"I got a massive W [win] recently because I managed to refuse sex during a wet dream," 26-year-old Aaron tells Mashable. "So I’m the No Nut November king, heavy are the balls that wear the crown."
Akin to monthly events centred on health-based challenges like Sober October or Movember, No Nut November is where people resist partnered sex and masturbation, with the aim of not ejaculating for 30 days. The challenge has developed into something of an online community, with hundreds of Discord servers and online forums acting as digital pseudo support groups for those taking part, and the No Nut November Reddit community totalling 137,000 members, called "nut comrades."
While some are there to share memes and have a laugh, others are there to take the challenge very seriously, believing it will better them in some way. And some members have darker intentions.
Aaron, who works in digital advertising, says he partakes in No Nut November annually, and has done since 2017. He’s an avid Reddit user, which is where he came across the movement, and was led to believe it would come with an array of health benefits. "Better mental health," "improved will power," and "being better in bed" are just a few reasons he cites for signing up to the challenge.
"Frequent ejaculation is good for prostate health and masturbation is a healthy behaviour."
The No Nut November community centres ideas like these. It has even been suggested by people in support of the challenge that abstinence can increase testosterone. But experts and actual research have presented data that suggests the complete opposite of this.
Sexologist and author of Sexology: The Basics Silva Neves tells Mashable that there are "literally no benefits to giving up masturbation for a month, or even a week. None. Frequent ejaculation is good for prostate health and masturbation is a healthy behaviour."
In fact, masturbation is often used by many for stress relief and tension, and for better sleep. Neves explains stopping masturbation can increase people's stress and people can have less good quality sleep, which can impact on their work, their relationships, and their overall well-being.
Sex educator and author of All the F*cking Mistakes Gigi Engle adds that giving up masturbation will also likely make you sexually frustrated. "It will make you more irritable if you’re not getting that release. If you stop masturbating, it can also make you more anxious. You don’t need to masturbate for a month if you don’t want to, but there’s no real pros to giving it up," she explains.
"Turning down sex and giving up wanking is a big thing for a man," Aaron adds. "There’s just something about resisting it for an entire month and having your boys big you up that feels like a good accomplishment. I need to know I’m able to do it, so I know I’m not addicted."
There’s an ongoing narrative in the No Nut November movement that these side effects of a lack of masturbation are a "symptom" that men are "hooked" on sexual pleasure. This feeds into the myth of sex addiction, which is not actually recognised by science.
"It does not make you a failure to masturbate. The idea that it does comes from purity culture where masturbation is considered about as 'dirty' and 'sinful.'"
Neves adds that many members of the community will use this misconception as a reason why men should try harder to stop. "But those symptoms are an indication that they become dysregulated because they have lost one central and healthy and harmless way to manage their stress."
The movement is also underpinned by ideas of "winning" and "losing". A quick scroll through the No Nut Subreddit reveals disturbing posts of misogyny and intense, public group shaming towards those who share their "failures". One Reddit user shared that he got an erection over Amy Schumer which received thousands of downvotes (the dislikes of Reddit) and shame-fuelled comments like "man down" and sexist replies like "come on, if you’re going to break NNN, do it for someone hotter than that."
Engle explains that this language focused on showing your power and "winning" is rooted in misogynistic purity culture. "It does not make you a failure to masturbate. The idea that it does comes from purity culture where masturbation is considered about as 'dirty' and 'sinful' and that taking part in it makes you weak or perverted. None of this has any scientific basis or evidence."
Neves says that associating masturbation with failure can have a severe impact on the person’s mental health. "It can be detrimental to people's psychological well-being," he explains. "Having the goal of restraining masturbation for one month as a 'win' can increase shame, stress, anxiety, a sense of failure, impacting on self-esteem and they often feel 'not man enough' or even 'broken' if they don't succeed. Those who do succeed put themselves on a pedestal looking down on those who don't."
Basically, the whole movement is pretty shame-drenched, and at times, just plain cruel. A better challenge, Neves suggests, would be trying not to judge other people’s sex lives for one month.
Unfortunately, sexual health misinformation and toxic masculinity displays are not the only problems with the movement. What began as an online challenge for a bit of fun or an opportunity to shitpost online at best, has been co-opted by the far-right. Racism, misogyny and anti-semitism runs rife on the No Nut November subreddit and other #NNN discussions on social media platforms like Twitter.
A deeper message propelling No Nut November is an anti-porn and anti-sex worker agenda. Most [cisgender] men use visual aids for sexual stimulation. So, for many, abstaining from masturbation means refraining from pornography use. And rather than take this into their own hands, many in the community have harassed sex workers online, projecting blame.
"Some of those No Nut November forums have been found to be misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic," Neves adds. "They incite violence towards pornographers and women who are sexual. There is a nasty underbelly to these movements."
Back in 2018, for example, porn company xHamster tweeted against No Nut November, albeit playfully, implying that the movement shared misinformation and that porn wasn’t the bad guy. The fallout from this pretty innocent tweet, were violent anti-sex worker replies like “capital punishment for pornographers now” and anti-semitic images suggesting that Jewish people control pornography. Similar messages of sexism and anti semitism remain four years later, both on the #NoNutNovember hashtag on twitter, and in Reddit spaces.
29-year-old copywriter Sanjai tells Mashable he took part in No Nut November four years ago after hearing some of his favourite podcasts talk about how freeing it was for them. "They talked about it like it was a fitness challenge which is something I’ve always loved doing and liked the feeling of accomplishing. I didn’t really wank that much anyway, not compared to my mates anyway, so I thought 'why not?'"
Sanjai did come across anonymous forums for the challenge like the Subreddit along with a couple of Ddiscord servers. "I wasn’t there long. It was fucking disturbing to be honest. These men are really weird," he shares.
"[I saw] sexism, racism, conspiracies. You name it. I just wanted to see how long I could go without wanking, man," he laughs.
Aaron says he’s aware of this part of the No Nut November community, but doesn’t get involved. "I don’t know anyone personally, that's part of all of that stuff. It’s nothing to do with abstinence anyway so I don’t know why it’s there but I guess racists will use whatever [they can]."
Neves says a lot of people have received misinformation about masturbation, often accompanied by misinformation about watching porn, and they feel shame about their masturbation behaviours. This is likely what initially attracts so many men to take part in the movement, along with the element of community and support that’s visible from the outside. But when they get there, they’re introduced to alt-right propaganda, misinformation, and violence instead.
Being exposed to shameful language around sex is also no small enemy. Engle points out that engaging in sex negativity can make people feel like they can’t talk about sex (which creates problems around consent and managing sexual boundaries), make them avoidant in sexual exchanges because they’re worried about their performance (a common cause of erectile dysfunction) and encourage misogynistic ideas.
If you’ve participated in No Nut November this month or you’ve caught wind of it and were thinking about it for next year, consider that you’re likely to interact with intense shame, sex negativity, discriminatory behaviour and inaccurate sexual health information. You certainly won’t learn anything about who you are as a man, person, or lover of any kind. Close your Reddit tab and have a wank instead.