Masturbation and sex are normal and healthy parts of life, yet hundreds of thousands of men currently use a website that issues challenges to users to help them abstain from masturbation and porn. The site, NoFap, claims this can assist men in breaking porn addiction and compulsive sexual behaviour. Participants use the site to support each other as part of a community sharing tools and advice. They even have emergency apps for when the urge strikes. I find all of this intriguing but was especially interested to hear that it was changing how participants viewed women.
“NoFap helps our users overcome their sexual addictions so they can heal from porn-induced sexual dysfunctions, improve their relationships, and ultimately live their most fulfilling lives.”
NoFap isn’t anti-masturbation or even anti-porn. It’s about abstaining for periods of time to beat addictions to these things. The subreddit for NoFap currently has 168,683 Fapstronauts (yes that’s what they’re called) who are either looking for a bit more self-control or have serious porn addiction issues. Some users are relapsing and looking for support, while others are sharing how NoFap changed their lives for the better. Interestingly, a lot say they’ve stopped objectifying women and improved their relationships. Preferring to remain anonymous, one man told me that he appreciates the women in his life more and they’re also better for it.
“I’ve never been deliberately misogynistic but it was always there. My self-control has made me happier but my behaviour has also made women in my life happier.”
It isn’t only straight men joining the community. I spoke with a gay Fapstronaut who was cutting out porn but not masturbation.
“With porn, I was contemplating my sexuality, putting morality aside and in turn compromising my own sexual wellbeing and integrity. Porn replaces sex and imagination-based masturbation. This alone clearly dulls the desire to find a partner and the imagination itself.”
He’s only one month in but already finding he has more “natural, relevant arousal.” He added, “I’m more confident when it comes to my sexual encounters with my partner and feel able to holistically appreciate all aspect of the relationship better.” This is a common theme as Fapstronauts seem to be improving the entirety of their relationships, not just the sex. Not that the sex itself hasn’t improved for him. “With the monotony of porn-based masturbation removed, real sex is now just much more exciting.” Giving up porn is clearly helping some men, but is porn really a problem?
Is porn ruining our brains?
Gary Wilson, the owner of Your Brain On Porn, is frequently cited in NoFap discussions. He believes that porn is changing men, arguing that the incredible accessibility of porn today can desensitise them to normal sexual encounters, requiring more regular and extreme porn to achieve arousal. This might make some intuitive sense but porn research is still controversial and there are contradicting studies. It will take a lot more work before we really know if modern porn consumption is bad for us but plenty of other experts strongly disagree. Even Wilson and NoFap are quick to point out that it’s not all bad, both independently saying that sex and masturbation are healthy and normal parts of life. The concern is that people are becoming addicted more than ever thanks to the internet and they need help “rebooting” (which means to recover from porn addiction). You can watch Wilson’s TED talk on the subject here:
Or are we ruining porn?
Wilson is considered by the Fapstronauts to be a bit of an expert but we were interested to get an alternative perspective on the subject. We spoke to Cindy Gallop of Make Love Not Porn (MLNP), giver of one of our favourite TED talks of all time, about young men and porn use. She argues that we might be ruining porn by not talking about it. “I applaud the aims of NoFap, and the very thoughtful way in which they’ve approached their mission”, she told us. “Men and women suffering from what NoFap is addressing write to us at MLNP all the time and it’s one of the many reasons we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re socialising sex to make it easier to talk about and to provide socially shareable real world sex that acts as a counterpoint to porn.” Gallop argues that porn isn’t the issue; the issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world.
Sex and masturbation are still taboo subjects for a lot of people. “Looking at all those emails we receive, it’s the sheer shame and embarrassment that we are made to feel around anything to do with sex, and consequently about watching porn, that is damaging people most.” Gallop feels the damage is very real, as our failure to normalise discussion of sex leads to rape culture, sexual violence, and unhappy relationships. That’s what the MLNP website is all about: improving society by encouraging people to talk openly about these things.
So maybe porn itself isn’t the problem; it’s what we’re actually doing with it. NoFap claim to be pro-sex and pro-masturbation, but their FAQ also reads: “There is little, if anything, redeeming about pornography. It is an unnatural superstimulus.” Gallop feels that’s a massive generalisation and incorrect. “Porn isn’t one big homogeneous mass – all the same thing. That’s like saying literature is all exactly the same.”
I’ve found that a lot of the academic studies of porn also view it all as the same thing. There are infinite ways to present porn and we could make positive changes to the industry without actually getting rid of it altogether.
Gallop imagines a day when the porn industry is led from the top by women as much as men and targets all genders equally. This would lead to a better porn industry that generates better content too. If women got the same input as men, and the same pay, it would lead to an industry that Gallop describes as “more creative, innovative, disruptive, and lucrative.” This isn’t about making more porn for women, it’s about letting women be equally involved in the porn industry. “I’m personally not a fan of the terms porn for women or feminist porn,” she told us, “because that marginalises porn made by women into something not for men.”
So maybe we shouldn’t be avoiding porn. Instead, we need to change our attitude towards it and thus change porn itself.
“When we make it totally OK to talk about sex; to be a sexual being with no shame attached; and when we disrupt and revolutionise the porn industry and its output through gender equality, I hope we’ll see a much happier NoFap community, and one that over time may cease to need to exist.”
Go forth, Fapstronauts. Your mission is a noble one.
Main image © iStock/pepifoto