We’re two-thirds through No-Nut November, which promotes male abstinence from masturbation, sex and ejaculation (that is, “to nut”).
This started as a semi-satiric internet challenge in 2010, and then grew in seriousness and popularity on social media. In 2017 it connected with the No-Fap (fap = masturbate) community on Reddit, which soon had a half-million members. And that’s only a fraction of America’s No-Fap practitioners.
While it sounds like a bizarre joke (and indeed, was the theme of five very funny episodes of Seinfeld), it’s seriously important for several reasons:
- It promotes junk science about masturbation, pornography, and testosterone;
- It feeds into the “porn addiction” model, pathologizing common levels of porn use;
- It indicates a tremendous not-so-underground anxiety among young men about masculinity, sexual fantasies, and the increasing social equality of women;
- It has become a vehicle of Far Right paranoia—e.g., of The Proud Boys, who claim that Jewish-made porn is weakening Western Civilization.
The myth behind No-Nut and No-Fap is actually quite old: that retaining semen (rather than expelling it) by not masturbating or ejaculating increases energy, improves sleep, and develops self-control. The internet loves miracle cures, and “semen retention” is being touted as one—without any evidence whatsoever.
In reality, frequent orgasm and ejaculation are statistically linked to reduced risk of prostate cancer—indeed, to a longer life in general (masturbators do have more to live for…). But that’s really beside the point here.
What drives single young men to renounce masturbation and orgasm? The answers include fear of failure, shame and guilt, concerns about porn use, anxiety about cultural change, and feeling left out and wanting to belong to something. Note that sexuality itself is only part of the picture.
No-Fap addresses these cultural anxieties using a sexual vehicle—which conveniently dovetails with personal issues like fear of sexual rejection or performance anxiety. Like so many things in our culture, No-Fap is a sexual solution to non-sexual problems.
No-Nut/No-Fap promotes a program of lifelong recovery from “porn addiction.” It valorizes Gary Wilson, a non-professional who popularized myths about porn and the brain, and who was eventually exposed as using fraudulent statistics and making violent threats to sexologists and scientists who researched porn.
For most people, exercising self-discipline is a good thing. But the fake facts and ideology of No-Nut make it a bad vehicle for developing self-discipline. If you want to stop using porn, you don’t need to stop masturbating.
SEMEN, OR MASCULINITY?
The world is changing, and men who don’t go to college have lost a great deal of social status, economic potential, and market value for single women. This trend will only continue. The anxiety of No-Fappers isn’t just about semen and testosterone but about masculinity itself.
A significant American demographic is struggling with modernity. With few job prospects and virtually no career options, with no ability to launch into their own living space, prospects for not just dating but for sex itself are diminishing for a significant number of young men.
Some call themselves incels (involuntary celibates); some are manipulated into extreme ideology. In both cases, personal anguish about emotional isolation and sexual ineligibility are politicized into an angry critique of urban elites, Jews, and media products that show these men just how much they don’t have.
Survivalist, nationalist, and right-wing Christian extremists like The Proud Boys are there to give these guys a community, explicitly linking sex, anger, politics, and violence. Those who want to get beyond the basic level of membership in The Proud Boys must swear not to masturbate more than once a month as their leader Gavin McInnes believes that pornography-driven masturbation drains away the testosterone needed for men to fight for the besieged white race.
Far-right paranoia about pornography goes all the way back to the notorious century-old forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jews supposedly create “filthy abominable literature” to distract non-Jews from their scheme to take over the world.
Recently, similar attacks branding porn as a Jewish plot have come from right-wing terrorists such as Anders Breivik who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, to Robert Bowers, who killed 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. Such views are quite alive in America’s Purity Movement, the Mormon Church, and Christian millenarians like Mike Pence.
Ultimately, everyone has to grow up and embrace their sexuality in whatever form seems authentic. While for most people masturbation is rather mundane (if lovely), for some people it is a source of great anxiety. Attempting to resist it is a desperate expression of internal struggles about sexual fantasies, desires, and troubling imagery.
Joining with others who are similarly ashamed, guilty, frightened, or angry may overcome the awful sense of isolation. But relying on junk science and getting fellowship from others who disdain intimate life-affirming experiences with self or other will not promote mental health—or healthy relationships.
It won’t make America great again, either.
Like short videos about topics like desire, intimacy, better sex, and porn? See my youtube library at www.youtube.com/@marty_klein