Can You Improve Your Life By Quitting Porn? The ‘NoFap’ Movement Says Yes

Armando had recently broken up with his girlfriend when he discovered the ‘NoFap’ movement. As a self-confessed “casual” porn user, he was intrigued by the challenge and decided to give it a go for himself. Like a relapsing drug user, his first three attempts to ditch porn failed within a few days. But then he realized that the problem must run deeper, and has since remained porn-free for two months, and, after seeing benefits in his day-to-day life, is intent on quitting porn forever. This isn’t a neo-Christian group or anything of the sort – just ordinary young men who’ve decided that their lives would be better without pornography.

The NoFap Movement

The NoFap movement (a name stemming from the use of “fapping” – Internet-slang for masturbation) is growing in popularity, having originated as an idle experiment to investigate whether quitting porn for a week could lead to improvements in productivity. Through Reddit and other websites, the movement has ballooned from a small-scale experiment into a burgeoning group of over 80,000 members. It’s largely popular with young men (in their teens and early 20s), but there are female members, too. Although many religious people share their ideals, the movement is specifically a secular one, concerned with the effects of porn on personal productivity and its potential effects on relationships with women.

Although there are strongly anti-porn members, the group as a whole is broadly opposed to censorship. The founder of the movement, Alexander Rhodes, describes himself as a “zealot” for Internet freedom, seeing pornographic films of consenting adults as damaging, but still worthy of protection under the rights to freedom of speech and expression.

Your Brain on Porn: The Science and Supposed Benefits

The science of this movement is addressed on the site Your Brain on Porn, and largely deals with the science behind Internet porn addiction. The neurochemical basis of addiction is dependent on dopamine in most cases, with drugs boosting levels through one mechanism or another and leading to feelings of euphoria, but with repeated exposure, desensitization takes hold and the individual needs more of the substance to achieve the same effects, ultimately leading to dependence. Because the chemical is naturally used as a motivator and reward for engaging in necessary behaviors like sex and eating, there is a definite mechanism that can lead to sex addiction (or indeed, food addiction or other behavioral addictions).

Internet pornography makes a sex addiction easier to pursue, and the website lists several symptoms of this damaging porn addiction, including erectile dysfunction (either with partners but not with porn or even with extreme porn), regular masturbation, porn tastes that don’t match sexual orientation, inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, depression and anxiety. The core idea is embodied in a TED Talk by psychologist Philip Zombardo, who points the finger at Internet porn to explain school dropouts and declining marriage rates, claiming that “boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal.”

The benefits ascribed to the NoFap approach are effectively an improvement in these symptoms. The idea is that without the easy flood of dopamine brought by porn, the individual will be more able to focus on other pursuits, starting relationships with real women instead of indulging in empty fantasies and even following career or personal goals with a renewed zeal. People have likened it to developing “superpowers.”

However, there are some criticisms. The DSM-V, the latest edition of the mental health “bible,” doesn’t include sex or porn addiction because there is insufficient evidence to support it. While some experts are sure that the conditions do exist, the lack of evidence makes the assumed “universal benefit” of the approach unlikely. Typically, addictions affect only about 10 percent of the population, so in the absence of compelling evidence, it appears that most people who watch porn won’t develop a problem and wouldn’t see benefits from stopping. Additionally, the lack of research on the topic puts the other claims on uncertain ground, too.

The Movement Goes Beyond “NoFap”

The movement has evolved, though, and it’s no longer just about stopping masturbating and porn-watching. The creator of the movement has said, “I want society to value sex as something meaningful.” This is an undoubtedly positive turn; as is the new awareness campaign he’s working on to reduce the incidence of sexual assault.

However, much of the focus is still on the idea that you can enjoy benefits in terms of productivity and real-world relationships by ditching the reliance on porn, and this is ultimately an unproven hypothesis. More research into sex and porn addiction is warranted as a result of the request for more data relating to the issues in the latest DSM.

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