As I write this, it's been over 30 days since I last masturbated. Consciously giving up jerking off is a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I'm not alone in thinking that. Another VICE writer from Australia admits it was hard after he beat me to publishing a story about this last week. I suppose I feel some kind of brotherhood with him, but mainly I'm just upset that I agreed to this assignment in the first place.
I've been masturbating since the age of 12 when I first discovered porn while using dial-up internet on my family's computer. In those days, I had to be smart when I jerked it, because anyone could have walked in. Luckily for me, I never had to face the humiliation endured by many, including George Costanza, when a family member walks in mid-stroke. At some point in my life jerking off just felt like second nature, like tying my shoes or combing my beard. When I first decided to give it up, I didn't consider I'd have to find a new pre-bedtime activity. I didn't consider I'd have to avoid boredom, have colder showers, and stop touching my penis in anyway except to pee. I began reading and writing a lot more. I did yoga in the morning and kegel exercises whenever I felt particularly on edge. In fact, I found kegel exercises to the best remedy for a painful NRB—No Reason Boner—not to mention the long-term health benefits for men and women alike.
Here's an example of the type of stressed out Snapchats my friends had to receive from me.
It was a little over a month ago when a friend sent me a link to a subsection of Reddit called NoFap. She wanted to convince me to try the challenge, which to her dismay was a lot easier than she thought it would be. I found myself perusing the site, reading personal, intimate stories from men (and women, though fewer) taking part in the discussion. I found posts like, "When I started using she fell out of love with me..." and a subject line reading, "Instead of watching porn and masturbating I walked my dog and met this beautiful girl!"
If you haven't grasped what NoFap means, it stands for no fapping, no masturbating. It's a movement about abstaining from our solo sexual pleasures and the porn that fuelled the fire, so men and women can spend their time on more productive things. These were people who felt like porn and masturbation were having a negative effect on their lives. Some claimed they felt lazy, unproductive, and unmotivated; they were lonely and unhappy with their social and sexual lives. For many of these people, and I can honestly say for myself, masturbating had become an easy escape from the difficulties in our daily lives, a way to avoid our problems.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint the beginnings of the NoFap movement, one article claims it made its first internet appearance on a car dealership website forum in 2006. Fast forward several years and NoFap was popping up in other forums largely based on the discussion of men's health and interests. Towards the end of 2010, Gary Wilson, an anatomy and physiology teacher created a website dedicated to the negative effects of porn on the brain. By 2011, NoFap was created into a subreddit and psychologist Philip Zimbardo argued for the demise of guys in a Ted Talks presentation and the following year, Wilson presented his argument about porn at a TedX presentation in response to Zimbardo's previous talk.
Does porn really fry one's brain? via.
In his video, Zimbardo's says young men have a new fear of intimacy that corresponds with a higher level of shyness and lack of social awkwardness. "Boys' brains are being digitally rewired in a new way for change, novelty, and excitement," Zimbardo says. As a result, boys are becoming out of sync with romantic situations, which develop slowly as opposed to their interactions with internet porn. Our brains were not constructed to see hundreds of naked women every week, yet we are overloading ourselves with this input.
Wilson and Zimbardo both call this kind of interaction with porn an arousal addiction. It's an addiction, not for more like with drugs, but with newness. When a boy first begins to watch porn his brain is at a high state of plasticity; it absorbs everything. We use porn to give ourselves instantaneous results, which include a blissful climax. But, now, when it comes to a real life sexual experience, many young men are facing a number of challenges like erectile dysfunction (ED), social and performance anxiety, and a lack of motivation and energy.
The thing is, there isn't much scientific research to support Wilson's claims, one post on a forum is from a Canadian professor who disclaims what Wilson's website promotes. But, this doesn't matter to fapstronauts, as the members of the NoFap subreddit like to call themselves.
The symptoms that Wilson talks about align with the anecdotal evidence of many fapstronauts. They use Reddit to express these feelings: "I have been not able to concentrate on my work and my physical health," writes one commenter; "So there I was, sitting in front of my computer contemplating fapping to a girl who I had declined sex with the day before," another post reads. These people are using porn as their excuse for their unhappiness, which could totally be true, however there's really no simple or one answer to each individual's discontenment.
It's all very touching and kind of weird, these NoFap posts. It's an accepting community with a diverse range of members. They don't judge and mock others, they share their sometimes disturbing, sometimes intimate stories. They are facing their fears and challenging themselves to forgo porn and masturbation and do something different with their lives. How long they will stay committed, is a personal decision. The movement ranges from month-long challenges, to 90-day challenges, to lifetime goals.
This is why the NoFap challenge is great. It can be something entirely different for each person and it can last as long as you want. Fapstronauts don't have to give up sex for the duration of their challenge, although some decide to as well, to better learn self-control. In a lot of ways the movement is about getting away from porn; giving up fapping is just a way of making it easier to give up porn, and sex is just another trigger. This challenge presents a personal test of self-discipline, for developing confidence and learning to rekindle the desire for an intimate relationship.
Fapping has become a problem in the first place largely because it's the easy way out. Consider when you masturbate the most. Do you do it when you're stressed or angry? Do you do it when you're bored, lonely, or tired? For me, it's all of these things. But, what if I redirected these feelings towards other things. Consider the productivity you could have if you directed this sexual energy elsewhere. This is what the fapstronauts are arguing: not fapping will rejuvenate your sex drive, build self-control, and give you more time to do other things. While some no-fappers proclaim superpowers, others insist they've found talking to girls so much easier. This last point is a large part of men's desire to start NoFap. It gives men purpose, a reason to approach a cute girl they've been eyeing from afar; it gives them a reason make an effort. As one fapstronaut puts it, "I am starting to enjoy the frustration. It puts this fight back in me. Every moment of discomfort is worth the renewed vitality."
As for me, in my four weeks of not fapping I haven't noticed any major changes in my life. I've been making more time to make good meals for myself and I've been doing a lot more reading before bed instead of fapping to my computer. My girlfriend and I have been in separate cities for a while, but we saw each other for three days and the sex was as great as ever, so no differences there. I haven't noticed anything different in my social life, and neither have my friends noticed anything different about me.
I've been exercising more regularly than I was before the challenge, and as I mentioned before, yoga and kegel exercises have become a regular part of my day. Physically, I've been feeling really good, considering the sometimes-overwhelming tension in my testicles. Mentally, it has not been quite as easy.
A couple weeks ago, my mind wasn't in a good place. I felt lethargic, tired, and unmotivated. I couldn't understand why; I just didn't feel like doing anything. While there could have been many causes, one fapstronaut says that this is a natural reaction to trying to fight fapping habit. Mark Queppet has recently begun offering coaching to the men of NoFap. In one of his weekly motivational vlog posts he suggested that feeling low energy is a result of outputting high energy into breaking my habit. Whether you consider your practices to be an addiction or not, it's still a habit which takes hard work to break, like anything. As Queppet puts it, breaking the habit is about learning to be comfortable with discomfort.
Even Edgar Allen Poe was giving me frustration boners.
More and more people are learning about this discomfort. The movement is catching on; the subreddit has almost 60,000 members (as of the date of publication) and the number grew by 2,000 members since I last checked, four days ago. IT appears more men are looking to the internet, not for porn, but for guidance on how to stay away from it.
For myself, now that this story has been published, I'm probably going to relapse. The writing of the piece has been painful enough since every sentence is a trigger, making me want to open my browser and go to town on my own dick. It's been a tough challenge, which I welcome because that's what's important in life, challenging ourselves to do break habits and do different things.
So, go ahead and tweet at me if you'd like to join me in this adventure of abstinence. I will be your rock.
Contact Ken about your masturbation habits: @kjrwall
For more VICE stories on trying to quit: