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13 November 2018

No Nut November: the insidious internet challenge encouraging men not to masturbate

What may appear to be just another weird and bizarre internet challenge is underpinned by extreme misogyny and threats of violence.

By Sarah Manavis

“Well done to the soldiers fighting on the front lines. And a moment of silence for our fallen comrades,” reads one post. “We must stay strong and continue the challenge for them,” reads another. “For my brothers still out there, we have survived almost two weeks,” reads a previous post, “Two weeks of self-determination.” “I will NOT lose this battle!” reads another.

These posts may read like an army motivational board, a triathlon training forum, or even, generously, a gamer thread. However they belong to one particular forum on social network Reddit that has exploded in popularity over the last several years. Growing out of the annals of 4chan and similar internet message boards from the early noughties, as well as being built on deeply traditional, historically puritanical views, the movement has grown to the tens of thousands, with hundreds posting on the sub-Reddit every single day. The forum is No Nut November: the internet challenge encouraging men not to ejaculate (or “nut”) for an entire month.

The rules of No Nut November (often abbreviated to NNN) are relatively straightforward: the key being not to orgasm for the entire month of November. Details of the rules on the sub-Reddit include lines like “ONE WET DREAM ALLOWED”, “NEBs (Non-ejaculatory masturbation) and pre-cum are allowed”, and “SEX IS A DISQUALIFICATION, BIRTHDAY SEX INCLUDED”. A motivational post on the sub-Reddit, giving helpful guidance to those participating, includes advice such as “DON’T. EDGE.”, “Keep your bladder empty”, and “Don’t be alone”.

No Nut November’s popularity has grown so rapidly in the last few years that it has managed to penetrate the mainstream. Burger King even tweeted on 1 November referring to the challenge: “him: it’s only a month / waifu [slang for a female partner derived from anime and manga]: ………..[crying emoji]”. On one Reddit forum dedicated to adults trying to relate to young people, a post with over forty thousand upvotes read, “Yep guys. Burger King just acknowledged No Nut November.”

This may, initially, appear to be your average, dumb, internet challenge; something bizarre and fleeting, like eating a teaspoon of cinnamon or chugging a gallon of milk within an hour. The type of online trend that, although perhaps unpleasant, is nothing but harmless. However, NNN is different. While some participating in the month-long abstinence period may be doing just that, simply participating; the challenge has a darker side and often dangerous consequences that affect more people than those just participating. I spoke to Girl on the Net, a sex blogger who has written extensively on topics such as masturbation, sex-positivity, and the effects of porn on our mental health – key to the No Nut November philosophy. She shed a light on how No Nut November began.

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“NNN came out of the NoFap ‘movement’, which began on Reddit, with guys encouraging each other to give up masturbation,” she says. Indeed, the NoFap sub-Reddit began in 2011, when one Redditor discovered a study that argued men who abstained from masturbating saw huge spikes in their testosterone levels after a week. While initially built merely on this foundation, the NoFap community has become linked to wider sexism and misogyny, reducing women to sexual objects to be attained or abstained from and shaming sexually active women. And this is no niche philosophy. The NoFap sub-Reddit, at the time of writing, has 377,000 subscribers.

“There is a lot of myth and misogyny mixed in with what is essentially a fairly harmless personal challenge” Girl on the Net tells me. “I suspect most people doing NNN are doing it for personal reasons; they think they’re spending too much time wanking, for instance, and want to see if they can spend their time on other things.”

“However there are also plenty of people whose wanking abstention ties in neatly with their misogyny.”

She went on to explain that the origin point of Not Nut November came from pick-up artist and conspiracy theory sites – ones where the forums’ influential leaders argued that there was some inherent power in men that could be “focused” by not masturbating. “In these communities there are also frequent references to ‘betas’,” Girl on the Net explains, “a term taken directly from pick-up art, meaning ‘beta-males’ – the ones who have no luck with women or who don’t conform to traditional ideas of masculinity.”

She says there are a broad spectrum of reasons why people who come from this particular mindset participate in No Nut November – including incredibly niche rationales, such as the idea that semen has magical properties, and by storing up as much of it as possible men will become more attractive to women. “The origin of NNN is baked into our societal attitudes about masturbation, and you could almost certainly trace it back to religious ideas surrounding sin and purity,” Girl on the Net also argues. “However the modern anti-wanking movement attempts to present anti-masturbation in more ‘scientific’ terms.”

This assertion can be seen in particular through the oft-cited TED Talk on NoFap forums, from TEDxGlasgow in 2012 called “The great porn experiment”. In it, physiology teacher and author of Your Brain on Porn, Gary Wilson, argues that exposure to porn changes your brain chemistry, and the more porn you watch, the less aroused you become by real life sex – and, consequently, the more you rely on “extreme” sexual scenarios for arousal. The people at TED put a specific note at the very top of the video, reading: “This talk contains several assertions that are not supported by academically respected studies in medicine and psychology. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful, please do not look to this talk for medical advice.”

Girl on the Net, too, argues that this “science” should be questioned. “While there’s nothing wrong with abstention, if that’s someone’s bag, there are lots of problems with presenting masturbation as inherently harmful – not least the fact that it isn’t. Masturbation has been proven, time and time again, to have multiple benefits to your mental and physical health.” The science, on this, overwhelmingly backs her up. In terms of porn, she says that many people may feel that they are watching too much of it and would like to reduce their reliance on it to achieve orgasm. “But the idea that it somehow changes your brain or is like a ‘drug’ is highly controversial,” she adds.

The No Nut November sub-Reddit links to a Discord forum – an app that functions similarly to the workplace chat forum, Slack, but is designed for the gaming community. At all hours of the day, hundreds of the thousands registered on the Discord forum post advice, “clean memes”, workout tips (a common NNN masturbation-avoidance hobby), and share their daily struggles of not nutting with fellow No Nut Novemeberers. It’s so heavily used that in the main channel a hundred messages come in roughly every ten minutes.

“The Discord group is keeping me alive right now,” one user told me about the usefulness of the forum (he, understandably, asked to remain anonymous). “I did No Fap February this year [without Discord] and it was really difficult, but NNN has been a breeze with the Discord,” he says. “It’s a good support network.”

However, alongside messages of encouragement and “brotherhood”, the NNN community on Discord takes part in more worrying chats and channels. In one, a transwoman explained that she was beginning to take her male-to-female hormones prescribed by her doctor; a medical treatment to make a trans person’s hormone levels more in line with the gender they identify as, rather than the one they were assigned at birth. The woman explained that her doctor had recommended that, for the treatment to go well, she needed to ejaculate at least once a week, otherwise there could be complications. Despite this warning, though, she said she felt she needed to commit to No Nut November, insisting on her loyalty to the cause. Although a few people on the thread objected and told her that she, obviously, should listen to her doctor, many others encouraged her to participate, arguing that NNN came above all other priorities.

In one section of the Discord is a series of “I Lost To This” channels, explicitly “Not Safe For Work” threads where people post images of things that made them “lose” No Nut November – ie something that caused them to masturbate to the point of orgasm. The four channels are “I Lost To This – Furries” (a “furry” being an anthropomorphic animal character that is often fetishised online), “I Lose To This – Hentai” (“hentai” being Japanese for “pervert, including all drawn porn and tentacle porn), “I Lost To This – Gay”, and “I Lost To This – IRL” (“in real life”). The latter two channels, while mostly just images of people taken from porn sites, occasionally include images taken by the user or sent to the user from someone they personally know. If these images have been posted to this channel of thousands, without the photographed person’s consent, they could be classed as revenge porn.

Another problem is that many of the people participating in NNN are surprisingly young. The anonymous user I spoke to was participating along with a group friends at his American school, all aged between 13 and 15. I asked Girl on the Net if she thought NNN was harmful to kids at such a young age. “In a world which didn’t stigmatise masturbation or pornography, and which had a balanced view on how masturbation and porn work, there would be no problem with NNN,” she tells me. “However, in that society, NNN wouldn’t exist, because it relies on convincing people that there is something inherently harmful about masturbation, and spreading fearmongering junk science about the effects of porn on the human brain.”

She went on to clarify, “I don’t think anyone’s going to die, or even injure themselves, just because they’re not wanking though! The issue is in the message, and the effect it can have on people.”

The anti-masturbation philosophy and pseudo-science, though, has managed to extend far beyond the reaches of “weird online trend” into mainstream discourse. This has been most recently evident in the Proud Boys, the far-right political group that was banned from both Facebook and Instagram for hate speech at the end of October, and for whom “no wanks” is a key tenant. Although originating online, the Proud Boys have toured across the world, from Australia to the US to the UK, promoting their self-described philosophy of “Western chauvinism”.  Especially in the United States, they are a recent iteration of alt-right internet groups that has been able to make mainstream headlines due to their increasing grassroots presence offline.

“The anti-wanking community is an excellent recruitment tool for the far-right,” Girl on the Net tells me. “Young men who feel ashamed of themselves, are encouraged to put themselves through, let’s face it, a very difficult physical test, all while reaching out to other frustrated men on the internet, many of whom are misogynist and racist.”

Anti-masturbation activists have also garnered attention this No Nut November for their harassment of organisations and companies they label as supporting “whores” and “sluts”. Porn site xHamster posted on their Twitter account on 6 November that, after launching a counter No Nut November campaign called “Nut November” (with the hashtag #YesFap), they began to receive well designed, unrelenting death threats images, reading “Pornographers Must Die”.

“As bad as their science is, we were equally concerned with some of the imagery being used,” xHamster tweeted. “It was no surprise to find that the so-called #NoFap movement had its roots in anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-semitic blogs.” xHamster had already been a target of the No Nut November sub-Reddit. Multiple screenshots from the porn site’s Twitter complaining about NNN were posted to it, alongside messages reading “Our efforts have not gone unnoticed” with over one thousand upvotes.

Less than halfway through the month and many users on Reddit have already reported failing not to nut. “I’ve lost the battle”, “respect to our fallen soldier”, and “carry on, brothers” are the repeated messages seen hitting the thread every morning. However, for all the posts about “losing” No Nut November, there are just as many who have become aggressive and emboldened by making it two weeks. “We must fight the battle against the thots [slang for ‘sluts’]”, read several memes posted to the forum. “STAND WITH ME AND DENY THE THOTS OF THIS MORTAL WORLD,” reads one post from a man rethinking his forthcoming marriage to because his fiancée can’t understand the value of NNN. And although we can expect many to continue to fail after weeks of not masturbating, as time goes on, the “fight” and the end goal feel more real for those who have made it that far.

While No Nut November can be an entirely harmless, silly challenge, like so many online, we should view it, as a whole, with increasing caution. Beyond the memes and pseudo-science and risible comradery lies a dangerous, active misogyny.

[See also: We deserve better than the Metaverse]

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