does giving up ejaculation really make you think more clearly?
Guys are deciding to forgo ejaculating for various reasons, but how much truth is there to the purported health benefits?
image American Psycho (2000), Edward R. Pressman Productions / Muse Productions
words Rhys Thomas
Way back in 2015, Vice writer Ed Jones wrote about his personal experience of choosing to not have an orgasm. This wasn't to do with an addiction to porn, it was more about the idea of temporary chastity between him and his partner. Early in the article he states that positive side effects started to occur through not having an orgasm:
“It turned my life around; I got work done, I kept my house clean, I finished off personal projects that procrastination had always forbid me from finishing. I realised that a self-enforced period of blue balls can actually be a lot better for the mind, body, and soul than I'd first assumed.” Ed wrote.
Since then, for a variety of reasons, the idea of 'semen retention' has snowballed. Today, the r/NoFap subreddit has over a million users, r/Semenretention has 139k users. And since 2019, we’ve been seeing reports that young people are increasingly deciding to ditch masturbation. While this phenomenon isn't strictly limited to young people, TikTok is full of people discussing personal stories of semen retention with thousands of likes, more medically positioned videos explaining what semen retention is and its reported benefits with hundreds of comments.
There’s videos of celebrities like Jake Paul discussing how his boxing coach knows when he’s had sex because he’s “like a rag doll” when training, with millions of views. What's more is that the lion's share of these videos are from the last year. People who have penises are more interested now than ever in not coming.
There’s a number of reasons why people do decide to abstain from ejaculating. Along with serious issues like aiming to recover from addiction (which can be effective, but difficult) there are people who are under the impression that semen retention increases testosterone levels. The NoFap (a website and community forum that serves as a support group for those who wish to give up pornography and masturbation) founder, Alexander Rhodes, actually founded the initiative after reading a thread on Reddit about a 2003 study in the National Library of Medicine claiming that men who don’t masturbate for seven days experience a 145.7 percent spike in testosterone levels on day seven. The study has since been retracted by the National Library of Medicine, and NoFap is on the record these days as being more concerned about excessive masturbation and porn consumption.
However, despite the study being pulled back, the folkloric link between abstinence and increased testosterone has remained. Many people on the ‘No Fap’ hype are doing so because they believe it will increase their testosterone levels and in turn, help them build muscle mass, lower the sound of their voice, and more.
Other people are putting off ejaculation because they're curious, others are practising abstinence because they have heard of endless benefits to doing so. One mindful leadership coach, Brandon Bennett, claims on his website that semen retention has provided him with a deeper voice, clearer skin, enhanced focus, improved creativity, vitality, “enhanced depth and intimacy within one’s intimate relationships”, improved sleep, and “enhanced personal magnetism”.
Of course, when people online are reporting life-changing benefits thanks to one 'simple' trick, others are going to be curious. But are these benefits really there for the taking? As with many wellness practises, there’s a lot of subjectivity and a lack of accredited science on whether semen retention is a safe or effective practice to implement.
So, we decided to speak to a GP to get to the bottom of what the relationship between not masturbating and testosterone really is and find out the truth about the reported benefits of semen retention, once and for all. Dr Luke Pratsides is a qualified GP and Head of Medical at Numan, a wellbeing store for men’s issues. He says that evidence shows ejaculating actually raises your testosterone minutely. “You need a peak in testosterone to get an erection, be aroused, and to ejaculate.” He explains, “But even that isn’t going to help you to gain muscle.”
So immediately, the link between testosterone and abstaining is up for question. But there are definitely nuances to situation. “Confounding factors,” Dr Pratsides calls them.
In terms of the reported sexual benefits of not ejaculating, “not having sex for a long time and not having that release of ejaculation can increase people's libido.” Dr Pratsides says. “This could help with erectile dysfunction, and could improve people’s sex lives.” The latter is especially true when we consider what the NoFap community is trying to do. If people become somewhat reliant on porn, they can find they’re less able to be aroused in real life. “Stopping porn intake can help us to get aroused more naturally” Dr Pratsides adds.
The biggest case for abstinence from ejaculation and the reported benefits people get seems to be sleep. Another is improved concentration. Dr. Pratsides is sceptical though. “This makes sense if we consider that these people might be masturbating very often, or staying up late at night. They're going to be more tired than they would be if they just slept.”
In this sense, the effects of not masturbating are more a result of preventing fatigue than anything to do with retaining semen. Sleep is known to help our mind and body in a variety of ways. From improving focus and coordination, to bettering our mental health, and even helping us to gain muscle mass.
When frequent porn viewing, or sex with a partner is included, more time and energy can be used up. If you spend some time, abstaining and not ejaculating, you're probably not watching porn. And so you're winning time back. When it comes to having sex with someone, this tends to last longer than masturbating, and it’s usually more physically exertive. Again, you will probably sleep less. And you may sleep less well if you’re dealing with a new bed, their hair in your face, someone snoring, etc!
Dr Pratsides says “it can be really tough on your willpower to actually not ejaculate for a month.” If you’ve ever seen the Seinfeld episode (Season 4, Episode 11) where the main characters place a bet over who can go the longest without masturbating, you’ll know this to be true at least on television, “Abstinence is one way to overcome addiction, and it's great if you can do it that way. But there are other, softer, ways that you can avoid pornography. Blocking websites and making sure you put your phone in another room, for example. Restricting access to your habits.” Says Dr Pratsides. Of course, where these issues take over life more and become addiction issues, specialist counselling is something that can be useful.
According to NoFap, markers of potential porn addiction can include an increase in pornography use over time, an increase in the intensity of pornography used, and an inability to easily stop pornography use despite negative consequences. Symptoms can include sexual dysfunctions, fatigue, low self-esteem, a decreased libido and more. The Priory Group and the charity Relate both mention similar markers.
But for most people, jumping on the NoFap bandwagon is about semen retention and not addiction issues. “The idea of an increase in muscle mass and physical strength from abstaining is a myth. The key is testosterone, you need to have good levels of testosterone for all those things. Abstaining is not really affecting your testosterone.” Says Dr Pratsides. Ultimately, while ejaculating will give a short and small increase in testosterone, that's not really enough to have an impact on strength and fitness goals.
As for stories you hear about athletes not having sex the night before a big game, “from a physical point of view, having sex the night before means your muscles are going to have gone through some kind of exercise already.” Says Dr Pratsides. Also, you could risk injury by tweaking a muscle, and as mentioned, be tired. This would make you less able to concentrate, which can also cause injury. Even dehydration and calories burned can be a factor for the most elite of athletes, where every marginal thing they do matters to their ability to perform.
“The other side of the argument though, is that sex and ejaculation relaxes people. So from a mental point of view, they might want to be more relaxed before a big competition.” Says Dr Pratsides. So even in the case of professional athletes, there is an element of weighing up whether or not abstinence has the benefits you’re looking for or not. And again, even here, it’s really just the night before a big training session or a game where it’s worth considering.
If testosterone is of concern to you, the most effective things to do for healthy testosterone production are “a healthy balanced diet, good sleep and regular weight training. Resistance training itself helps your body to release natural testosterone.” Dr Pratsides says.
This isn’t to say there’s inherent negatives to not coming. “For long term prostate health, it's good to ejaculate on a fairly regular basis. The other thing is discomfort of the testicles, you may know it as blue balls. If you don't ejaculate for long periods of time”.
The only other real concern with not masturbating is around heightened libido, if you’re constantly horny, that can be distracting. Ejaculating now and then can help to keep libido levels in a calm space. Otherwise, it’s sort of fine to not masturbate. Rather than being on either side of the fap fence just because, what’s wise is to consider what abstinence might do for you, and weigh up your decision from there. You don’t want to force yourself to do something, that’ll only cause stress.
Also, in case you were wondering, blue balls happens because “the blood vessels around the testicles become congested, the name is because there's more blood floating around the testicles and it gives a bluish hue because the blood vessels are dilated. The medical term is epididymal hypertension.“ says Dr Pratsides.
So yeah, whether you decide to fap or not, whether you’re looking for gains everywhere you can or just need to get some more hours back each week, we all have our own reasons and needs, follow those in ways that are healthy for you, and you’ll be fine.
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