This month, Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Work Week and a bunch of his dude readers are going without booze and masturbation in order to up their testosterone levels and be, um, greater in general, I guess. I don’t currently possess the aversion to Tim Ferriss as a human being that the incredibly witty Samantha Allen does (my attitude is somewhere along the lines of “Who? Oh yeah, him”), but I am, at least, very skeptical about this no-masturbation-as-leveling-up thing.
No-masturbation challenges abound on the internet, not least of all in /r/NoFap, where I originally came across the concept. Their no-masturbation argument goes something like Ferriss’s spiel: If you quit jacking off, you’ll be more productive, your testosterone levels will increase and your interpersonal relationships will improve (they’re fuzzy on what that means). The no-fap pitch tends to be heavy on the science, but it’s not great science — even Your Brain On Porn, on which NoFap relies for a lot of its information, has noted that masturbation does not cause a decrease in testosterone levels, and although doctors agree that orgasms from sex and orgasms from masturbation are different and there are risks to compulsive masturbation, they have more to do with chafing and addiction than endocrine levels.
I tried the no-fap challenge because I was worried about my productivity, especially because I was trying to finish up all of my required science credits in one semester. I was masturbating a lot at the time, and between Reddit and having to read Gandhi’s autobiography for one of my classes, I became convinced that abstaining from masturbation would be the answer. What happened instead is that I became completely and totally distracted by the effort to not give in to masturbating, which wasted more time than watching porn and jilling. This is the half of the conversation that gets hidden under downvotes on NoFap: It really isn’t that great, it really doesn’t increase your productivity that much.
Of course, I’m sure it’s different for me than it is for people who have genuine porn addiction problems, in which case I’m sure that no-fap is a huge source of support. The problem is that our culture is so skittish about porn and sex in general that it’s easy to become insecure about your porn usage and set the bar for what constitutes “addiction” low. I’m skeptical for a few reasons, not least of all that masturbation has some really fantastic health benefits for men and women alike. I’m concerned that maybe by encouraging masturbation abstinence we’re playing into very old tropes about the sinfulness of sexuality, further discouraging women from understanding their own bodies and embracing their sexualities, and setting up a no-win situation for men in which we tell them they must be virile and openly sexual to be masculine but then also they must have a shut-down control over their sex drive to be masculine, as well.
I’m furthermore concerned by the fact that a lot of no-masturbation conversations happen in spaces that aren’t exactly that welcoming of or respectful to women. Reddit is obviously its own monster, and the NoFap web site (separate from the forum) basically claims that the only reasons women watch porn are about us being insecure or curious, not sexual beings who enjoy bodily pleasure, which is an insidious and self-fulfilling stereotype. Tim Ferriss — I mean, the guy claims that complaining is women’s version of masturbation. Do I need to say more? And then there are explicitly anti-woman sites like this, that praise no-masturbation for making guys more aggressive and compelling them to acquire more pussy. Not that acquiring pussy is necessarily a bad thing, just that when you juxtapose statements like “The most objectively indifferent and aloof I’ve ever been toward girls. I honestly could not care less about any of them” with statements like “Most girls I’ve banged in a 165 day time span (19 different girls)” it doesn’t come off as an approach to sexual interaction that dignifies women as human beings. What I’m getting at here is that when you look at the broad online conversation that’s pro-abstinence, it seems like a large portion of it takes place between men who have problems viewing women through anything but a sexual lens, who are trying to stop masturbating to further prove how over women they are, and whose efforts result in the further objectification of women into checks on a scorecard rather than resulting in relating to women in a more platonic and respectful way.
Not that it’s always that way. I appreciate the stories that some fapstronauts share about how masturbating less helped their relationships or made them perceive beauty differently. If it’s a problem for you and this is the way to solve it, all respect. For the rest of us, it seems like a little moderation and perspective might suffice, no?