Masturbation on the brainRebecca Hendin / BBC Three

I gave up masturbation for a year

It might sound like torture, but it had some surprising benefits

Writer wishes to remain anonymous

This article contains adult themes

My record is 13 months without masturbating. It wasn’t always easy to stick to, but honestly, my life was never better.

It’s amazing how much good it does me to not masturbate. I’ve quit for weeks, sometimes months, several times throughout my twenties. And I’m not alone. Millions of people (mostly, but not only, men) around the world are joining “NoFap” – a movement that encourages people to give up porn and masturbation.

I first started thinking about the effect watching porn was having on me when I was 19. Like the rest of my generation, I grew up being able to watch porn on demand. I remember searching for “lingerie” on the internet when I was about 14, which led me to more explicit images.

By my late teens, it had got to the point where if I was alone in my room it was only a matter of time before I ended up watching porn. I started to worry that I was addicted. I felt like a loser, who couldn’t meet girls in real life and had to resort to masturbating alone with the internet.

Teenage boy in bedroom watching pornRebecca Hendin / BBC Three

At 19, I was single and a virgin. None of my relationships had developed into anything serious and I was pretty clueless about sex. Staying home and masturbating seemed the safest way of avoiding a knockback. Whenever I did try to chat up girls, I couldn’t shake the memory that the night before I’d been looking at images of naked women. I felt sure that if they knew they’d think I was a creep.

I would spend nights lying awake worrying about the effect porn was having on my life. I didn’t talk to mates about it - it wasn’t normal in my friendship group for us to share what we got up to in private.

One day, just after my 20th birthday, I decided to stop. My mum was into spiritual stuff and I’d started sneakily perusing her bookshelf. I’d just got into meditation and that’s where I first discovered the idea of using sexual abstinence as a way of boosting my energy and self-confidence. The idea is part of an ancient belief system called 'Kundalini'. I was too embarrassed to ask my mum about it, but I decided to find out more. That’s how it all started.

At first, I thought I’d give up masturbation for the rest of my life. So I was disappointed when I only managed a month. I decided to set myself more realistic goals after that.

Porn on mans brain distracting himRebecca Hendin / BBC Three

The NoFap movement recommends 90 days of abstinence. I first heard about it in a Ted Talk about the impact of internet porn on the brain. It compared the effects of watching porn to taking hard drugs, and also linked excessive porn use to a rise in the number of young men suffering erectile dysfunction. Lots of people do NoFap because they’re worried about their erections, though that wasn’t my personal reason for it.

Discovering this whole online subculture of people like me was a relief. I’d always wondered if I was doing the right thing - after all, plenty of people seem to watch porn and form healthy relationships - but this made me wonder if there were more men suffering the negative effects of porn and masturbation than I thought. 

The NoFap movement was born in 2011 when Reddit user Alexander Rhodes started a thread about the benefits of not masturbating, which went viral. The thread now has over 300,000 members, or 'fapstronaunts', as they call themselves. Alexander also created a website where people share their experiences of living a porn-free life.

Lots of people believe NoFap has cured them of porn-induced erectile dysfunction. For me, NoFapping makes me feel confident, clear-headed, and motivated. It helps me relax and talk to girls because I know I have my libido under control.

No Masturbation Man BrainRebecca Hendin / BBC Three

I’ve banned myself from masturbating and watching porn as much as possible over the last 10 years. The first week is always the hardest - everything reminds you of sex. I’ll get aroused by an attractive woman on TV or in a YouTube video. Sometimes I’ll get rejected by a girl and want to masturbate to make myself feel better.

Each time I break, I feel shit for a few days after. I used to beat myself up for failing, for being weak and lacking discipline. It can take a few days for my mood to settle and then I start again.

My recent year of NoFap came to an end due to work stress. I’d just finished a big project and was exhausted and needed the release. I’m not in a relationship, my flatmates were away, I was lonely and had got bored of vegging out on the sofa. It was a moment of weakness.

Giving up for that long had really helped me focus on my work, though. These days, I can spend hours alone in my room on my computer and not get tempted to masturbate. I couldn’t have done it without NoFap.

I’m starting again now. I’m hoping to beat my record and get to 18 months without masturbation or porn. My long-term goal? To stop masturbating for good.

As told to Luke Chilton 

This article was first published on 24 March 2018.

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