“If you took a survey, I'd bet you'd find a large percentage of men do not retain [semen] for longer than two weeks, which is absurd! Think about it: Your semen creates life,” says John. Like the thousands of people on the subreddit r/SemenRetention, John does not cum. It’s been this way since his late twenties. “I had a realization in my twenties that I had three habits I wanted to remove: smoking pot, smoking cigarettes and constant ejaculation.”
At 33, John is part of a growing online movement of spiritual men who believe that frequent orgasms are harmful. “When you see guys making porn, they're bumming everywhere. That's a life force that is depleting on a consistent basis,” he explains.
John isn't alone. In less than six years, the subreddit r/SemenRetention has gained over 92,000 followers. Set up in 2014, the page works as a support group for men who wish to perfect the ancient practice of withholding cum. This doesn't necessarily mean not masturbating or having sex – it just means refraining from ejaculation.
“The purpose of this sub is to discuss the physical and spiritual benefits of retaining. NoFap posts will not be tolerated and is insta-ban,” reads the thread’s bio. For most people on r/SemenRetention, the NoFap subreddit – which focuses on not masturbating – was their first awakening to the world of “retaining”. But now, followers of r/semenretention believe they are far more philosophically advanced than the original NoFap movement.
The semen retention, or “SR”, community has one central premise: the belief that semen is the essence of male energy or chi. This is something John stands by: “I understand a baby grows inside a womb and this is in no way trying to take away what the female reproductive system accomplishes because it's on another level, but every man has magical juice inside them that most spill on a tissue, on the ground, or in the toilet, every other day.”
This philosophy wasn’t plucked out of thin air – it's heavily borrowed from ancient Taoist doctrines. Leon Rocha, an expert and lecturer in Chinese medical history, explains: “In Chinese elite culture, going back to at least the Han Dynasty around 1st century CE, there was a whole set of techniques and practices related to health and longevity which included techniques for ‘sexual cultivation.”
He continues: “Semen was considered the most pure kind of bodily chi. Excessive sex with ejaculation was considered a serious threat to a man's health, and was thought to lead to exhaustion, depletion of chi, illness and even death.” But this practice didn’t solely focus on ejaculation; diet, exercise and meditation played a much more prominent role in this philosophy. Eventually, these teachings were shunned by much of Chinese society – at least until the 1960s, when “sexual cultivation” would become rediscovered and repackaged as “ancient Chinese sexual wisdom” by modern Taoist teachers like Mantak Chia.
According to the subreddit’s thousands of followers, the benefits of not ejaculating are extensive: reduced anxiety, glowing eyes and skin, and even minimising depressive episodes. “I’m now over 400 days of semen retention. I went from a scared little boy who had the worst mindset to a God who attracts everything he wants into his life,” says one user. “My mind has changed a lot. My body is stronger and more beautiful, my smell is better. The energy that emanates from me is just so comfortable, for myself and for the people around me,” posts another.
“After some time on NoFap, I eventually discovered semen retention, which instantly clicked,” says Jake, 21, from Los Angeles. When Jake was 13, he developed a porn addiction. “By the time I was 16 I couldn’t go more than one day without it.” At first the NoFap movement seemed like the solution: “That page is great for spreading awareness of the porn problem,” he says, “But semen retention provided a much more esoteric and spiritual feeling when I read the posts.”
For Jake, the feeling of reaching a higher spirituality was the biggest draw to the SR community. “I absolutely loved psychedelics, definitely shrooms were my favourite, and people were claiming feelings similar to how they did on psychedelics while retaining,” he says. “This blew my mind and I had to try it. I quit fapping. A few months later I stopped having sex. And now I am 561 days without any conscious ejaculations and I feel amazing. I definitely would compare it to how I felt on psychedelics.”
“I wouldn’t call myself spiritual,” says Tom, 21, from London, “but I am a Christian.” Tom is one of the subreddit’s most frequent posters, documenting his progress over months. He has followed the practice since he was 18 and since then has recorded “random moments of pure bliss”, and things around him “becoming brighter, literally hyper-reality”. His longest stint of not ejaculating is 10 months, which is where he stands currently. At the moment he's celibate: “I would say the minimum time for people to feel the benefits of not ejaculating is around two weeks. But if you really want to see a change, my personal aim is 12 years.”
The method of achieving this cultivation of “male energy” varies from person to person. For some followers, like Jake and Tom, it might mean complete celibacy. Others prefer a popular technique that subreddit members call “Up The Spine Ejaculation”. “There are many advanced techniques but a very simple one basically involves pressing on your gooch just before ejaculation to stop the cum from leaving your body,” says Paolo. “It then gets reabsorbed without the crashing low of a regular orgasm.”
Paolo, 29, from London, has been practising semen retention on and off for eight years, but only recently discovered this type of inverse orgasm. “After exploring some elements of Taoism for a while, I found some literature explaining the techniques and ‘sexual kung fu’ of Taoist monks.” For Paolo, this approach gives him the best of both worlds: “You still get to orgasm and have sex. Sure, it’s not as intense as blowing your load but it still feels pretty good and you get all the added benefits of semen retention while still being able to fuck.”
The health risks involved in this type of orgasm are still understudied. Some research argues that, in general, not ejaculating can increase the likelihood of prostate cancer. Other research has found no correlation at all.
Medical student Sam, whose wishes to remain anonymous to protect his private life, first discovered r/SemenRetention when he was 21. He has spent hours doing research into the possible health benefits of not ejaculating. “The page has taught me all about the harmful effects of porn and masturbation and the supposed ‘benefits’ you get while retaining, which I feel aren't really benefits,” he explains. “It's just your mind and your spirit healing from all the trauma that porn gave you and reverting to your pure self.”
Like most people on the page, Sam had an unhealthy relationship with porn from a young age, watching it whenever he could. “From about 11, I started watching porn. I was lethargic and had brain fog all the time.” Since joining the community, Sam has been much happier: “I feel this subreddit has grown so much because more and more men are actively realising the root cause of their unhappiness.”
But while semen retention might make men feel more spiritually in tune with themselves, it might not necessarily deal with the root cause of their problems, especially when it comes to porn addiction. “I am not sure how semen retention relates to helping with porn usage,” says sex therapist Murray Blacket. “When it comes to porn, and men and porn in particular, I am far more interested in what clients get from it. And I do not mean instant gratification. Often men will say they are bored, low, unhappy, even angry – and that is why they are watching.
“But porn is a partial sop in this respect; never fully meeting or resolving the deeper need. So I am not sure what part semen retention plays in helping with this.”
Still, for John, a lot of his emotional problems have subsided since joining the semen retention community. “Men aimlessly wander the world trying to figure out why they are the way they are,” he says, “but they are lost in knowing their true selves because they constantly deplete who they are [by ejaculating]. It's that simple."
This year, John has managed to avoid cumming, only doing it a handful of times. “Porn no longer holds a hypnotic grip in my life. I’m now much for attracted to my wife and my sex life has improved,” he adds. “It's a good feeling. It's a godly feeling.”