It all started with a calendar. “No Fap September” spread across male-orientated message boards in 2009, with notorious internet image board 4chan’s users relishing the challenge of abstaining from masturbation for an entire month.
“Fapping” had long been an onomatopoeic slang term for masturbation, and had been coined by the same internet hivemind that would later unleash memes upon the wider world. Calendars were circulated enthusiastically throughout that September.
While the idea of abstaining from masturbation is nothing new, bringing together predominantly-male online communities to do so together most certainly was. No Fap September became an annual event, bringing together even the most hardcore of 4chan’s userbase, who are known for being rather bitter and jaded.
But the No Fap movement was just getting started: for a long time, biological evidence existed suggesting that abstaining from masturbation had multiple health benefits. The marriage of scientific evidence and growing online communities with a lust for whimsical and outlandish challenges gave rise to one of the internet’s most expansive self-help groups: /r/nofap.
The Kernel spoke to /r/nofap creator Alexander Rhodes, a 23-year-old web developer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“NoFap was originally a place for a small group of people to abstain from only masturbation for a period of time through weekly and monthly challenges. This ‘ultimate challenge’ was performed as a test of willpower or a motivation tool, stemming off of this thread in r/GetMotivated. Soon after, we began to realize the tremendous benefits we were experiencing and wanted to continue experimenting more frequently and for longer periods of time – and the NoFap 90 day challenge was born.
“It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the switch happened. The idea of porn being potentially not-so-great probably existed from the beginning – but I wasn’t really thinking about it. But at some point during this, we realized that porn was a major issue for many of us, and that abstaining from porn and masturbation for 90 days seemed to really help completely eliminate the PMO habit. With this shift in attitude, we quickly evolved into the most active community for quitting porn in existence.”
Rhodes was inspired to create /r/nofap by a post on Reddit: “TIL [today I learned] when men don’t masturbate for 7 days their testosterone levels increase by 45.7%”. In the comments underneath the post, Reddit users mused over the idea of a “7 day No Fap” challenge. With purported biological benefits, a large number of Reddit users expressed interest in abstaining from masturbation.
There are varying levels of fapstronaut. Most say they have conventional sex but do not masturbate. Some engage in “edging”, or orgasm control; some don’t. There’s a standard 90-day no fap challenge, which allows you to engage in consensual activity.
“Hard mode” is the ironic title for complete abstention from all forms of stimulation: intercourse, edging, head, frottage… you name it.
The /r/nofap subreddit was created in 2011, and quickly grew in popularity. Today, tens of thousands of “fapstronauts” gather to share tips and motivational quotes to aid other subscribers in abstaining from masturbation.
Despite the fact that the community originated from biological research, there still has not been a major study into the benefits of abstaining from masturbation.
“The closest thing we have are the many thousands of anecdotal reports from our community members. One of the NoFap moderators, FaplessAndFancyFree, conducted a survey in which we gathered a lot of convincing anecdotal statistics. The results are impressive and insightful – but that is hardly scientifically sound.
“There are some studies into the effects of pornography on the brain, but not nearly enough of them. I am looking forward to the possibility of a large, well-funded and well-organized study on all of this.”
As the subreddit has grown, so has the support offered by the members there. The Kernel asked Rhodes if there were plans to expand the community.
“I have a lot of plans for NoFap. Although NoFap originated on reddit, I think that reddit is a bit restrictive at this point. The subreddit is where NoFap began, and it will probably always be the heart of the community – but I have been working hard on revamping the off-reddit website, www.nofap.in. It will be nice to have a central location with a ton of information and helpful resources.”
Rhodes has fond memories of various members of the subreddit. “Some of my favorite moments are whenever skeptics give it a try and end up changing their minds about NoFap. Oftentimes they go from being a completely cynical critic – to a firm believer, exclaiming the benefits of NoFap, all within a month.
“I love hearing from the significant others or those who interact with current/ex porn users to see their take on NoFap and how it has the potential of positively impacting their interpersonal relationships. This message really touched me: ‘I’d give so much to be ‘enough’. -Mrs. Trying’; or this post, where a woman explains why she cannot compete with pornography.
“But really every day I feel significantly moved by the fapstronauts’ stories – that is what keeps me going and working on NoFap as hard as I have been. It makes me feel amazing whenever I hear that NoFap ultimately helped someone live a happier and more fulfilling life. Every single story means a lot to me.”
Precisely why the fapstronauts are so enthusiastic about abstention remains unclear, given the paucity of data about the health benefits of leaving yourself alone down there.