Inside NoFap, The Reddit Community For People Who Want To Be 'Masters Of Their Domain'
Mike Nudelman/Business Insider
Every day, a group of men and women around the world digitally congregate at a Reddit board called NoFap to specifically discuss not masturbating. Yes, just like the famous Seinfeld episode, "The Contest" - Jerry and the gang bet $100 to see who can remain "master of their domain" the longest. It's a community called NoFap, and it has its own theories, ideology, and mutual support.
"Fap" is a bit of Internet vernacular for the act of self-love. It first appeared in a 1999 web comic called Sexy Losers to denote the sound of a character pleasuring himself. On UrbanDictionary, it's the "onomatopoeic representation of masturbation." So "NoFap" is exactly what it sounds like.
There are currently more than 81,000 members of this community. They call themselves "fapstronauts," and attribute a number of major life changes to the practice, such as increased confidence, concentration, motivation, libido, and even penis size. For some it's a means of addressing concerns with their porn consumption, while others see it as a means to healthier relationships.
Still others engage in it as nothing more than a heavy-duty test in self-control.
How it started
"I've been able to do things I never thought I would be able to do. Asking a girl to prom, starting and holding conversations with strangers, being able to achieve when most people just throw in the towel at the first sign of adversity." -cjclear789
A June 2011 post on Reddit linked to a study from the National Institute of Health. The takeaway from that study is a simple one: when men don't masturbate for seven days, their testosterone levels increase by 45.7%. This inspired a weeklong challenge among Redditors, one of whom eventually posited that "fapstinence" could be a powerful motivational tool.
Things snowballed from there. The official NoFap subreddit was established and a standalone site appeared a year later at NoFap.org. Users now had a place to gather and discuss their various approaches to systematically not masturbating, as well as document any changes that they credit to NoFap.
Who is NoFap for?
There are as many stories about becoming a fapstronaut as there are community members themselves. It's quite literally for anyone who wants to give it a try.
"For porn addicts, it is about recovery," NoFap founder Alexander Rhodes told us. He's a 24-year-old web developer in Pittsburgh, Penn. "Some fapstronauts are here to improve their interpersonal relationships, whether it be for a marriage, a relationship, or single life. For others, it is simply a challenge of willpower - to seize control of your sexuality and turn it into superpowers. There are many, many different reasons to join but we're all on NoFap with one goal - to help each other abstain from PMO (porn/masturbation/orgasm)."
It's not a gender-specific idea, either. NoFap women are called "femstronauts."
Here's Rhodes again:
"Women are absolutely welcome, although the vast majority of us are guys, mostly in our 20s. I'd estimate that the NoFap community consists of 5% females, and although NoFap hosts hundreds of femstronauts, there is still a lot to learn about their experiences with the NoFap challenge. Pornography clearly is not a male-only problem [...] It seems like many of them are experiencing nearly identical problems that the men on NoFap report."
Although NoFap crosses gender lines, it may not be the difference-maker you need. As with any attempt at life improvement - working out, learning a new skill, whatever else - this isn't some magic bullet for changing your mood or outlook. Rhodes explained that "for some people, abstaining from porn and masturbation is absolutely life-changing. For others, it results in absolutely nothing. 'Your mileage may vary' is a term which we use constantly."
"I feel completely different. I just like myself better. I feel happier, more confident. I know that [it] doesn't magically make one happy and confident; it's the changing of one's mindset that does that." -indy175
A NoFap challenge consists of setting an intention to abstain for a certain amount of time, then riding it out. Participants report diverse and overwhelmingly positive results from their efforts, like increased confidence, reduced anxiety, improved focus, and even seemingly being more attractive to females (you're inherently confident at having conquered something big and women like confidence).
Rhodes chalks these radical changes up to a concept in biology called inclusive fitness. It deals with the number of offspring an organism has and their ability to take care of new offspring as they arrive.
"While [regularly having sex] in a mated pair, a males' testosterone levels decrease, which causes morphological changes that adapts them to be better fathers," Rhodes suggests. "When they are not regularly partaking in sexual activity, the testosterone levels rise, causing them to be more aggressive and better adapted for 'single life.'"
The hypothesis is that masturbation tricks your body into thinking it's reproducing. And if your body thinks it's "reproducing" a lot, it's not going to feel terribly compelled to stay sexually competitive.
How not to do it
A lot of NoFap advice is about how to reconquer your domain when you feel the borders slipping, so to speak. Here's what Rhodes says to do if you get "the urge" and want to fight it:
Get away from the computer and do something else that isn't what you shouldn't be doing. Is it your ultimate life goal to abstain from pornography or masturbation? Of course not! Pursue what you're actually passionate about. If you fill up your schedule with cool things that matter to you, abstaining from PMO will be a lot easier.
Raise your awareness. Giving in to urges is always a conscious rationalization. Learn to recognize whenever this process is occurring. Whenever you are craving to dive back into porn, your mind is simply trying to justify a non-logical emotional decision that it has already made. Simply recognizing this may be enough to beat the urge.
If you're contemplating taking the plunge, Rhodes advises patience. He says participants should completely buy into the process ahead of time. NoFap challenges are "a marathon, not a sprint":
If you do not have a good reason for why you are doing this, you are probably not going to last ... You have to ask yourself before you start: Why do you want to do this? What are your goals? What type of person do you want to be? Usually the answers to these types of questions revolve around a central concept - something I like to call your "higher purpose." This higher purpose varies for all fapstronauts. Maybe you want to do this for someone you love, to combat loneliness, and a multitude of other reasons - but most importantly for self-improvement.
What Internet porn does to your brainYourBrainOnPorn, an Internet resource that catalogs research on the relationship between porn and the human brain. It puts forth the idea that porn is a long-term problem that can rewire your brain, and that porn is far more harmful than one would think.
Perhaps the most tangible effect of overconsumption of porn (for men) is porn-induced erectile dysfunction, PIED. It's not an officially established medical condition but early research suggests there's some evidence for the idea that it is possible to overstimulate yourself with porn to the point that your plumbing starts working (or not working) differently.
That's a more extreme example and certainly doesn't affect everyone, yet Rhodes acknowledges that porn may serve a concrete purpose for some. In our conversation, he likened it to cigarettes - "generally harmful to health and society," but "not the worst thing in the world for some people."
"I do have trouble thinking of positive things about pornography [but] I am not calling for porn to be banned or regulated," said Rhodes. "I think people should be educated about the negative effects it can have on some people. The only thing I am currently actively advocating is education."
"[It's] more than just a fad, challenge or community to me. [It's] a lifestyle. It's like being reborn after years of death." -effancy
Instead of swimming through a sea of jokes, an outsider browsing the NoFap subreddit will notice that fapstronauts are pretty much entirely positive and constructive in their attitudes toward each other. New initiates are welcomed warmly. Men are "brothers" who "understand the struggle." The minority community of women seek each other out and offer male members points of view from the other half of humanity.
Rounding it up
People struggle with all kinds of demons - drugs, alcohol, family, emotions. For some, masturbation could be a problem on the same level. While some may not understand it as a "problem," looking at it like that misses the point anyway. There is no specific downside to fapstinence, and those who sincerely commit to NoFap frequently go on to describe interpersonal improvement on some level.
One user, "borninthenorthwest," described how it altered his life and attitudes:
My relationship with porn began at the age of 13 with nude Playboy photos of Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy. This was in the days of dial-up Internet, and I was initiated by my childhood best friend at the time. Although this did not seem pornographic, relative to what my peers were beginning to look at, I now see that this was the beginning. It began a cycle where every woman I met was judged by these photogenic standards, and felt no real attraction towards most girls in high school, despite being popular and well-liked for my prowess on the guitar. Enter college...
Going to a music school where I once again was a star, it became easy to retreat into the thing that brought me recognition (the guitar). But as I began to retreat, I continued to fill a sexual void with airbrushed photos of playmates and celebrities, which had now become a major weakness. Not so much pornography, but the cultural objectification of beauty ...
The man found himself unable to relate - or even be interested in - real-life women. "None of the girls I met in college could compare to the standards in my own mind. What few girls I was attracted to, I felt incapable of asking out for a date, and often would simply fantasize about them instead. In my imagination, there were no problems."
He was probably addicted to porn, he admits: "After college things took a turn for the worse when I graduated to more graphic forms of entertainment. By 31 I found NoFap."
It helped him get back to reality, he says:
Since then my relationship with both pornography and far more innocent triggers is vastly different. I no longer use porn at all, and no longer place the celebrity notion of beauty on the pedestal either, and am interested in real life and real people, slowly but surely engaging in reality.
It might be that NoFap represents such a dramatic lifestyle change for its participants that it forces them to develop new and better habits that would otherwise be lost to the time required for that other hobby. But let's not forget that all-impotant NoFap soundbite: Your mileage may vary.