In the days of yore, calls for masturbatory abstention were the sententious dictums of people like John Harvey Kellogg) and priests, the latter of whom were probably into their favourite choirboys even then. While anything derived from piety is reason enough to be ignored, the ramblings of holy shysters might have actually been correct, but for decidedly different reasons.
Not even God could have predicted the proliferation of porn in our daily lives. But is absolute masturbatory abstention really the answer? Well, where porn is concerned, probably.
Once upon a time, long before video streaming, I was a 10-year-old boy who pretended to be sick so that I didn't have to go to school, and I wound up watching televised figure skating live from the Nagano Olympics. What happened next is what happens to this 27-year-old boy in a man's body when he's choked his chicken for the seventh time that day.
Given that my hand and dick go together like peanut butter and jelly, and that I've had to reformat my computer more times than I care to admit—"… because I've downloaded too much music, mom…"—I've relied more on my spank bank to shave the palms than I have porn.
Unfortunately, some people are adept at avoiding computer viruses while watching porn—or at least know how to reformat their own computers.
NoFap is an internet phenomenon whose roots are firmly planted in pornography addiction, an affliction whose veracity is contentious among psychologists, neuroscientists, and sexologists. Porn addiction may not have made it into DSM-V but there's mounting evidence that it exists and a growing number of men suffering from erectile dysfunction, among other symptoms.
Alexander Rhodes, founder of NoFap.com and the NoFap Reddit community, unintentionally created a community to reverse internet porn's deleterious effects. A recovered porn addict, he experienced porn-induced erectile dysfunction, as well as delayed ejaculation while having sex. Moreover, his pornography addiction devolved into seeking out novel, shocking forms of porn.
"I had my first full sexual interaction at 19 and I could barely get hard," said Rhodes, 25. "I was completely detached from the person in front of me and I didn't know how to connect with them. My sexuality was destroyed. I could connect to a computer screen but my brain didn't know what to do with a person. I had to imagine porn and objectify the person in front of me. Naturally that creates problems in a relationship and that's how it went for the next four or five years."
He eventually refrained from not only watching porn, but also masturbating, and claims he successfully rewired his brain. But it wasn't without its trials.
"If it was as easy as quitting porn and not using porn, websites such as mine wouldn't exist," he said. "It's typically more complicated than that."
Recovery invariably requires no porn—not even the soft cable TV stuff my 13-year-old self beat his meat to on Friday night after everyone went to sleep—and no masturbation. The theory posits that the brain's neural pathways recede to original form, and the years of building up to needing tentacle porn just fade away.
Like Rhodes, Noah Church is a 25-year-old recovered porn addict and author of Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn. He experienced the gamut of sexual dysfunction, but managed to travel the hard—or flaccid, depending on how you look at it—road to full recovery. Like Rhodes, it required absolutely no porn and no masturbation.
"Once people with PIED (porn-induced erectile dysfunction) quit, they realize not only did porn have an impact on their sexual function, it had an impact on a lot of other aspects of their lives like their relationships, emotional health, motivation, ambition," said Church. "I recognized the fastest way to heal and recover sexual function was not to masturbate at all. Masturbation was still linked to porn, and porn likes fantasy, so it wasn't an option for me anyway. I wanted to have sexual experiences with women, and masturbation would just hold me back. I went five months without any orgasm."
How does abstention help one recover the ability to pop wood? According to Church's book, dopamine receptors need time to repair after being overloaded with pixels of the horizontal mambo.
"If you're overloading dopamine receptors all the time by watching hours of internet porn, those receptors shut down and numb themselves," said Church.
"They reduce the number of receptors that take that dopamine signal because they've been damaged by overuse.
"The other more shocking porn is how people climb up the ladder of severity. Porn is extreme these days in ways it wasn't 20 years ago. That's because the audience is desensitized and needs more extreme content to get off. There's more demand for that," said Church. "As we abstain from porn and masturbation, those receptors 'resensitize' and achieve equilibrium. The feelings I get around women now feel different than they did when I was using porn. I didn't feel that primal attraction that I do now."
Twenty-eight-year-old Ricardo gave up porn a couple of years ago after watching it regularly for 12 years, and while his cock never ceased to function, he says his meat beat manifesto escalated into what he considered disturbing territory.
"Guys talking about their porn habits escalating, that's what happened to me," he said. "When I started watching porn I was into girl-on-girl and then, all of a sudden, I would look at gang bang and gang rape porn. When I came across a group of people talking about that, I was in the same boat. That spoke to me and I wondered 'How much more could this intensify?'"
Before he gave up porn, he wasn't exactly Casanova, but now he has a serious girlfriend. In fact, not only had NoFap encouraged him to stop watching porn, it also taught him the benefits of infrequently hanging out with Pam and her five sisters.
"The sensations [in my cock during sex] are more noticeable and the release, of course, makes it 10 times more powerful," said Ricardo. "I've felt more confident and calm talking to women. It's helped me make eye contact—that's always been hard for me—and I've found everyday interaction easier, not just with attractive women, but with everybody."
He's decided to only ejaculate during sex and is even considering a popular NoFap challenge called Hardmode, which calls for a moratorium on ejaculation. He thinks he can do 90 days, but admits he'll have to run that one by the girlfriend first.
Ricardo has come to believe in the power of harnessing the male seed. Not all Fapstronauts are porn addicts, though. Some believe semen retention can make them better men. Porn was Ricardo's impetus, but now he exults the virtues of masturbatory abstention.
It's also an ancient practice. Devi Ward is a tantra educator, specializing in Tibetan tantra, and says that frequent masturbation should be encouraged, however, ejaculation should be avoided.
"Orgasm and ejaculation are two separate parts of the nervous system," she said.
"Orgasms become stronger and more powerful than your wildest dreams if you can regulate ejaculation."
Ward notes that occasional ejaculation during sex promotes bonding.
The orgasms denoted by Ward have spiritual connotations, which confuse this atheist. However, tantric practitioners can achieve multiple, total-body orgasms. But there is a caveat: yoga.
According to the Taoist tradition, said Ward, erectile dysfunction is a byproduct of expelling more semen than the body can replenish.
Rhodes himself has not masturbated since November 2013, but he does have ejaculatory sex regularly. He emphatically states that people should have their own reasons for abstention, and that it isn't necessary for everyone. He and Church both liken porn to cigarettes: While obviously harmful, it shouldn't be outlawed. As a smoker, I can't help but nod my head in agreement.
"The transmutation effect from not masturbating is real," said Rhodes. "I don't objectify women as a means to achieve orgasm. I see them for being the beautiful people they are. I see people for being better people. I have a newfound appreciation for human connection. My friendships and romantic relationships are much deeper. Even with strangers, I feel an ability to connect with them that I've never had before."
Porn occupies a very peripheral place in my life; I only use it to help me sleep after a night of uppers because the torrent of depressing epiphanies about making better life decisions obstructs access to my mental palm vault. But maybe I'll heed the NoFappers' advice about porn and try harder.