This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Chastity is not a foreign concept to me. More than once I've been in a relationship where, because I and the other person were heavily into starving ourselves of sex for sexual reasons, abstinence was enforced.
The longest I went was about three weeks, meaning no sex and no masturbation—and therefore no orgasms—for 21 days. It turned my life around; I got work done, I kept my house clean, I finished off personal projects that procrastination had always forbid me from finishing. I realized that a self-enforced period of blue balls can actually be a lot better for the mind, body, and soul than I'd first assumed.
However, it does need to be mentioned that having a DMC with your own junk every once in a while is a very healthy thing to do, encouraged by actual professors. For instance, Jim Pfaus—professor of neuroscience at Montreal's Concordia University—told me this:
"[Masturbation] is a great stress reducer—there's evidence that having sex or masturbating can reduce our resting heart rate for up to 12 hours. Plus, it does our sex lives the world of good to learn our sexual rhythms. We connect [through masturbation] to the types of action that we see in erotic or pornographic visual stimuli. This feeds our sexual fantasies, which is an enrichment of our creative process."
So it's clearly important to keep bashing away—but abstaining for a few weeks at a time certainly has its benefits. Benefits I thought I'd share with you here, backed up with scientific facts provided by Professor Pfaus.
In the three weeks that I abstained, I wrote 20 articles, built a bed, started work on a book, and began eating salad, like any proper, functioning adult with a fear of imminent heart disease should. As soon as I started going at myself again, all that productivity disappeared, shot up the wall in a long, thick arc of lost potential.
I have little to absolutely no knowledge in the field, but I figured there must be some kind of scientific link here; since semen contains testosterone, it follows that if you keep that testosterone off tissues and all to yourself, like some sort of spermy Scrooge, you'll end up with more "drive." Right? Kind of.
"Holding semen in does not increase the likelihood that any of the constituents will 'leak' back into the blood," explains Professor Pfaus. "However, if you are holding it in, that means you are not having sex or masturbating, which could increase your arousal in anticipation of actually having sex. I think this is the 'energy' that the purveyors of tantric sex talk about. Learning how to maintain erection and hold off ejaculation makes the orgasm experience more intensely pleasurable. This is true for us and rats. So the increase in 'energy' is more psychological and belief-driven than anything else."
This is the increase in energy I experienced. After setting "no masturbation" as a kind of personal challenge, I quickly discovered that I needed other things to occupy my mind. And what's a better distraction from your thoughts than trying to assemble a flat-pack bed invented purely to destroy long-term relationships?
There was a time, roughly a millennium ago, when I'd wake up in the morning and the whole world would seem bright and exciting and full of opportunity. Now I'm a grown man, each morning instead seems to bring back pain, 20 unread emails before I've even managed to brush my teeth, and some guy who takes an inexplicable amount of time to withdraw cash from the ATM.
However, during my three weeks of abstinence there was a silver lining to all that horror. For some reason, each new day felt immeasurably less shitty. There was a sort of levity to not masturbating—a cleanliness. "Some men experience extreme guilt over masturbation," says Professor Pfaus. "Others attempt to achieve orgasm several times a day in an obsessive manner. Some men are afflicted by both. The obsessive and compulsive nature of this makes them masturbate frequently—perhaps too frequently, because they end up in a chronic state of refractoriness over their penis and ejaculatory mechanisms."
Essentially, not being able to control your dick—or feeling as if you cannot control your dick—is a pretty miserable experience. You're being emasculated by the very part of you that makes you masculine. Wrestling control back from your penis catapults you out of a grubby little world where you're always looking to steal a few moments to rub one out. And that, objectively, is just a nicer place to be.
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This one speaks for itself, and is less of a positive and more just a physical fact that you'll need to endure. Not masturbating can be a good thing to do—you might feel awake, cleansed, and ready to turn your life around. But you'll also constantly be walking around with half a Snickers Duo in your jeans, even if you're on the phone to your dad. As Professor Pfaus explains:
"Erection in both men and women requires the orchestrated activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system. First, the heart has to pump more blood to the tissue. Then, once the blood engorges the spongiosa—the sponge-like tissue that holds it in the cavernosa of the penis and clitoris, along with the labia and other erectile tissue—the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, crimping the blood vessels so that blood will stay in the genitals (and nipples and other erectile tissues). There is a spinal mechanism in the lower lumbar region that acts to shift the parasympathetic to sympathetic, which in turn activates orgasm (along with ejaculation in men). While you have an erection, this flip-switch mechanism is inhibited by (among other things) descending serotonin.
"So, if you masturbate frequently, you are in a state of refractoriness, which also activates that descending serotonin system, but which now diminishes or inhibits blood from flowing into the genitals because it maintains parasympathetic tone (which causes a contraction of blood vessels). So if you lay off for a while—say, 24 to 48 hours—you may notice your erections come back harder and stronger. However, everyone is different, so one person's optimality may well be another's dysfunction. Optimality has to be determined by each individual in different circumstances."
So if you're going to try to abstain, find the right amount of time for you. And if you're committed to going the distance, but don't want people staring at you on the tube, you can always strap yourself to yourself using Sellotape, because this is the 21st century and adhesives exist that allow you to fasten your dick to your leg, so why not make the most of them.
This is the hideous, grotesque, embarrassing part of not masturbating. And definitely not a benefit. Deprived of sexual conduct for anything over 48 hours, most men I know will devolve into stupid, leering, chimp-type things. This is a disaster, because there's pretty much nothing worse than being a stupid, leering, chimp-type thing.
The litany of distractions provided by work and hobbies are helpful, and if you can keep them coming then you might be OK. However, it makes sense that not masturbating will up your sex drive. Therefore, in my experience, chastity is something best enjoyed—somewhat paradoxically—with a partner. If you're doing it solo, either as a sadistic personal challenge thing or for the perceived benefits, and you notice yourself staring at people, just stop immediately. After all, masturbation is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary: it's a natural part of sexual expression.
"Abstaining from masturbation will not kill us," concludes Professor Pfaus, "but it will deprive us of important self-discovery. And we know that abstinence of masturbation—and sex and pleasure in general—is often dictated by people obsessed with 'purity' and 'morally correct behavior.' People like that cannot stand the pleasure of others."
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