"THIS" Magazine features an article on NoFap
FOR COOPER JAMES, self-improvement isn’t masturbation. Really. As of early September, it has been 225 days since the 22-year-old Calgary radio-broadcasting graduate has masturbated. The most challenging part, he says, is kicking Internet pornography. James has a mobility impairment that confines him to a wheelchair and, living in a second-level duplex, it’s a chore for him to get in and out of his home. Unemployed, bored and sitting in front of a computer all day, he would turn to the quickest and most accessible source of entertainment he knew: Internet porn. This became part of his routine. “It was just too much. It was just getting out of hand,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
NoFap changed all that.
NoFap is a growing online movement comprised primarily of men, who have taken a personal challenge to abandon masturbation and, usually as a result, turn of internet pornography for a week, a month, 90 days, or even indefinitely. (Fap is Internet slang for masturbation.) Since becoming a NoFap devotee, James says he feels more confident, assertive, and sociable. He has relapsed only once, 46 days into his first vow of fapstinence. Now, James wants to see if he can go for a whole year. It sounds possible. After all, NoFap has freed up his time and rekindled his need to socialize. “I feel a lot more genuine,” James says.
These are the kinds of stories Alexander Rhodes, creator of the popular NoFap reddit website, hears daily. Rhodes, a budding actor and University of Pittsburgh biology major, discovered NoFap when he stumbled across an online thread describing a study that showed how serum testosterone levels in blood increased by 45.7 percent in men who went one week without ejaculating. “Everyone was talking about it,” he says.
The NoFap movement has encouraged thousands of men and women to quit masturbation. The arguments make sense: improved self-esteem, better concentration, and no more porn. But is self-pleasure really that bad?
With NoFap lingo flooding reddit, Rhodes saw a need to create a dedicated forum for discussion. He started the website in June 2011. In little over a year, the site has exploded to include 30,000 fapstronauts—NoFap terminology for masturbation abstainers—and counting. Rhodes said the website gets more than 3 million hits each month. He’s recently launched a non-reddit website, nofappers.com.
Each fapstronaut has his or her own reasons for participating in NoFap, according to Rhodes. Some try to quit masturbation for religious purposes, while others are merely looking to test their mental resolve. In his most recent challenge, Rhodes hasn’t masturbated or had sex—a feat dubbed HardMode—in 62 days. As a result, he says he experiences increased energy and motivation, or the “Bradley Cooper effect”—a reference to the movie Limitless. (In it, the protagonist, a fledgling writer, takes a drug that unlocks the full potential of his brain, allowing him to pen a best-selling novel overnight.)
Others join NoFap because masturbation has become an unhealthy part of their lives. “In the very beginning, NoFap was just meant to be a fun test of willpower or a challenge,” says Rhodes. “It wasn’t founded under the idea that it was going to end up—or eventually evolve into—any sort of self-help website.” Despite this, he estimates that posts detailing personal struggles with masturbation and helpful tips for people taking the challenge account for 50 percent of the website’s content. A lot of NoFap users, adds Rhodes, come to the site seeking support, friendship, or somebody to talk to.
Carlyle Jansen, owner of Good for Her, a Toronto sexuality store that focuses on women and couples, commends NoFap for encouraging open discussion on a very taboo subject. Jansen conducts educational workshops that teach women how to feel comfortable self-pleasuring. She believes people, and parents especially, need to talk about masturbation without judgment—and without feeding any feelings of shame. Not only is there the stigma of masturbation, she adds, but there’s also the stigma of too much masturbation. In fact, Jansen says the question about masturbation she hears most often from clients is: “Am I normal?” “People do feel nervous that sometimes [their masturbation] is too much when it is like, maybe, three times a week or once a day,” she says. “Which, to me, is not anywhere close to a problem.”
Can masturbation become a problem though?
Rhodes doesn’t believe it is inherently unhealthy, and is careful to say that scientific research has shown that for many adults masturbation is healthy. He also doesn’t advocate NoFap to people under the age of 18. “I think that masturbation is important,” he says. “It’s something that is natural and usually occurs— and possibly should occur—in your teenage years. It’s a tool that humans use naturally to learn about their bodies and learn how things work, so that whenever they do emerge from adolescence, they know what they are doing when it comes to sex.”
Wendy Trainor, a registered sex therapist in Toronto, says masturbation is a good way to learn about your sexual responses and to satisfy needs if a partner is unavailable or does not exist. However, she says it can become unhealthy when it affects a person’s ability to focus on work or studies, or when it takes away from a person’s experiences with his/her partner. “Some women come into my ofce thinking their partner has low desire, when, in fact, their partner has been self-pleasuring several times a day,” she says. “Self-pleasuring can be an easier path to pleasure than taking time to be sexually engaged with their partner.”
Pornography can compound the problem. As James puts it: “You can have those pretty women up there for a few minutes and you can get off, but after that, what does it do for you? It doesn’t help you in your real relationships at all.”
The NoFap website directs new users to yourbrainonporn.com, a website authored by physiologist Gary Wilson. Wilson argues that excessive Internet pornography use can reshape men’s—and women’s—brains by altering their ingrained reward circuitry. Arousal addiction, he continues, may be responsible for a variety of symptoms, ranging from ADHD, depression, erectile dysfunction, and social anxiety disorder. By turning off, Wilson argues users can reboot their brains and reverse some of the changes created by Internet pornography.
The science, admittedly, is still in its infancy, but Trainor says pornography-related visits are far more frequent today than when she started practicing in 1972. While she says pornography can provide useful visual cues for people who want to self-pleasure, she calls it a slippery slope. The internet, she says, can give people the “perfect mechanism” for discovering novel stimuli at the click of their mouse. That can, in turn, lead to compulsive behaviour. NoFap, on the other hand, pushes people to interact. Rhodes receives scores of emails from men, women, and couples who credit NoFap with turning their lives around and saving their marriages. “Whenever you take away the masturbation, [people] are forced to emerge from their caves,” he says. “If you are going to get off, you have to go outside.” (A recent user survey found 40 percent of NoFap members have never been in a relationship.)
Rhodes doesn’t pretend NoFap has all the answers. As Jansen says, the movement has comparisons to fad dieting: encouraging people to abstain from something enjoyable, while ignoring the underlying issues that make them feel fat. Rhodes adds there is little primary research on Internet pornography’s effect on people and even less so on NoFapping. Many of the challenge’s claimed benefits on the website are anecdotal and—in cases where superhuman powers are reported—likely exaggerated. To dissuade users from seeing NoFap as a cure all, Rhodes has added a medical disclaimer, advising people to seek help if they have serious issues in their lives. Such warnings are unlikely to deter James and the many other NoFap converts. “A lot of the people feel it is for science and I feel the same way,” James says. “It’s still an ongoing experiment.”