Some people report benefits from abstaining from masturbation, but research does not back up these claims. There’s nothing wrong with masturbation unless it interferes with your life.

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Simone Wave/Stocksy is a website and organization that calls itself a “comprehensive community-based porn recovery site.”

The organization challenges users to abstain from pornography, masturbation, or sex altogether in order to “reboot” the brain to heal so-called “porn addiction“ and associated sexual dysfunction. This is supposed to lead to numerous benefits, including improved relationships and fulfillment.

NoFap offers members support in the way of a community forum and reboot challenges and events. Members also get access to videos, blog posts, and podcasts. They also offer apps to help members track their days of abstinence and stay motivated.

NoFap started on Reddit in 2011 during an online convo between folks who’d given up masturbation.

The term “NoFap“ (now a trademarked name and business) came from the word “fap,” which is internet lingo for the sound of masturbating. You know — fapfapfapfap.

What started as a casual discussion is now a website and organization that promotes quitting not just masturbation, but also quitting engaging with porn and other sexual behaviors.

The target audience appears to predominantly be straight cisgender men, with smaller pockets of cisgender women and LGBTQIA+ folks.

Proponents say that adopting the NoFap lifestyle offers a range of benefits, from mental clarity to muscle growth. But is there any truth behind these claims?

With no hard science to back the supposed benefits of abstaining from masturbation and porn, and not being recognized clinically as addictive, it’s not surprising that NoFap has seen its share of controversy.

Some experts have called the organization out for sex-shaming and the potential harm it can inflict, including attempting to treat an addiction when there is none.

According to a 2019 article from Vice, “sex educators, adult industry groups and therapists told Motherboard that they are scared of legal action from NoFap, and some of them weren’t willing to speak openly about masturbation and the stigma of watching porn.”

Also, though NoFap says it’s not homogenous, anti-pornography, or anti-masturbation, some research into the community internet posts shows that many NoFap practitioners are. Many posts point to a strong far-right, anti-feminist, and misogynistic narrative on many of the NoFap (and similar) community forums and Twitter.

Along with several NoFap subreddits focusing on specific audiences, like teens and Christians, there are other similar but lesser-known (Read: less controversial) sites and organizations. The ideology is pretty much the same, in that abstaining from masturbation and porn use can result in various, not-backed-by science benefits.

Some of the popular sites include:

  • Your Brain on Porn. This website is named after the e-book of the same name, which was written by the founder, Gary Wilson. Currently maintained by a group of men who’ve recovered from internet porn-related problems, the site was created for those looking to understand and reverse compulsive porn use.
  • Reboot Nation. The website says it’s a porn addiction and porn-induced sexual dysfunction recovery website that provides encouragement and education to help people reboot their brains — reboot being rest from artificial sexual stimulation, like pornography. Founder Gabe Deem says he has recovered from porn addiction and a porn-induced sexual dysfunction.
  • Your Brain Rebalanced. This is a forum with over 22,000 members that centers on self-perceived porn addiction and discussions similar to those on NoFap boards.
  • #NoNutNovember. This is an online challenge and meme that many associate with NoFap even though it’s a separate thing. It went viral, mostly thanks to NoFap members who shared or participated in the challenge, and the challenge is to not orgasm for the entire month of November.

Most of the purported benefits are attributed to a supposed increase in testosterone levels, a concept that fueled the original Reddit discussion back in the day.

One of the forum users shared a small 2003 study that found that not ejaculating for 7 days raised testosterone levels, leading others to go a week without masturbating.

Those who abstained went on to share other potential benefits of “fapstinence.” This included mental and physical health benefits, as well as spiritual awakenings and epiphanies.

Purported mental benefits

Members of the NoFap community have reported experiencing a number of mental benefits, including:

Purported physical benefits

Some potential physical benefits shared by NoFappers are:

Testosterone does have an effect on:

  • mood
  • energy levels
  • physical performance
  • muscle growth

But there’s no evidence linking the effect of masturbation on testosterone levels to any of the benefits listed on the NoFap website or the subreddits.

There is, however, a lot of anecdotal evidence within the NoFap community. Many members are happy to share the rewards they’ve reaped from giving up masturbation or porn.

There may be a placebo effect at play, meaning that people join the community expecting a certain outcome and their expectations make the outcome happen. Having the support of others might also play a role.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Some people may benefit from it and find value in some of the strategies offered on the website.

Research on masturbation

Aside from the old study that helped kick off the original NoFap discussion and another even older and smaller study that’s often referenced by people in the community, there’s no other research to indicate that abstaining from masturbation will have any significant or lasting increase in testosterone levels.

Also, there is limited research on the benefits of abstaining from ejaculation, and most of the research on semen retention focused on pregnancy. There isn’t any research to back the other claims associated with not masturbating.

Abstaining, however, does appear to improve sperm quality in people assigned male at birth, according to a 2019 study.

The study showed that abstinence periods of 1 to 4 days improved:

  • semen volume
  • sperm concentration
  • motility
  • total sperm count
  • sperm DNA fragmentation

However, the study also found that abstinence periods of 4 days or more appeared to have a detrimental effect on sperm DNA.

Most experts agree that masturbation is a healthy and important part of typical sexual development. Research from 2011 shows that masturbation in childhood and adolescence is associated with a healthy self-image and positive sexual experiences later in life.

Some more physical and mental health benefits that have been linked to masturbation include:

  • improved mood
  • better sleep
  • stress and tension relief
  • relief from menstrual cramps
  • lower risk of prostate cancer (research is ongoing to explore this connection)

All of that said, for some people, masturbation can be a source of shame or guilt if their culture views the act as taboo or if it goes against their religious, moral, or even political views.

A 2016 study found that guilt from masturbation was associated with psychological distress, depression, and anxiety, as well as a tendency toward other sexual problems, relationship difficulties, and higher rates of alcohol use.

A 2020 study involving 1,063 participants recruited from subreddits related to masturbation abstinence examined the motivation to abstain. Researchers found that those who were most motivated to abstain were those who perceived masturbation to have the highest negative impact on their life, had lower trust in science, and had higher conservatism and religiosity.

Research on pornography

Much of the research available on porn use has demonstrated that the majority of users report positive effects.

For instance, a 2007 study found that male and female participants reported that hardcore pornography was beneficial to their sex lives and their perceptions and attitudes toward sex, members of another sex, and life in general. Also, the more they watched, the stronger the reported benefits.

A 2019 cross-sectional online survey of more than 6,400 Polish students examined the frequency and pattern of porn consumption, the self-perceived effects, and how many believed they were addicted to porn.

The majority of those surveyed didn’t report any negative effects from porn use on their sexual function or relationship or sexual satisfaction. More than one-quarter of those in relationships reported that porn use improved the quality of their relationships.

A smaller percentage of the students reported self-perceived adverse effects, with 10.7 percent reporting daily porn use and 15.5 percent believing they were addicted to porn.

While a lot of people report that porn has no effect or positive effects, porn is a complex issue that for many is influenced by culture, religion, and morality. For some, porn use conflicts with their beliefs or moral judgments, which can lead to negative effects like feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety.

Some research into self-perceived problematic porn use has shown that people who consider themselves religious or believe that pornography is morally wrong are more likely to perceive their porn use as problematic. People whose porn use doesn’t line up with their values are also more likely to perceive themselves as being addicted to porn, even when their porn use is minimal.

First, let’s make it clear that semen retention and NoFap aren’t the same thing, even though you’ll often see the terms used in the same context on online forums.

Semen retention is the practice of avoiding ejaculation. It’s also called “coitus reservatus“ and “seminal conservation.“ It’s a technique people often use in tantric sex.

The key difference between semen retention and NoFap is that with semen retention, you can avoid ejaculation while still enjoying sexual activity and orgasm. That’s right: You can indeed have one without the other, though it may take some practice.

People believe it offers many of the same spiritual, mental, and physical benefits as NoFap.

Semen retention requires some serious muscle control and learning to flex your pelvic muscles just before ejaculation.

You can practice semen retention on your own or with a partner. Kegel exercises and other pelvic floor exercises can help you master it.

If you’re interested in the reported benefits of NoFap without having to give up porn or masturbation, semen retention may be the alternative you’re looking for.

Participating in NoFap is unlikely to cause any harm, but depending on your level of participation, it does mean you’ll miss out on the many proven benefits of masturbation, sex, orgasms, and ejaculation.

Also, NoFap isn‘t a substitute for medical care. Trying it instead of seeking professional help could prevent you from getting the treatment you need.

If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing any kind of sexual dysfunction, including difficulty with erections, ejaculation, and libido, consult with a healthcare professional.

If you’re concerned about your sexual behavior, or you feel sad, hopeless, or unmotivated, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

Recognizing compulsive sexual behavior

Not sure if you’re dealing with a compulsive behavior around masturbation or pornography?

Check for these common signs:

  • a preoccupation with sex, masturbation, or porn that interferes with your daily life
  • an inability to control or stop a behavior
  • lying to cover your behavior
  • obsessive, ongoing sexual thoughts and fantasies
  • experiencing negative consequences because of your behavior, personally or professionally
  • feeling remorse or guilt after engaging in the behavior
Was this helpful?

If you’re experiencing compulsive sexual behavior and looking for support, joining the NoFap community isn’t your only option.

Many people find it helpful to talk with others who share similar experiences. You can consult a clinician or local hospital for information about support groups.

You can also find a number of sources online. You may find the following helpful:

While some people report experiencing a range of benefits from adopting the NoFap lifestyle, these claims aren‘t rooted in much scientific evidence.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with masturbation, using porn, or masturbating while using porn. Partaking in some self-love isn’t a problem unless you feel like it’s interfering with your life.

That said, if you enjoy being part of the NoFap community and find it adds value to your life, there’s no harm in sticking with it.

Just be sure to follow up with a doctor or other healthcare professional about any physical or mental health concerns you may have.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.