Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Chances are, like pornography, NoFap is something you’re definitely familiar with (thanks, internet). NoFap is an internet community (originating as a sub-Reddit) dedicated to undoing the purported damage caused by porn addiction and masturbation addiction for a lot of men (and some women).
While devout followers of the NoFap movement swear by it, experts aren’t quite convinced. Pornography addiction, masturbation addiction — for many experts, there’s no clear answer about the dangers they pose.
So, what role — if any — does masturbation play in your mental health? What role does it play in your physical health?
Ultimately, the question comes down to: to fap, or not to fap?
The NoFap community thinks it knows the answer to these questions. And they think they have a solution, too.
So, what’s up with this group of dudes talking about their masturbation habits? At its core, NoFap and the NoFap movement are essentially one great big abstinence support group.
NoFap isn’t really a new concept — abstinence and anti-masturbation movements have been around for centuries. But this Reddit-based community of pro-abstinence crusaders has rebranded those ideas to “help” men with two guiding principles:
Internet pornography is bad for your brain and avoiding it is good for your mental health.
Masturbation is generally bad for your health (particularly in excess) and abstaining from masturbation is, therefore, good for it.
This modern take on abstinence (mixed in with a little anti-porn messaging) may seem harmless — even worthy of support on the surface — but the medical community isn’t so sure.
At the heart of NoFap is the idea of treating both pornography and masturbation as addictions that need to be treated through self-control, self-improvement and a cold-turkey break with internet porn.
Associations with religious and conservative views of masturbation and porn have led to the group being labeled “porn-critical.” And it’s hard for NoFap to escape those associations when they’re part of the foundation of the movement.
And yet, there’s momentum to their efforts. The online community of Redditors is well over a million members strong these days, and they do a decent job of keeping the message simple: free yourself from porn for a major life upgrade.
Compulsive sexual behavior (also called hypersexuality) does exist, but in the NoFap book, porn also takes the place of real relationships — it replaces partnered sexual activity with solo time. Which, according to the movement, is bad. NoFap also correlates porn addiction to:
Lack of motivation
That addiction, according to NoFap, is caused by the habit-forming nature of our brain’s reward system and how porn forms strong pathways with neurotransmitters to make the addiction powerful.
And they say this can all go away with just a quick “reboot.”
NoFap has gamified the experience of rebooting over a period of time. Both 30- and 90-day reset challenges exist in the NoFap community, including the well-known “No Nut November.”
These community-driven and -supported reboots aim to reset the addiction pathways in your brain and, in the process, “fix” the symptoms associated with porn addiction.
According to the NoFap movement, the health benefits of the NoFap lifestyle include better erections, rebalancing of dopamine levels and more. But as much as NoFap may have core tenets, it’s somewhat difficult to pin them down since many of the proposed benefits of NoFap are anecdotally offered by members.
Unfortunately for NoFappers, there’s not much in the way of scientific evidence to correlate sexual dysfunction or sex addiction with porn addiction or excessive masturbation.
Thus far, anyway, research has fallen short of proving a link between excessive amounts of porn (or masturbation) and any dysfunction — mental or physical. You can see what we know about premature ejaculation and NoFap benefits on our blog, but consider the data about abstinence in general.
In fact, the only “science” behind NoFap seems to point to a correlation between people who have sexual dysfunction and admit to porn addiction. In other words, people with sexual dysfunction are more likely to acknowledge a porn addiction than people who do not experience dysfunction.
Though the study’s authors went so far as to recommend mental health professionals consider porn addiction a contributing factor when someone with it experiences erectile dysfunction, they do not believe that the two have a cause-and-effect relationship. More research is needed.
That said, there’s a thread of truth running through this argument: self-perception is important, and if you feel ashamed of your masturbation or porn habits, that may be worthy of a conversation with your healthcare provider, regardless.
Want to learn more about the benefits of not ejaculating for 7 days? Check out our other article.
What you’re dealing with may not be solved by porn addiction recovery, so much as your porn habit might be a side effect of a bigger problem like mood disorders like depression or anxiety. If this is the case, you may want to seek therapeutic support.
Therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT may be able to help you with those urges, but they may also help you reframe negative thoughts about pornography and masturbation to better suit your ideal life — that’s up to you.
They may also suggest the use of certain antidepressants as a treatment for PE, believe it or not. A side effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a popular antidepressant, is delayed ejaculation. Consequently, they’re prescribed off-label in some instances to help men suffering from; you guessed it, PE.
A mental health professional can provide this support, so if you’re suffering or noticing things like your interpersonal relationships not doing well, it may be worth taking the time to get in touch with one.
“Can I improve my sex life and my life in general by cutting out porn and changing my sexual behavior?” Doubtful.
Call us old-fashioned, but we’re just not convinced the answer to problems regarding addiction — addiction of any sort, really — can be found on a Reddit thread. Help? Sure. Support? Absolutely.
But actionable remedies? Hardly.
Here’s the lowdown on NoFap, as we see it:
NoFap claims that porn and masturbation addiction cause problems. It may lead to brain fog, low self-esteem and many other issues.
The claims that NoFap has made aren’t medical advice. They’re generally low on scientific support and high on anecdotal evidence. More study is needed to see what (if any) of their platform is valid.
If a habit is causing you distress, mental health support should be part of your plan to address it, regardless of how much time you spend jerking it.
Experts are, however, available on the internet to help you, and if you’re not feeling good about your porn use or masturbation habits, you might consider starting that professional conversation with online counseling.
If something more serious like erectile dysfunction is going on downstairs, it may be time to progress from internet sleuthing to a healthcare professional (and, dare we say, skipping Reddit altogether).
Consider reading our medically reviewed guide to premature ejaculation causes, symptoms and treatment options to learn more.
Learn more with Hims’ guides to all things sexual health. And head back to Reddit when you’re ready for some memes.