining from playing with yourself turn your life around?", Julian A., The Startup, Medium.com, May 4
- According to NoFap's Reboot Challenges, "edging" is physical stimulation without orgasm.
- "NoFap Founder Is Suing a Neuroscientist Who Thinks Masturbating Is Fine" by Samantha Cole, Vice, 2019 November 13
- 626: White Haze Transcript (09.22.2017) This American Life.
- , The Gavin McInnes Show, Episode 122
- Postorgasmic illness syndrome (POIS), National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health.
- Except for the one man who did.