Close to a million members of Reddit’s NoFap community believe that NoFap helps erectile dysfunction, but is there any truth to this claim?
From a scientific perspective, can NoFap cure erectile dysfunction? As far as we are aware of: no! NoFap does not cure erectile dysfunction. There is no evidence to suggest that NoFap can cure erectile dysfunction, or even necessarily help men who struggle with erectile dysfunction or other sexual issues.
NoFap is an online community and social movement that preaches abstinence from porn, masturbation and orgasm (PMO). Proponents claim that abstaining can improve a person’s physical, sexual and mental health. Initially, the NoFap movement advised men to abstain for 7 days at a time. These days, some say that a full 90 days are required to enjoy for full benefits of NoFap, which include harder erections, ejaculation control, increased focus and more.
In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the controversial claims from a scientific perspective. The goal of this article is to help you to understand what we know and what we don’t about the pros and cons of abstaining from sexual stimulation.
Where does the idea that NoFap can help erectile dysfunction come from?
Since its establishment in 2011, NoFap has grown to nearly a million members, despite a lack of solid evidence underlying many of the movement’s claims. What are some of the arguments that NoFap proponents often make?
1. The testosterone hypothesis.
The argument is that practicing semen retention can boost testosterone. NoFap members often reference this study, which found that testosterone levels can increase by as much as 45% in men who abstain from masturbation for 7 days at a time.
It should be noted, though, that the scientific quality of this study has been critiqued, as only 28 patients were included. Studies including bigger samples are needed before we can more fully understand the link between semen retention and testosterone. Even if abstaining does increase testosterone, though: this doesn’t mean that erectile function will improve.
Although testosterone certainly plays a role in men’s sexual function, the idea that it’s a common cause of erectile dysfunction is not considered to be true. Research tells us that testosterone replacement therapy, for example, does not treat erectile issues.
2. The desensitization hypothesis
According to this theory, watching too much porn can lead to porn induced erectile dysfunction. This is thought to happen when the brain’s dopamine systems are “flooded” by porn. This means that the levels of stimulation need to be increased more and more, leading to an experience in which real-life sex simply doesn’t trigger enough dopamine to allow for an erection.
It follows, then, that abstaining from porn helps you to “reboot” or “rewire” your dopamine system, so that you can once again respond to sexual stimuli normally. This leads to a “flatline” period during the days after you stop using porn. In this period, you may find yourself losing a sense of motivation and satisfaction in your day-to-day life. Following this, you should begin to feel increased levels of alertness, motivation, energy and positivity – this is referred to as “recovery”.
While these arguments make a lot of intuitive sense, we need to be careful about assuming that abstaining from porn is enough to cure erectile dysfunction. Ultimately, the dopamine hypothesis represents an oversimplification of how dopamine really works in the brain. We do not have enough scientific backing to be able to claim, therefore, that abstaining from porn affects dopamine levels in a way that can actually change erectile dysfunction.
3. The unrealistic expectations about sex
Another common argument is that porn use triggers erectile dysfunction due to the beliefs that porn generates in men. More specifically: porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex, while also objectifying women. As a result, men adopt certain beliefs which make them feel less aroused during real-life sex, developing a preference for pornography and/or masturbation.
These are all valid points: the porn industry does indeed objectify and exploit women, set men up to have some unhealthy expectations when it comes to sex. Nonetheless, the scientific consensus is that masturbation and porn do not cause erectile dysfunction and that NoFap does not help men cure erectile dysfunction. While studies such as these have been used to make an argument that porn and ED are linked, other studies, such as these, suggest the opposite. Therefore, there is simply not enough solid scientific data to be able to make these claims.
For this reason, porn induced erectile dysfunction and porn addiction are not recognized as diagnostic categories in the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of mental disorders: the DSM V. Similarly, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) have the following as their official stance:
“Linking problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process cannot be advanced by AASECT as a standard of practice for sexuality education delivery, counseling or therapy.”
Why are there so many NoFap success stories for ED?
One possibility is that the men who have seen positive results suffer from sexual performance anxiety. The fact that they were able to sustain an erection during masturbation in the first place suggests that their ED is psychological: they can easily have an erection in a low pressure environment. It’s possible, then, that NoFap reduced their anxiety by means of a placebo effect, rather than directly influencing their erectile functioning.
Another possibility is that men who are attracted to NoFap tend to have difficulties around guilt and shame about their sexual urges, masturbation habits or porn usage. These feelings of guilt and shame around sexuality can cause erectile dysfunction. It’s possible that NoFap helps these men indirectly, by reducing their guilt.
The problem, though, is that following the NoFap mantra can increase men’s guilt and shame around masturbation – an otherwise natural and healthy behavior. If they later struggle to adhere to the NoFap protocol, they are at risk of having their feelings of guilt and shame skyrocket, leading to even more sexual dysfunction. Men who have religious, moral, or ethical concerns about masturbation are more susceptible to this risk and should rather focus on developing a healthy mindset toward sex and masturbation.
Can NoFap help with other sexual dysfunctions?
The short answer is no: there is no evidence to suggest that abstaining from masturbation can improve libido or any other area of sexual functioning. What about premature ejaculation? Some men who do the NoFap challenge practice edging: masturbating up to the “point of no return” and then stopping before ejaculation.
This is similar to a well-known sex therapy approach to treating premature ejaculation, called the “squeeze technique” and “stop-start” methods. So, in this regard, edging might help men develop more control over premature ejaculation, but this has nothing to do with retaining semen.
What about men who suffer from delayed ejaculation or anorgasmia (inability to orgasm)? Treatment protocols for such men might involve a brief period of abstaining from masturbation while also altering their sexual fantasies to make them more realistic. However, this is only done for a short-period of time and in conjunction with other treatments; not as part of an overall lifestyle.
At the end of the day, we need to acknowledge that the claims made by NoFap proponents aren’t backed by research: there simply isn’t enough science behind them. This doesn’t mean that we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Until we know for sure, however, that NoFap can cure erectile dysfunction and help in other ways, we need to exercise caution so as to not give people false hope when evidence-based treatments already exist.