Over 70,000 men have signed up to an online forum vowing to give up online porn and masturbation. Tom Cowell reports for the Telegraph on a very modern support group.
Forgive our impertinence, but… er… do you masturbate too much?
It seems a ridiculous thought. Titillation and porn are everywhere in our hyper-sexed culture. People appear to be at it constantly, so the question is absurd, like asking if you breathe too much or blink to excess. But a growing online community is turning away from masturbation, reporting incredible results from their self-denial: better sexual performance, greater confidence, and more mojo almost everywhere in their lives.
This movement’s spiritual home is the social sharing site Reddit, where enlightened anti-onanists gather on a page called NoFap (“fapping” = internet slang for masturbation, and no one quite knows why). Over 70,000 subscribers have signed up for the page, where users can take The NoFap Challenge, foreswearing masturbation for 90 days or longer. It’s not a judgmental place, but supportive and almost off-puttingly compassionate: a kind of “Wankers Anonymous”.
So why are men doing it, and what happens when they do?
“Why” can be answered two ways: some see a medical problem in chronic masturbation, others a spiritual one.
The medical anti-masturbators’ high priest is Gary Wilson. Formerly of Southern Oregon University, Wilson runs YourBrainOnPorn.com and delivered a 2012 TEDx talk called The Great Porn Experiment - viewed over 1.3 million times on YouTube. He doesn’t say masturbation is bad per se, but that porn consumption and excess fapping can fuse into “arousal addiction”, because our caveman brains are drowned into madness by the 21st century filth-hose called the Internet.
Wilson argues the mammal brain responds to sexual novelty. Biologists call this The Coolidge Effect, ensuring we capitalize on all genetic opportunities to reproduce. But your poor brain can’t tell the difference between physical and digital crumpet. You ogle more naked women in ten minutes online than Genghis Khan did in a lifetime of pillage, but your brain doesn’t know that Internet porn isn’t “real”. Watching a video, your brain thinks it just hit the Darwinian jackpot. It releases dopamine, the “seeking” hormone essential to the brain’s reward/reinforcement system. Wilson says that to porn-addled brains, the dopamine says “binge… do this, and if possible, ONLY this, until you can’t do it any more”.
It’s the same impulse that makes you eat despite already feeling full, a way of ensuring you “get while the getting is good”. Your brain doesn’t know where your next meal or woman is coming from: it wants you to eat/ejaculate while you can. But dopamine numbs other pleasure responses, eroding your willpower and making you hyper-reactive to the stimulus that triggered it (i.e. video smut). Over time, heavy porn users can find themselves unable to sustain relationships, or even erections when there are other people “present”.
Other NoFappers don’t medicalise their masturbation problem, they spiritualise it. Mark Queppet runs the Sacred Spirituality Project, which invites men to forgo masturbation as part of a higher expression of sexuality. He harks back to a pre-broadband past when “men needed to be strong, successful, and good people in order to attract a desirable mate. However, pornography and masturbation allow men to forgo all of that stuff and skip right to hyper-stimulating physical pleasure. The world is full of potential discomfort and anxieties, and Queppet suggests masturbation is yet another means of instant gratification that stunts our spiritual growth. As he puts it, “the world needs more strong and passionate men… but sadly, they are still stuck in their room masturbating to their smart phone.”
So what happens when you go cold turkey? According to the Reddit group, it’s pretty much the greatest thing ever. Reddit user “Rantham” (760 days nofapping and counting) reports: “I'm full of energy, I'm focused, my mind is clear, women aren't objects to me, ALL of my relationships have improved, generally I'm just a better more caring person when I don't have this cloud over me.” Another user “NeverFappin” feels “like a complete bad-ass in many ways, I speak slower and with a deeper tone in my voice… I think pretty much every woman I see now is attracted to me so I guess that's pretty high confidence for you.” It’s no stroll in the park, though. Some NoFappers report a high incidence of depression, loneliness, and in the most extreme of cases, suicidal thoughts.
The lesson there seems to be, if you’re going to try this, however awkward the idea, don’t do it alone. Talk to your doctor, join up with an Internet community like Reddit, or team up with friends or co-workers for a group NoFap challenge. Now that would be an interesting staff meeting, wouldn’t it?