This article originally appeared on Motherboard.
This year’s No Nut November (NNN)—a Reddit-based challenge that tests the limits of participants’ abilities to withhold orgasming for a month—has resurfaced a connection between abstinence and fascism, with some participants going as far as harassing and threatening pornographers online with calls to “kill all pornographers.”
Five days into NNN, porn platform xHamster sent a tweet about NNN and NoFap, a similar group, calling them "anti-sex killjoys" who are pedaling “bad science:”
People piled onto this tweet with anti-semitic images, hateful replies, and threats to kill pornographers. One image warned of the so-called dangers of pornography, calling for capital punishment for porn makers.
A moderator for the r/nonutnember subreddit told me in a Reddit private message that the challenge is all just an “inside joke.” No one is seriously calling for the deaths of pornographers, they told me, and they don’t approve of hateful behavior. “We do not tolerate bullying or targeting anyone, adult entertainers included. We will take appropriate measures to counter this kind of behavior but honestly we have not seen anything like this before,” they said.
All the people participating and helping to organize No Nut November-related communities who agreed to talk to me for this story condemned calls for violence and said that they would ban such behavior in their own community, but the followers of anti-masturbation and anti-porn belief systems have been expressing similarly violent ideology for decades. There’s a real and concerning connection between the far right, racism, white nationalism, and anti-masturbation or anti-porn beliefs. The far right organization Proud Boys, for example, has a severe anti-masturbation stance, and recently instigated a violent brawl in Manhattan. The man who shot two women to death in a Florida yoga studio earlier this month was a self-identified involuntary celibate (incel), a community of men who resent women for denying them sex (incels specifically hate yoga pants and other forms dress they consider part of an "agenda to keep men in perpetual state of horniness.") Just this week, #ThotAudit went viral on Twitter after misogynists online threatened to send the Internal Revenue Service after sex workers, in a viral harassment campaign.
It is reasonable to assume that many of the people who are posting threats against xHamster are "just joking," and don't intend to actually harm anyone. But if the rise of the white supremacists to the real world from fringe internet communities of the last few years has taught us anything it's that we can't dismiss threats to marginalized people just because they're shared online. There's a growing anti-sex worker sentiment that's growing in the same right wing, online circles, much of it is wrapped around regressive ideas around masturbation, and if people in the adult entertainment industry say they're being threatened, we need to start listening to them now and not wait until those threats are carried out.
“We have not seen anything like this before.”
“What struck us most [about the 'Pornographers Must Die' meme] was not necessarily the call to violence, which we discounted because it was social media, after all, but the production quality of the meme,” Alex Hawkins, a spokesperson for xHamster, told me in an email. “This wasn't something that was casually produced.”
Hawkins said that when he shared the hateful images on Twitter, the account was immediately hit with hundreds of responses on social media that were "virulently anti-Semitic."
xHamster tweeted the images as a response to the threats. “Almost immediately, we were hit with hundreds of responses on social media that were virulently anti-Semitic." One image tweeted at xHamster suggested that the porn industry is part of a vast Jewish conspiracy.
The no-orgasm challenge group r/NoNutNovember mod u/yeeval told me in a direct message that the subreddit’s mods don’t approve of hateful behavior. “We're trying to make this challenge as fun as possible and it’s mainly more of an inside joke than a political movement,” yeeval said. “We do not tolerate bullying or targeting anyone, adult entertainers included. We will take appropriate measures to counter this kind of behavior but honestly we have not seen anything like this before.”
Once the challenge is over in the beginning of December, yeeval said, “our winners will probably go back to enjoying adult entertainment in its full glory, so I don’t think there’s anything to worry about with the claims about an attack on pornographers.”
NoFap, No Nut November, and “Semen Retention,” Explained
There are many different iterations of masturbation and orgasm abstinence, including NoFap, “semen retention,” and No Nut November. The lines get a little blurry between each group, but aside from the basic rule of abstaining from orgasm, their tenants are distinctly different.
NoFap is a movement that started in 2011 as a spinoff subreddit from a Reddit thread on r/todayIlearned about testosterone increases during masturbation abstinence that made it to the front page. It claims to be a sexual health platform, according to its website, with the goal of helping people who want to quit masturbation or avoid pornography for health reasons.
“We have always maintained that the best way to combat pornography’s negative effects is through educational resources that will give individuals the information they need to make informed choices about their consumption of pornographic material,” a spokesperson for r/NoFap, who I first contacted via Reddit, told me in an email.
Read more: The Complicated Appeal of 'Gamer Girl' Porn
The semen retention community takes a similarly health-focused stance on abstaining from orgasming, but claims to be neither anti-sex nor anti-masturbation. “Its part of tantra and taoist sexual practices to have sex without ejaculation,” a mod for r/SemenRetention told me in a Reddit message.
Despite their claims that avoiding orgasm is good for you, there’s been no research to prove that there are any benefits to avoiding pornography or ejaculation. In fact, when it comes to libido and porn, a 2015 study published in the journal Sexual Medicine showed the opposite—that watching pornography increases desire for a partner.
Unlike NoFap and semen retention, No Nut November focuses on the temporary challenge of not nutting, instead of any purported health benefits. A play on No Shave November, which challenges participants to grow facial hair throughout the month for charity, NNN is a group exercise in orgasm control. The rules on the subreddit say that “men (and top tier ladies) abstain from masturbating until the clock strikes 12:00 AM on December 1st,” but later says that non-ejaculatory masturbation and pre-cum are allowed, and that orgasms, not masturbation, are what disqualifies you.
In the r/nonutnovember rules, the phrase “top tier ladies” sticks out. That’s because it’s also used frequently on 4chan, especially /pol/ and gaming or anime boards, to describe women who are deemed acceptable to the men posting.
A brief history of orgasm abstinence
Denying oneself orgasm in pursuit of some higher goal or ideals of sexual purity is not a new movement. Throughout the 1700s, philosophers including Immanuel Kant regarded masturbation as an illness or symptom of one, and later, John Harvey Kellogg and Rev. Sylvester Graham invented bland foods for a diet they thought would dissuade masturbation—corn flakes and graham crackers were meant to be so boring they killed boners. These beliefs were often connected to Christian groups, or justified using a mix of scientistic thinking and religion.
In 1933, psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich wrote The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which attempted to explain the success of authoritarian systems (and ultimately, the popularity of Nazism over communism at the time) through sexual repression. Reich is quoted as saying, “the formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.”
Recently, anti-masturbation and anti-porn has found a home again, with the rise of white supremacists and the returned popularity of fascist ideals. One of the tenets of The Proud Boys is #NoWanks, meaning masturbation is forbidden and a sign of weakness. This group bonding ritual, as Lux Alptraum, author of Faking It, wrote in October, strengthens them as a whole:
Individual Proud Boys may find that giving up masturbation improves their sex lives, strengthens their relationships, and helps them focus more fully on creating the happy, traditional families that their organization holds so dear. But en masse, members of Proud Boys who adhere to #NoWanks are being asked to give up a core aspect of their individuality and relationship with themselves, abandoning a potential moment of self-exploration and connection in pursuit of a group cohesion.
But perhaps the worst of these—and the one most relevant to No Nut November and the meme they’re resurfacing, is white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke’s stance on masturbation. As clinical psychologist David Ley wrote in October:
David Duke, associated with the KKK and white supremacy, suggested that pornography was a Jewish conspiracy, intended to serve as a “weapon of revenge” against European (white) men and societies. Duke argues that masturbation in fiction and films is a "metaphor for Jewish behavior" and cites Breitbart, and alleged masturbation by "asylum seekers" as a way to argue against immigration.
“Over the past few years, we've seen both state and corporate movement toward censoring the internet, particularly around porn"
“I certainly get my fair share of anti-masturbation crusaders in my Twitter mentions, and over the past year, they have been crusaders: Catholic white nationalists who seem to be obsessed with knights from the crusades,” Eric Sprankle, associate professor of clinical psychology and sexuality studies at Minnesota State University, told me in an email.
His impression of them is that they’re fixated on racial purity by way of sexual purity: That white men having sex with white women is the only acceptable form of sexuality. “This includes the racist fears of white women having sex with brown-skinned immigrants, as well as, apparently, masturbating, especially to pornography,” he said. “And of course, given their strong religious and nationalist views, they're authoritarian, which lends itself nicely to wanting to unnecessarily over-control behavior of self and others.”
In this context, it's hard to read how sending a message like "capital punishment for pornographers" to xHamster can be seen as just a joke. For pornographers and all sex workers, the threat is very real. A spokesperson for the nonprofit Sex Workers Outreach Project told me that the third most common complaint that comes into their community support line is cam models who are being harassed and intimidated online.
Although they’re separate communities with different modes of thinking, I asked NoFap and Semen Retention moderators whether they approved of the kind of messaging seen in these images. “If somebody posted that image on our website’s forum, our community moderation team would remove the images and ban the poster(s),” a NoFap spokesperson told me. “And if threats were made, those threats would be relayed to law enforcement, as per our forum usage policies.”
“We keep a strict banning policy if you are disrespectful in any way,” a mod for r/SemenRetention told me. “We are in no form affiliated with No Nut November.”
Hawkins told me that censorship of porn, and hostile attitudes toward the industry, is getting worse, with crackdowns on sexual content across the wider internet.
“Over the past few years, we've seen both state and corporate movement toward censoring the internet, particularly around porn,” he said. “The conversations frequently dovetail with conservative religious concerns about women's sexuality, LGBTQ sexuality, gender identity and non-monogamy. Perhaps what we're seeing here is some of that in sharper relief.”
xHamster’s response to the violent messages—including insinuating that people abstaining from masturbation are inherently dangerous—isn’t innocent here, either. “The xHamster response wasn't helpful, as it was just swinging the fear-mongering pendulum in the opposite direction,” Sprankle told me. In other words, people who can’t or choose not to masturbate aren’t inherently more likely to be sexual assailants than those who do.
There’s very little hard science around the effects of masturbation on health, but at the end of the day, you should do what you want with your body and your jizz, as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. If you don't want to masturbate or watch pornography, that is your business, but be aware that by sharing anti-pornography memes and attacking pornographers online is supporting a cause that is much bigger and more harmful than your dick.
Disclosure: The Proud Boys organization was founded by Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of VICE Media. McInnes left VICE in 2008 and has not been involved in the company since.