ArticlePDF Available

The Battle for “NoFap”: Myths, Masculinity, and the Meaning of Masturbation Abstention


Abstract and Figures

Critical masculinities scholarship has identified a number of ways in which abstention from sex, pornography, and masturbation works to repair and reproduce hybrid and hegemonic masculinities. Though the mercurial and plural nature of contemporary online masculinities is investigated on a number of fronts, analysis to date has often pinned down abstention to a particular subject position, often understood predominantly in its gendered dimensions. In this article, I argue that the anti-pornography, anti-masturbation movement NoFap should be understood as a site of political contestation for the meaning potential of abstention and that these subject positions should be read intersectionally. Through analysis of a large corpus of tweets (6,569) scraped from the micro-blogging site Twitter, I present evidence for seven distinct subject positions linked to discrete myths, which include extreme anti-feminist and anti-Semitic articulations. I argue that this bird’s-eye view of NoFap uniquely lays out competing myths in their specificity, facilitating a nuanced understanding of “morbid” identities.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Original Manuscript
The Battle for “NoFap”:
Myths, Masculinity, and
the Meaning of
Masturbation Abstention
Scott Burnett
Critical masculinities scholarship has identified a number of ways in which abstention
from sex, pornography, and masturbation works to repair and reproduce hybrid and
hegemonic masculinities. Though the mercurial and plural nature of contemporary
online masculinities is investigated on a number of fronts, analysis to date has
often pinned down abstention to a particular subject position, often understood
predominantly in its gendered dimensions. In this article, I argue that the
anti-pornography, anti-masturbation movement NoFap should be understood as a
site of political contestation for the meaning potential of abstention and that these
subject positions should be read intersectionally. Through analysis of a large corpus
of tweets (6,569) scraped from the micro-blogging site Twitter, I present evidence
for seven distinct subject positions linked to discrete myths, which include extreme
anti-feminist and anti-Semitic articulations. I argue that this bird’s-eye view of
NoFap uniquely lays out competing myths in their specificity, facilitating a nuanced
understanding of “morbid” identities.
Department of Applied Information Technology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Corresponding Author:
Scott Burnett, Department of Applied Information Technology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg,
Men and Masculinities
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1097184X211018256
hegemonic masculinity, discourse analysis, social media, alt-right, masturbation
abstention, pornography, manosphere
In late 2018, New Statesman tech writer Sarah Manavis described an “insidious”
online trend: men challenging each other not to masturbate. If they did not ejaculate
(or “nut”) for a month, they would complete “No Nut November” (Manavis 2018).
She warned that behind this “risible comradery” lay far-right movements such as the
Proud Boys, whose “Western chauvinism” invested anti-masturbation with a
“dangerous, active misogyny” (ibid.). On, where the world’s most suc-
cessful anti-masturbation movement hosts its discussion boards (see Hartmann
2020; Taylor and Jackson 2018) reaction to Manavis was swift and furious. Hers
was a “sham article by a sham writer.”
Users stated that because NoFap promotes
masturbation abstention as a remedy for addiction to pornography, which degrades
women, they were engaged in the fight against misogyny. Some pointed to the
forum rules, which explicitly prohibit discriminatory and exclusionary language.
By contrast, others attacked the journalist’s analysis as typical of “SJW [social
justice warrior] Liberals” intent on “creating their own ever-narrowing hellscape
of acceptable speech and behavior.” While some defended NoFap as a progressive
movement, others claimed that “feminists” like Manavis want men to be “frail and
submissive” as they “hate masculinity and testosterone.”
NoFap has made several attempts to establish a mainstream, scientific, and
apolitical orthodoxy around its program. To this end, a core doctrine (the “Porn
Addiction Basics”)
is supplemented by moderated forum discussions, branded
social media networks, and canonical YouTube videos (see Hartmann 2020). They
insist that it is “unacceptable” to use NoFap “as a generic word for quitting porn or
abstaining from masturbation.”
And yet NoFappers persist in articulating absten-
tion from masturbation and porn as advancing specific and often extreme socio-
political visions that deviate far from the official NoFap line. What might we learn
from these dissenters, both inside and outside the official movement? Why is there
such a struggle over the “true” character of NoFap? And what can analysis of this
struggle tell us about contemporary masculinities?
This article reads NoFap as a site of political contestation characterized by
discursive struggle to fix the meaning of masturbation abstention. Far from giving
disproportionate scholarly attention to a marginal digital community, the analysis
engages robustly with masculinist and right-wing discourses that are at the very
center of anti-democratic political action, as evidenced by the occupation by Proud
Boys (amongst others) of the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021. While research to date
has focused on how hegemonic masculinity is repaired and reproduced in NoFap,
whether seen through an anti-pornography (Taylor and Jackson 2018) or
anti-masturbation (Hartmann 2020) lens, my approach here is to unpick the
2Men and Masculinities XX(X)
complexities of performances of sexuality, masculinity, and also of race and racism,
through laying out a large corpus of NoFap articulations, to analyze how they cluster
and why, without choosing a lens upfront. As I show below, practitioners of
NoFap tend to construct their subjectivities within seven distinct mythic structures,
certain of which are associated with the “toxic technoculture” (Massanari 2017) of
the “manosphere” (Ging 2019; Van Valkenburgh 2018). This analysis thus responds
directly to the call to account for NoFap’s relation to “manospherian subjectivities”
(Hartmann 2020, 17). The bird’s eye view of NoFap goes further, making a number
of masculinity’s “morbid symptoms” (Gramsci 1971, 276) visible, and bringing the
dynamics of antagonistic worldviews into relief.
Saying No, Going Your Own Way
Outside of specific institutional contexts, men’s abstention from sexual activity
bears an uneasy relation to hegemonic masculinity constructed as (hetero)sexually
motivated and always “up for” sex (Terry 2012; see also Connell 1987). The “male
sexual drive discourse” (Hollway 1984) produces men’s (hetero)sexuality as
inevitable and beyond control, at times making sexual refusal unintelligible to others
(Meenagh 2020). While it may be unexpected, abstention can work to bolster hege-
monic masculinity, as a tactic to control the “unruliness” (Terry 2012, 875) of sex.
Resistance both to social pressure from the “outside” and the internal pressure of the
“sex drive” ultimately confirms masculine self-control and autonomy (Terry 2012).
Similar dynamics are brought into play when men overcome “addiction” to (osten-
sibly shameful) pornography use, which is constructed as a masculine feat that
underscores their “agency, autonomy, and accomplishments” (Burke and Haltom
2020, 22). When porn addiction is constructed as a medical condition rooted in brain
chemistry, the fight against it is valorized. The religious men studied by Burke and
Haltom (2020) mobilized the cultural schemas of their faith to access a “redemptive”
masculinity that destigmatized their historical porn use, which they understood as
the result of their God-given biological makeup being “hijacked.” The figure of the
porn “addict” also enables the construction of the “non-addict” whose consumption
of pornography is thereby normalized, as Taylor and Gavey (2020) observe in
Aotearoa/New Zealand. Ethical debates over porn’s role in the reproduction of sexist
social relations are thus crowded out by a medicalized discourse of addiction. While
these addicts are convenient “scapegoats” for “normal” users, they may also be
positioned as “victims” bravely battling their disease (ibid.). This is largely the
discursive terrain of NoFap.
NoFap (“fap” ostensibly mimics the sound of self-pleasure) advocates masturba-
tion abstention as the key behavior necessary for fighting pornography addiction. As
Taylor and Jackson (2018) show in their analysis of the r/nofap subreddit,
NoFappers’ rejection of porn is motivated not by feminist critiques, but by the threat
it poses to the stability of the patriarchal order. Fapping to porn is the emasculating
opposite of the achievement of “‘real’ heterosex” (2018, 629) and much of their
Burnett 3
conversation articulates standards for performing the role of a “real” man (2018,
631–633). In her analysis of the NoFap YouTube video canon, Hartmann (2020)
identifies continuities between historical and contemporary processes of subject
formation in masturbation discourse. Masculine self-relation in Western liberal
societies is enmeshed in discourses of merit and reward, where the continent,
self-contained, rational actor is constructed in opposition to femininity. Under the
rules of this “meritocratic heterosexuality” increased effort from men is rewarded by
pleasure from women, in a “totalizing rationality governing the exterior world, as
well as the male organism” (2020, 16).
Hartmann notes that NoFap could be an “entry point” into “more explicit mano-
spherian content” (2020, 17). “Manosphere” picks out the network of blogs,
websites, and discussion forums where reactionary and anti-feminist masculinities
are constructed and affirmed online (Ging 2019; Marwick and Caplan 2018; Van
Valkenburgh 2018). Analysis of this formation has accounted for and taxonomized
misogynist subjectivities in fringe spaces, including “involuntary celibates” (incels)
and “men going their own way” (MGTOWs), who claim to choose celibacy (Ging
2019). Some of these identities are associated with extreme and virulent forms of
misogyny, and with acts of terrorist mass murder such as those in Santa Barbara in
2014 and Toronto in 2018. Ging (2019) argues that denizens of the manosphere
perform “hybrid masculinities” (Bridges and Pascoe 2014) as their “self-positioning
as victims of feminism and political correctness enables them to strategically
distance themselves from hegemonic masculinity, while simultaneously compound-
ing existing hierarchies of power and inequality online” (Ging 2019, 651). Through
constant online harassment they are able to push women out of specific online spaces
and thereby “exert a powerful chilling effect on the Internet’s nonmanosphere
spaces” (2019, 653; see also Marwick and Caplan 2018).
What is raised by both Hartmann’s suggestion (2020) of an “entry point” and
Ging’s (2019) division of the Internet into manosphere and non-manosphere spaces
is the question of whether online misogyny has identifiable boundaries and measur-
able dimensions. While certain sites may be easily classified as “belonging” in the
manosphere, this is far more difficult to do with ever-multiplying online spaces for
the expression of mercurial, hybrid, and evolving masculine identities. The “man” in
the “manosphere” also risks restricting the discussion to sex and gender, distracting
attention from other “key tropes” (Ging 2019, 647) such as racism and Islamopho-
bia. Indeed, we need closer analysis of why NoFappers worry that masturbation is a
threat to “western civilization” (Taylor and Jackson 2018, 631); why men fantasize
about the rape of White feminists by “Abdul Mohammed Yousef Camel Jockey”
(Ging 2019, 647); and why “experts” on pornography construct “abnormal” use as
ultimately threatening a “strong New Zealand” (Taylor and Gavey 2020, 890). At a
time when the identity politics of angry White men energizes anti-democratic move-
ments, it is more important than ever to “ask the other question” (Matsuda 1991) in
recognition of the profound interconnections of (hetero)sexist, racist, ableist, and
classed hierarchies.
4Men and Masculinities XX(X)
Mapping NoFap: Myths and Methods
In order to read attempts to “fix” the meaning of NoFap as part of on-going
discursive struggle on a limitless semiotic field, I studied how the term has been
used on the popular micro-blogging and social media platform, Twitter. While
there are good reasons to be skeptical of the notion that Twitter functions as a true
“public sphere” (see Fuchs 2014) the platform is known for its disputatiousness,
as it creates room for the expression and contestation of a broad range of social
and political positions, where varied identities are formed and performed
(Papacharissi 2012). Discussion on Twitter tends to be less “secluded” than on
specific Reddit threads, for example (Hartmann 2020). Twitter’s single stream of
micro-blog posts separable into topics by hashtags or word searches allows for
contestation across ideological spectra to be analyzed in ways not afforded by the
organization of other social media platforms, which tend to be divided into
groups, pages, or channels. My scrape of Twitter for all tweets containing the
term “nofap” conducted in April 2019, using the open source python script, yielded a corpus of 200,285 unique tweets from 28,580 accounts.
data” such as these do not, however, “speak for themselves” (Gonz´alez-Bail´on
2013), and require robust and appropriately theorized qualitative frames to inter-
pret their social import (see Marwick 2013).
In my analysis of this corpus, I was interested in how “nofap” appeared as an
element of a particular “myth,” defined as “an ensemble of equivalential images
capable of galvanizing the imaginary of [a social group] thus launching them into
collective action” (Laclau 2014, 33). In post-Marxist, post-structural approaches to
discourse analysis, this “myth” becomes hegemonic only when it fully inscribes
itself onto the social imaginary, and much of human social and political life is
interpreted as a struggle for hegemony between these “galvanizing” semiotic chains.
Part of the work required from the discourse analyst is thus an account of attempts to
fix the meaning potentials of discursive elements as “moments” in specific dis-
courses. This is typically achieved when social agents “articulate” elements around
core values or “nodal points” that give a discourse its unique character (Laclau and
Mouffe [1985] 2001). What makes an articulation mythic is the extent to which it
attempts to explain social life, to provide “answers” to the sense of “dislocation”
created by the contingency of all forms of identification (Laclau 1990, 31). Individ-
ual subjectivity is produced where a particular explanation secures the affinity of a
social agent, who is both interpellated by the discourse and works as the condition of
its reproduction.
In a world where traditional masculinities have been undermined by neoliberal-
ism, globalization, and other challenges to the gender order (Kimmel 2003; Van
Valkenburgh 2018), the contingency of an idealized masculine identity becomes
apparent, engendering the “morbid symptoms” (Gramsci 1971, 276) evident in the
manosphere and elsewhere (see also Howson 2006). The purpose of my analysis of
the NoFap corpus is thus to tease out and reconstruct the interpellation of specific
Burnett 5
subjectivities through processes of myth-making, sketching their logics, intercon-
nections, and relative popularity.
On Twitter, the influence of specific users grows in proportion to how many
people follow, retweet, like, or engage with them. For the purpose of this study,
I focused only on regular, English-speaking, high-influence users, whom I defined as
averaging two or more likes, retweets, or replies over four or more NoFap tweets.
This narrowed a huge corpus down to 468 “influencers” and 8,579 tweets. Less than
half of these influencers (211, accounting for 6,469 tweets) tweeted to support
NoFap; the remainder engaged in mockery or ridicule, reportage or analysis, or used
“NoFap” incidentally as part of a joke or meme. These articulations are also worthy
of analysis, but here I consider only the myths articulated by highly engaged,
NoFap-supportive, English-speaking Twitter influencers.
I analyzed the corpus using an iterative coding process, which identified recur-
rent words and semantic chains (tracked with AntConc software), still and video
images, hyperlinks, as well as orthographic, typographic, and layout features. As
I developed working theories for the relations of these elements, I assigned them
to temporary discourse clusters, and then to aggregate small clusters into larger
ones, resulting in the identification of seven distinct “image ensembles.” These
clusters should not be understood as reflecting the essential “truth about” NoFap,
or this sampling methodology as evidence of “positivist anxiety” (Prasad 2017, 2).
These clusters are inevitably my subjective reconstruction of patterns in the dis-
cursive struggle. Each of the myths I identified interpellates a specific masculine
subjectivity that is threatened in some way, requiring action from the NoFapper.
The questions I thus asked within each of these myths were: Who is the ideal
subject? What are their goals? Who/what antagonizes them? and What are their
strategies to achieve their goals and overcome their antagonists? (Table 1).
Seven NoFap Subjectivities
I will now briefly map out each of these subjectivities, identifying typical moments
in their mythic structure. Though the Twitter accounts quoted are all public, users
may fairly expect not to be cited in research publications, I anonymize users parti-
cipating in NoFap under what might be their own names (where I change the handle
to @user01, 02 ...) but not those publicly promoting it (such as @gabedeem, an
anti-porn activist and NoFap entrepreneur), nor those whose Twitter handles are
pseudonymous and contain relevant semiotic material. Where individual words or
short phrases are italicized without reference to a specific user or date, this indicates
that they appeared in a number of different tweets. While some accounts belonged
squarely in only one category, many articulated elements from more than one
category. These overlaps are represented in Figure 1.
6Men and Masculinities XX(X)
Mainstream NoFappers tend to stick most closely to the doctrine espoused on the
official NoFap website. Many adopt the portmanteau term fapstronaut (with its
prosodic parallel to “astronaut”) which is a key signifier in the official movement,
combining the notion of a NoFap journey with the centrality of the rocket as an erect
and powerful phallus symbol, mirrored in the NASA-like logo of the official NoFap
brand. While Taylor and Jackson (2018) correctly shift the scholarly discussion of
pornography away from “user effects,” it is very clear that for Fapstronauts them-
selves, abstention from pornography and masturbation is all about how
porn-masturbation-orgasm (PMO) ruins their physical and mental health, most pro-
minently by causing porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED). The chief benefit of
NoFap they articulate is a bigger and stronger erection. Pornography addiction is
medicalized (see Burke and Haltom 2020; Taylor and Gavey 2020) as an epidemic
affecting “a generation of young men” (@Porn_Harms; 27 September 2017), and
users congregate around hashtags such as #FightTheNewDrug. Fapstronauts discuss
the findings of research into the “neuroscience behind porn addiction and sexual
conditioning” (@gabedeem; 9 April 2018). Porn hijacks the brain’s reward system in
which dopamine plays the central role: the porn user gets a dopamine hit when they
orgasm, becoming “nothing more than a junkie chasing the next fix” (@user01;
15 March 2018). PMO addiction reduces the brain’s sensitivity to pleasure, but also
causes “big dips in T [testosterone] levels” (@user02; 28 October 2017). In addition
to PIED, PMO is associated with forgetfulness, depression, anxiety, suicidal
ideation, loneliness, anhedonia, and premature ejaculation.
Table 1. Tabular Summary of Seven Myths and their Subject Positions.
Subjects Antagonist(s) NoFap Strategy Goals
Fapstronauts Complex of factors around
addiction to internet porn
Modes: reboot/rewire Strong erections,
“normal” sex
Self-masters The dissolute self Lists, rules, self-
Success in life
and love
Role-players Competing characters and
Using superpowers Winning the game
Believers Sin, Satan, the “fap demon” Prayer, fellowship,
Family and piety
Meninists Feminists, “thots,” “soy” etc. Celibacy versus “game”
versus marriage
A masculine future
Fetishists Domme/dominatrix Chastity cage; “findom” Total submission
Alt-righters “Jews,” “degenerates” Aggression for violent
protection of
“Western” or
Burnett 7
Figure 1. Subject Positions and Their Overlaps.
Young men are antagonized by an apparent paradox: the more available and
ubiquitous porn becomes, the harder it is to stay hard, as the reward centers in their
brains become less sensitive, and their libidos wither. This is linked by users both to
drops in testosterone, and disgust at their own desires. Fapstronauts oppose in-born
and normal sexuality to aberrant desires supposedly aroused by pornography: “How
many people are ‘born’ liking bukkake, crushing, water sports, feces, torture[?]”
asks @BrainRebalanced (22 September 2017). Porn use could result in “Straight
dudes watching Gay Porn” (@KreativeVein; 15 October 2017) or even more alar-
mingly “Wiring Sexual Tastes to Hairless Genitalia,” thus causing pedophilia
(@gabedeem; 21 March 2019). The queer/kink nausea engendered here supports
Hartmann’s (2020) analysis of how “abject” desire that exceeds heteronormativity is
seen as proof of the pathological nature of masturbation. The official NoFap account
furthermore problematizes PMO as undermining “genuine connections in the
real-world” (@NoFap; 9 September 2013), reproducing the notion of “real sex” for
“real men” critiqued by Taylor and Jackson (2018). Only (sick) fappers would
“prefer pixels” over “real girls” (@NofapExplorer; 14 February 2018). Throughout
the Fapstronaut corpus, anxiety about the internet interfering with connections to the
real world is a dominant preoccupation.
Several anti-pornography accounts that articulate feminist ideas promote
NoFap (see e.g., @SuzzanBlac). However, ordinary adherents seldom proble-
matize pornography for the harm it does to women. Indeed, women involved in
porn are more typically constructed as reflecting badly on a real man because
“no decent person respects a slut” (@user03; 7 November 2018). To become a
real man the Fapstronaut must reboot or rewire his brain though adopting one of
the suggested modes: soft mode is abstaining from porn; hard mode is abstaining
from masturbation and porn; monk mode is abstaining from porn, masturbation,
and orgasm, even with a partner. If he stays clean and sober,hestartstoenjoy
powers or even superpowers: the Fapstronaut is “extraordinary” while the porn
addict is “ordinary” (@NoFap; 7 September 2013). Adherents use “your testos-
terone for YOUR OWN gain” (@user04; 26 September 2018) and report
improved focus,concentration,happiness,andconfidence, being more sexually
attractive, being more likely to stick to goals, better dreams, including wet
dreams, better sex, and boosts in sexual energy. NoFap is the “most UNBELIE-
VABLE cure for depression” (@alphavegan; 23 June 2018). These benefits
accrue because the energy which would otherwise be wasted is freed up for
other aspects of life through a process of “transmutation” (@user05; 26 January
2019). This idea, that sexual energy is a fungible resource that can be reallo-
cated to other domains of life (school and work) reappears in other myths.
Depressed, anxious about his connections with the real world, and lonely, espe-
cially after ejaculating, the Fapstronaut reclaims his agency by working to
unplug his brain chemistry from the polluting online world, whose unwitting
victim he has become.
Burnett 9
The second mythic formation typically presents lists of recommended habits,
lifestyle tips, and other rules and regulations for self-improvement. NoFap is typi-
cally one among many activities that are prescribed, in addition to weightlifting,
fitness supplements, financial advice (including the promotion of various cryptocur-
rencies), cold showers, and reading recommended literature, often the work of
Canadian psychologist and internet personality Jordan B. Peterson, whom
Self-Masters claim as a NoFap practitioner. On a typical list, an image of Peterson
appears alongside the cover of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence
People” and Robert Glover’s pick-up bible “No More Mister Nice Guy,” as well as
tips for meal preparation and the correct haircut (@user05, 31 October 2018). These
assemblages are typical of the self-help genre so intimately imbricated with neolib-
eral forms of capitalism (Chiapello and Fairclough 2002). In the atomistic world of
self-improvement, societal structures are downplayed, and an individual’s mastery
of their destiny is foregrounded. For Self-Masters on NoFap, body/mind and beha-
vior are represented in mechanistic terms, where the ideal diet, sleeping habits, or
other attitudes maximize one’s success within a set of norms, which include bodily
fitness, financial wealth, and highly gendered notions of physical attractiveness and
The body is mechanized, but also financialized: masturbating to porn is the wrong
investment to make with your “energy, money and opportunity cost” (@emperor-
ofnofap; 7 November 2018). Good investments are tracked: push-ups done, books
read, money saved, days on NoFap, and other goals are meticulously recorded in
tweets. As Jones (2015) has argued, the ubiquity in digital culture of on-going
self-measurement and auto-diagnosis constitutes the “entextualization of the self,”
which works to increase a sense of agency through building a narrative where the
individual is the hero of their own story. Self-Masters are also clearly jockeying for
their position in the masculine hierarchy through specific “evidentiary stories”
(Montemurro 2020). The role that NoFap plays for the Self-Master is a strong form
of the transmutation thesis. As @emperorofnofap says: “My brain has changed a lot!
Before #NoFap, it was full of sex and porn. Now all I think about is business and
money!” (21 November 2018). While some dispense advice gratis, others have
monetized products and services, the advertisement and sale of which works to
reinforce the value of ideal masculinity, which men ought to invest in.
If Self-Masters are wound up in the urgency of self-discipline, the gamers and anime
enthusiasts grouped together in this analysis as Role-Players take a more ludic
approach to NoFap. Here, fictional worlds supplement the social with scenarios and
characters taken from role-playing games and anime narratives. The users who
contribute to the construction of this subject position tend to communicate with each
10 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
other through elaborate analogies, that involve representing themselves through a
range of avatars that undergird their performance of shared ownership of specific
cultural artifacts, working to distinguish in- from out-groups (see Blodgett and Salter
2018, 137).
There are differences in emphasis within the group, with anime enthusiasts tend-
ing to be more sexually playful, and gamers more competitive, though many are
both. Thus @NintendoSoyboy warns a competitor that he will “torture you with
lewd yuis [pictures of Japanese women]” (2 November 2017) to get him to fap again,
while in a performance of same-sex desire @nekofuccboi claims to be “doing nofap
for Sovi [a male competitor]” (13 October 2017) in order to have sex with him.
Though explicit discussions of masturbation and arousal in a homosocial context
often veer into the queer, the discourse more typically centers on men discussing
fantasy women, and disapproving statements such as “porn is gay AF [as fuck]”
(@user06, 5 February 2018).
This subject position evinces ironic distance from NoFap to an extent not
observed in other formations. Members often deploy comic overstatement, such
as that while they were on NoFap they managed to “master the violin” (@pachka-
cigaret, 3 November 2017), or situate NoFap as a way to build up libido and sexual
energy in order to then “revisit some of the [pornographic] classics” (@wrangelis-
land; 15 February 2016) and enjoy post-NoFap masturbation even more. There are
references to being good at NoFap, to having a high score,tolosing or winning the
NoFap challenge. One competes with peers to achieve a rank and a high-ranking
player has wizard or god or superpowers. In a discussion of famous men who
supposedly do/did not masturbate—“Freud, Tesla, Newton, Jordan Peterson,
Knights Templar”—NoFap is referred to as “an essential DLC pack for every
Knight” (@user05; 26 January 2019). A “DLC pack” is downloadable content that
augments characters in online role-playing games. In order to emulate those in their
masculine pantheon, these men thus appear to be discursively constructing them-
selves as game characters, who download the content of masturbation abstention, in
order to improve their chances of winning a game. Where the real world starts and
the game world ends is not entirely clear.
For those who articulate NoFap as continuous with their religious beliefs, masturba-
tion to porn is the root of “guilt and despair” (@LDSPornAddict; 3 April 2018)
(see Burke and Haltom 2020). Masturbation is often constructed as sin.Some
describe starting their NoFap challenge for Lent, and abstention as analogous to
fasting. Bouts of masturbation are put down to possession by an “evil fap demon”
(@NofapExplorer; 22 July 2017), or to “Satan’s snares” (@LDSPornAddict; 27 June
2018). Though the denomination of believers is not always clear, most are Christian,
with many advocating (Catholic) confession.
Burnett 11
NoFap is a path to forgiveness,purity, and “freedom from sexual sin” (@Power-
ofPuritySL; 12 March 2017)—and thus to “redemptive masculinity” (Burke and
Haltom 2020). While mainstream NoFap discourse tends to construct masturbation
abstention only as a means to fight porn addiction, Believers encourage the official
NoFap movement to “embrace” anti-masturbation (@user07; 23 October 2018) for
its own sake. The Catholic influencer Matt Fradd states that not masturbating is
“pro-love/anti-porn” (@mattfradd; 29 September 2016), and love is typically articu-
lated as romantic love, within marriage. Confessing their PMO addiction to their
wife or priest is followed by repentance and atonement.
Abstaining from masturbation is a covenant between men, their families, and
God, requiring prayer and frequent visits to church to maintain. Solidarity against
temptation is often homosocial, with men reciprocally praying for each other. Men
and women are constructed as currently or potentially occupying the role of wife and
husband. The duty of a married couple is to have children: C.S. Lewis, who argued
that if young men masturbate, they do not invest in their marriages and in having
children, is cited as an authority (@user08; 9 May 2014). Similarly, “consequence
free sex” (@user09; 12 March 2019) is said to lead to infertility. Believer discourse
thus typically constructs sexual desire as serving procreative aims.
A masculine identity that is at once aggrieved and aggressive was a distinct category
in the NoFap data. Explicit anti-feminism, misogyny, and andreism (supposedly the
opposite of feminism) together interpellate what I will call the Meninist. NoFap is
recommended as part of three very different Meninist sexual programs: celibacy,
promiscuity, and heterosexual marriage. These programs are not necessarily taken
up by separate groups but may be stages in Meninist development, where one is
adopted in order to lead to another. There is also evidence that advocates of these
practices attempt to recruit each other to their camps.
Celibate men promote NoFap as a means to break addiction to women, who are
“toxic and undateable” (@emergentreality; 11 January 2019). Men must cure them-
selves of “oneitis” (@wheniwasweak, 16 October 2017) if they are fixating on one
woman specifically, or addiction to promiscuity in general in which case they have
put “pussy on the pedestal” (@vinmenniti; 13 November 2016). NoFap is a way to
take back control of their sexuality. MGTOW celibates assert an alpha masculinity,
associated with the warrior,monk,orknight, that is opposed to beta males, nice
guys, and involuntary celibates or incels, who are constructed as hierarchically
subordinate (see also Heritage and Koller 2020). Celibates understand tfw no gf
[that feeling when no girlfriend]—an admixture of sexual longing and loneliness
that drives the sexual rage of the incel—but encourage “incel porn addicts” (@pach-
kacigaret; 6 November 2017) to use their rage at being rejected by women to stick to
NoFap instead, and thereby to break their addictions. Porn use explains, “why you’re
#incel and #niceguy” (@gaveupporn; 28 September 2018) in the first place. NoFap
12 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
and celibacy work together to help them “master your passions” (@amongther-
uins00, 24 November 2018).
Eventually, they might “control their sexual urges to better themselves in a way
that gets them real pussy” (@gunsweedliberty; 16 March 2019). The pick-up artist
(PUA) does not feature in this corpus per se, though similar libidinal structures
seem to be at work. NoFap is said to result in “females salivating over me. Must
approach. Pussy to be destroyed” (@Shadow_enigma0; 13 February 2018). Along-
side promiscuity, heterosexual marriage features as a goal in the figure of the trad
[traditional] wife who knows her proper social role, who in some articulations is the
ultimate reward for the alpha masculinity facilitated by masturbation abstention.
Thus Proud Boys founder @Gavin_McInnes quips that NoFap “Made my marriage
37%better” (27 Nov 2015). Trad wives also speak: @bravetheworld claims that the
reason women fall behind is that “we haven’t had our own nofap movement”
(14 February 2019).
Whether celibate, promiscuous, or married, Meninists share a lexicon of miso-
gyny: women are pussy,thots (acronym for “that ho [whore] or hottie [attractive
woman] over there”) or roasties (a metonymic reference to female genitalia turned
into “roast beef” by frequent sexual activity). Feminism is constructed as subjugat-
ing men in many ways, but primarily in denying them guaranteed access to women’s
bodies because of “feminist sex hostility” (@user11; 9 January 2018). Men perform
their victimization hyperbolically; one Meninist even invokes slavery: men “have
taken a tremendous beating [ ...] and now they want off the plantation” (@emer-
gentreality; 5 January 2019).
Pornography plays a specific role in the domination of men by women. In a
revealing metonymy, pornography is constructed as a succubus. Porn sites are run
“by feminists that want men docile and weak” (@user10; 28 January 2019). Because
porn drains energy from men, it must be a feminist plot. Docile porn addicts occupy
a range of beta masculinities: they are nice guys, soy,soyboys,manlets,orbetas who
are blue-pilled—that is, they have chosen to accept feminist modernity (see Van
Valkenburgh 2018 for discussions of the lore of red/blue pills). By masturbating to
pornography, a man becomes a cuck [cuckold] as he “watches other men have sex
with a women he finds attractive, but doesn’t have sex with her himself” (@user01;
14 December 2017). The notion of the cuckold produces propertied entitlement to
the bodies of women, as the action of cuckolding (in its archaic form) described what
one man did to another when committing adultery with his wife, while her agency is
barely relevant.
In Meninist discourse, the mainstream NoFap idea that masturbation abstention
increases testosterone levels through semen retention is especially popular; testos-
terone helps men get “a deeper voice and increased facial hair growth” (@LokiJu-
lianus; 3 January 2017) but it also makes them more aggressive and able to “Take
control” (@MasculineFuture; 9 August 2017) of their sex lives. “NoFap is for True
Alphas” while beta men stay “docile, weak and lethargic” (@user12; 14 November
2018). In certain articulations, an evolutionary psychological theory underlies these
Burnett 13
distinctions (see also Ging 2019), where gender roles are constructed as hardwired to
sex, and porn is described as “maladaptive” (@user11; 17 February 2018) as it does
not result in procreation. NoFap is thus again linked into a pro-natalist agenda: if you
go on NoFap to stay celibate as opposed to “getting laid [ ...] you’re essentially a
bitch. What are the evolutionary benefits of that?” (@veritasnaut; 21 October 2018).
If powerful and sexually assertive women are the key antagonists to be resisted by
Meninists, in the Fetishist articulation of NoFap they are the ultimate object of
desire. The ideal of the man who is in control of his life that structures other
discourses is inverted here. Though Fetishist influencers include gay male exhibi-
tionists sharing their masturbation habits (@cuddlecraving) and sex clips (@small-
fukbruh), others are voiced either by a submissive man (sub) or a female dominatrix
(domme). The latter specializes in making fun of men’s small penises, instructing
them to wear a chastity cage that prevents erections while locked, stipulating periods
of NoFap, or commanding them to transfer money to her account for the pleasure of
being financially dominated (findom). Men are not allowed to get an erection with-
out permission: they are promised that she will peg them with her strap-on dildo, but
she might also decide to cuck them by ignoring them and making them watch her
have sex with another man. Accounts such as @WorshipCamryn stipulate when
followers may orgasm, while @EbonyCashDiva laughs at subs such as “Andy” who
was allowed to “stroke his dicklet a little just to see if it was still alive!” (31 August
2016) or “Hans” whose “lil pee-pee is now permanently soft” because of “#nofap”
(10 January 2018).
The findom account @EbonyCashDiva is represented as run by a Black woman,
who tweets she “has a dream...[that] every ‘sub’ & ‘slave’ be put on a 30 day
#NoFap detox as standard [ ...] Let’s rise, victorious!” (10 June 2016). Though
referring to subs as “slaves” is not uncommon, her deployment of her “Ebony” body
and her invocation of Civil Rights discourse (having a “dream” evokes Martin Luther
King and “rising” Maya Angelou, among others) suggests she is strategically invoking
the Master-Slave complex, where she owns and controls the former slaveholder (with
a name such as “Hans”). If the racial, class, and gender orders demand to be upheld in
everyday life, and a man is under pressure to be an attractive, gym-toned, and finan-
cially dominant White alpha whose penis is hard and whose libido determines when
and with whom he will have sex, in the fantasy world of the fetishists he is allowed an
escape, where all of these orders are inverted. As the sub account @herserving
observes: “getting it locked up is liberating” (20 September 2018).
Alt-Right accounts (for a definition of the “alt-right” see Winter 2019) are often
identifiable from clues in their banners or profiles, which might include references to
14 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
Pepe the Frog, altered ethnonationalist symbols, or specific terms in their handles:
@hyperboreanher1 (hyperboreans are White men of the north mentioned by Her-
odotus); @deus_vult23 (Deus vult! was the Crusader war cry); @AnimeSturmmann
(a reference to the Nazi Sturmabteilung); or, less cryptically, @prowhitesunite.
NoFap Alt-Righters consider pornography a form of societal control and trickery;
it is a plague on society, and it is their job to unmask who is behind the porn industry:
Jews. User @gaveupporn reports on the financiers of pornographic companies and
the servers on which the content is hosted: “FISHBEIN, SLIFKIN, ROSENBLATT;
all Jewish surnames. The porn industry is owned and run by Jews. This is a fact so
don’t shame us” (15 November 2018). When NoFap is accused of being anti-semitic
one user claims this is an “admission that porn is a Jewish plot” (@BroChiRoe;
8 November 2018). Alt-Righters also troll the official @NoFap account for refusing
to take a stronger stand against pornography, making them “unserious and
unworthy” (@Cpt_Devereux; 16 November 2018). This user accompanied his tweet
with a triptych of portraits: the German conservative historian Oswald Spengler, the
Italian fascist philosopher Julius Evola, and founder of the American Nazi Party,
Francis Parker Yockey. These figures ideologically connect pornography to the
“decline” of the West, positioning the Alt-Right as Evola’s “men in the ruins”
attending the palingenetic rebirth of Europe.
Jewishness is often referred to explicitly, but also through coded language such as
sub-humans,Them, or using the orthographic convention of three brackets to imitate
the echoing sound of Nazi media propaganda. Thus, for example, the purported
Jewish plot behind porn appears in the corpus as “(((porn blackmail)))” (@user01;
19 September 2017). Supposed Jewish control of the pornography industry is
constructed as being in service of draining men of their “vital fluid” because “They
want you passive and weak! #Resist” (@user13; 13 November 2018). Conserving
semen or sexual energy preserves virility and aggression, whereas fapping to porn
makes one a degenerate. Alt-Righters often signal this by addressing each other as
goy (s.) or goyim (pl.), voicing the supposed Jewish conspirators with the Yiddish
term for non-Jews as a way to signal what Western,White,orEuropean man is
up against. Unsurprisingly, Alt-Righters more frequently advocate for extreme
forms of violence against pornographers, such as shooting them (e.g., @nmm20c,
16 November 2018).
Overlapping Myths
There is a high degree of overlap between these mythic chains of “equivalential
images” (Laclau 2014, 33), and subjectivities are thus pulled in a number of different
directions, which may “galvanize” subjects into different forms of action. What most
of the positions share is some theory of the transmutability and limited reserves of
their masculine energy, which they lose when they masturbate to pornography.
Pre-existing anxieties about their position in the “real world” combine in a moment
of post-orgasmic tristesse to confront them with the realization that they have failed
Burnett 15
to live up to some masculine ideal. Their job as men thus becomes to conserve and
focus their sexual energy on a higher goal. These goals are linked to notions of what
a man ought to be, including “brave, dependable, and strong, emotionally stable, as
well as critical, logical, and rational [ ...] not only wealthy, but also in a position of
power over others” (Coston and Kimmel 2012, 98). In the context of a plethora of
political, environmental, and financial crises, egalitarian social change, and new
forms of association afforded by the Internet, NoFap presents young men who fail
to live up to these ideals with logics they can hold onto in order to make sense of
their place in the world.
The Fetishist myth does not overlap with the other chains but reflects them.
Elements such as cuck are articulated as part of a desired state of affairs, rather than
as being at the heart of the problem. Not being allowed to have an erection, being
financially dominated, and having your penis mocked by powerful women is wound
up in sexual fantasy. The figure of the domme as both antagonist and object of desire
mirrors her appearance as the object of misogynist violence in Meninist discourse;
this myth also sexualizes part of the racial fantasy of the Alt-Right. Anxieties about
occupying the historically dominant position of the successful White man go some
way to explaining why “getting it locked up is liberating.”
The other six myths overlap significantly. Only 50 of 113 Fapstronauts articu-
lated pure NoFap doctrine unmeshed with one or more of the other myths. There was
also extensive overlap between Meninists and the Alt-Right. Pornography is blamed
on almost interchangeable villains, with liberals and feminists, socialists and Jews
often constructed as being of a piece. These men typically agree that the porn
industry drains men of their “vital fluid”—which they need for aggression and for
reproducing the race—but whether they explicitly articulate this as a Jewish con-
spiracy, or just as a symptom of a world ruined by feminism, is not always clearly
It is worth noting that the goals articulated in six of the myths might be achieved
in combination: Believers want to strengthen their marriages and affirm their piety,
Self-Masters want to achieve financial and personal success, Alt-Righters want to
preserve the “White race” from “degeneracy,” Meninists want to reclaim alpha
masculinity, Role-Players want to win at a game that others will lose, while
Fapstronauts aim to achieve a narrowly normative sexual health. How these aims
are combined creates idiosyncratic permutations. Specific combinations may present
specific dangers. Violent misogynist and racist fantasies combined with the ironic
distance of the Role-Player, or the sacred mission of the Believer, for example, may
be pathways into the kinds of real-world violence the world has recently witnessed,
where fantasy worlds intrude dramatically in institutional spaces. There is also
extensive evidence of men addressing each other across myths, attempting to win
converts to their specific interpretations of the “evidence” for masturbation absten-
tion. Believers insist to all who will listen that masturbation is “sin,” while
Alt-Righters accuse NoFap of hypocrisy for not accepting that the (Jewish-run)
pornography industry must be destroyed. The dynamics of recruitment into more
16 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
or less “extreme” ideologies are thus visible in the battle for the meaning of sexual
energy, its conservation, and loss.
Far from being a social phenomenon with a stable and singular character, NoFap is
constituted by contestation for the meaning potentials of masturbation abstention.
By examining how its highly engaged adherents make sense of their participation, it
is possible to resist the discursive closure that managers of seek when
they decree that use of the term disconnected from its official meanings is
“unacceptable.” Studying how the word “nofap” is used in context, in the tradition
of post-structuralist approaches to language, discourse, and gender (Milani 2014)
also entails suspending the choice of reading the movement through a gendered, or
anti-pornography or anti-masturbation, lens, seeking instead to lay out how adher-
ents themselves explain their participation, and to map their attempts at sensemaking
as more or less coherent ensembles of images, in what I have termed “myths.” These
myths are certainly gendered, but, as hegemonic masculinity itself, they are “fluid,
intertextualized, always shape-shifting, and open to contestation, formed at the
intersections of gender, sexuality, class, age, ethnicity, [ ...] and history” (Milani
2014, 2).
Each of the myths is more complex than I have been able to lay out here: in
mapping out plurality and struggle, I have aimed for breadth, and future research
might thus further deepen analysis of these “manospherian subjectivities”
(Hartmann 2020). Abstention strategies in Meninist discourse specifically suggest
intricate dynamics between masculinity as performed through celibacy, promiscuity,
and marriage, which would be important to tease out. Analysis of the very large
corpus of tweets not in English would provide important insights into NoFap’s
transnational circulation. A number of questions are also raised about the links
between Believer, Meninist, and AltRight myths by the recurrence of Catholic and
Crusader iconography, and their shared mobilization of pro-natalist logic. Psycho-
analytic avenues of inquiry might also be promising, specifically given the inversion
or mirroring of hegemonic orders within the Fetishist myth, where the antagonist is
also the object of desire.
A recent corpus linguistic study (Krendel 2020) found that denizens of the mano-
sphere construct themselves as victims, insecure and unhappy. The sense of social
isolation, anhedonia, and anxiety about “real world” connections is similarly perva-
sive in the NoFap corpus. Instead of affirming this egocentric self-pity, scholarship
must remain focused on how the construction of victim status galvanizes misogyny
and racism around what are powerful social positionalities. The pathos of the fantasy
that abstaining from masturbation, and taking control of your transmuted sexual
energy, will allow the “extraordinary” to emerge from your “ordinary” self should
be a spur to queer, feminist, deconstructive, and egalitarian approaches to gender
that do not reproduce these crushing and dangerous normativities.
Burnett 17
This analysis is presented not in order to conclusively fix a taxonomy of available
masculinities, but to further open up space for pluralistic analysis of masturbation and
pornography abstention. It suggests that, while there certainly are online spaces that
are part of the manosphere, the precise dimensions, and boundaries of this space are
unclear. The problematic “man” in the “manosphere” is furthermore an intersection of
problems: of racism, nationalism, and ableism, as well as misogyny. Understanding
these articulations in their specificity is an important task in the context of a world
where the mythical articulations that emerge from contestations over concepts like
NoFap have the potential to galvanize young men into horrific, real-world violence.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or
publication of this article.
Scott Burnett
1. All quotes from this discussion:
article.202663/ (last accessed 30 September 2020).
2. See: (last accessed 30 September 2020).
3. See: (last accessed 30 September 2020).
4. After removing duplicates. This dataset is publicly available:
Blodgett, B., and A. Salter. 2018. “Ghostbusters is for Boys: Understanding Geek Masculi-
nity’s Role in the Alt-Right.” Communication, Culture & Critique 11 (1): 133–146. https://
Bridges, T., and C. J. Pascoe. 2014. “Hybrid Masculinities: New Directions in the Sociology
of Men and Masculinities.” Sociology Compass 8 (3): 246–258.
Burke, K., and T. M. Haltom. 2020. “Created by God and Wired to Porn: Redemptive Mascu-
linity and Gender Beliefs in Narratives of Religious Men’s Pornography Addiction
Recovery.” Gender & Society 34 (2): 233–258.
Chiapello, E., and N. Fairclough. 2002. “Understanding the New Management Ideology:
A Transdisciplinary Contribution from Critical Discourse Analysis and New Sociology of
Capitalism.” Discourse & Society 13 (2): 185–208.
18 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
Connell, R. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Coston, B. M., and M. S. Kimmel. 2012. “Seeing Privilege Where It Isn’t: Marginalized
Masculinities and the Intersectionality of Privilege.” Journal of Social Issues 68 (1):
Fuchs, C. 2014. Social Media: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. London: SAGE Publications.
Ging, D. 2019. “Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the Masculinities of the Manosphere.”
Men and Masculinities 22 (4): 638–657.
Gonz´alez-Bail ´on, S. 2013. “Social Science in the Era of Big Data.” Policy & Internet 5 (2):
Gramsci, A. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, edited and
translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Hartmann, M. 2020. “The totalizing meritocracy of heterosex: Subjectivity in NoFap.”
Sexualities, June, 136346072093238.
Heritage, F., and V. Koller. 2020. “Incels, in-Groups, and Ideologies: The Representation of
Gendered Social Actors in a Sexuality-Based Online Community.” Journal of Language
and Sexuality 9 (2): 152–178.
Hollway, W. 1984. “Gender Difference and the Production of Subjectivity.” In Changing the
Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Subjectivity, edited by Wendy Hollway, Julian
Henriques,Couze Venn, Cathy Urwin, and Valerie Walkerdine, 227–263. London: Methuen.
Howson, R. 2006. Challenging Hegemonic Masculinity. Routledge Advances in Sociology
18. London: Routledge.
Jones, R. H. 2015. “Discourse, Cybernetics, and the Entextualization of the Self.” In
Discourse and Digital Practices: Doing Discourse Analysis in the Digital Age, edited
by Christoph A. Hafner, Alice Chik, and Rodney H. Jones, 28–47. London: Routledge.
Kimmel, M. S. 2003. “Globalization and Its Mal(e)Contents: The Gendered Moral and
Political Economy of Terrorism.” International Sociology 18 (3): 603–620. https://doi.
Krendel, A. 2020. “The Men and Women, Guys and Girls of the “Manosphere”: A Corpus-
Assisted Discourse Approach.” Discourse & Society 31 (6): 607–630.
Laclau, E. 1990. “New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time.” In New Reflections on the
Revolution of Our Time, 3–85. London; New York, NY: Verso.
Laclau, E. 2014. The Rhetorical Foundations of Society. London: Verso.
Laclau, E., and C. Mouffe. (1985) 2001. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a
Radical Democratic Politics. London; New York, NY: Verso.
Manavis, S. 2018. “No nut November: The insidious internet challenge encouraging men not
to masturbate.” New Statesman, 13 November 2018.
Marwick, A. E. 2013. “Ethnographic and Qualitative Research on Twitter.” In Twitter and
Society, edited by K Weller, A Bruns, C Puschmann, J Burgess, and M Mahrt, 109–122.
New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Burnett 19
Marwick, A. E., and R. Caplan. 2018. “Drinking Male Tears: Language, the Manosphere, and
Networked Harassment.” Feminist Media Studies 18 (4): 543–559.
Massanari, A. 2017. “#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance,
and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures.” New Media & Society 19 (3): 329–346.
Matsuda, M. J. 1991. “Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory out of Coalition.”
Stanford Law Review 43 (6): 1183–1192.
Meenagh, J. L. 2021. “She Doesn’t Think That Happens”: When Heterosexual Men Say No to
Sex.” Sexualities 24 (3): 322–340.
Milani, T. M. 2014. Language and Masculinities: Performances, Intersections, Dislocations.
London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Montemurro, B. 2021. ““If You Could Just See Me”: The Construction of Heterosexual Men’s
Sexual Selves and the Hierarchy of Desirability.” Sexualities 24 (3): 303–321. https://doi.
Papacharissi, Z. 2012. “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter.”
International Journal of Communication 6: 1989–2006.
Prasad, P. 2017. Crafting Qualitative Research: Beyond Positivist Traditions. 2nd ed. New
York, NY: Routledge.
Taylor, K., and N. Gavey. 2020. “Pornography Addiction and the Perimeters of Acceptable
Pornography Viewing.” Sexualities 23 (5–6): 876–897.
Taylor, K., and S. Jackson. 2018. ““I Want That Power Back”: Discourses of Masculinity
within an Online Pornography Abstinence Forum.” Sexualities 21 (4): 621–639. https://
Terry, G. 2012. ““I’m Putting a Lid on That Desire”: Celibacy, Choice and Control.”
Sexualities 15 (7): 871–889.
Van Valkenburgh, S. P. 2021. “Digesting the Red Pill: Masculinity and Neoliberalism in the
Manosphere.” Men and Masculinities 24 (1): 84–103.
Winter, A. 2019. “Online Hate: From the Far-Right to the “Alt-Right” and from the Margins
to the Mainstream.” In Online Othering, edited by Karen Lumsden and Emily Harmer,
39–63. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Author Biography
Scott Burnett is an associate senior lecturer in communications at the University of Gothen-
burg’s department of applied IT. His research focuses on the reproduction of raced and
gendered hierarchies in online discourse, using a combination of data scraping and poststruc-
turalist discourse analytical approaches.
20 Men and Masculinities XX(X)
... Reboot forums have been criticized for misogynist and anti-gay rhetoric. NoFap forum followers have been estimated to be 99% male (Imhoff and Zimmer, 2020) and described as the most conservative group of the "manosphere" promoting misogyny (Burnett, 2021;Han and Yin, 2022;Hartmann, 2020). This impression may have developed from the framing of Reboot/NoFap as a masculinity challenge, where failure means you are not a [heterosexual] man deserving of a sexual relationship (Taylor and Jackson, 2018). ...
... Some have theorized this may be why NoFap is most active on Reddit forums, where misogyny and anti-semitism occur in largely unregulated forums (Johanssen, 2021). A scrape of Twitter data discussing NoFap also identified anti-semitic language infused with this false conspiracy theory (Burnett, 2021). ...
... Reboot clients encourage each other by claiming one another and themselves to be triumphant, strong, and attractive (Taylor and Jackson, 2018). Narcissists may attribute erectile difficulties to something outside of their control to maintain a positive self-image (Douglas et al., 2017), leading coaches to appeal to clients as "unwitting victim [s]" of imagined pornography cabal(s) (Burnett, 2021). ...
Full-text available
"Reboot," especially NoFap, promotes abstinence from masturbation and/or pornography to treat "pornography addiction," an unrecognized diagnosis. While the intention of Reboot/NoFap is to decrease distress, qualitative studies have consistently suggested that "Reboots" paradoxically cause more distress. The distress appears to occur in response to (1) the abstinence goal, which recasts common sexual behaviors as personal "failures," and (2) problematic and inaccurate Reboot/NoFap forum messaging regarding sexuality and addiction. This preregistered survey asked men about their experience with perceived "relapse" and NoFap forums. Participants reported that their most recent relapse was followed by feeling shameful, worthless, sad, a desire to commit suicide, and other negative emotions. A novel predictor of identifying as a pornography addict in this lower religiosity sample was higher narcissism. Participants reported that NoFap forums contained posts that were misogynist (73.7% of participants), bullying (49.1%), anti-LGBT (42.9%), antisemitic (32.0%), instructing followers to harm or kill themselves (23.5%), or threats to hurt someone else (21.1%). More engagement in NoFap online forums was associated with worse symptoms of erectile dysfunction, depression, anxiety, and more sex negativity. Results support and expand previously documented harms and problems with Reboot/NoFap claims of treating pornography addiction from qualitative research.
... The extended access to Internet pornography and accompanying excessive porn use has given birth to the Western NoFap movement (i.e., undoing the bad effects caused by pornographic addiction through abstaining from pornography and masturbation) and an upsurge in porn-free self-help communities (Burnett, 2022). The r/NoFap Reddit community had boasted approximately 477,000 members by 2020 (Hartmann, 2021). ...
... She also pointed out the relation of NoFap to a larger manosphere in which anti-feminism and misogyny thrived. In addition to examining online masculinities, Burnett (2022) approached the discursive construction of masturbation on Twitter as political contestation which mirrored the intersection of racism, nationalism, ableism, and anti-feminism. He identified seven NoFap subjectivities (i.e., fapstronauts, self-masters, role-players, believers, meninists, fetishists, and alt-righters) and linked them with competing myths, thereby reflecting on the morbid nature of the NoFap movement. ...
... Jieyou's concern for their own health and self-accusation of masturbation were connected to the third theme that emerged, that is, the reconstruction of the subjectivity of jieyou. Antimasturbation discourse in the Western context, as a way to reinforce the value of ideal masculinity and thus produce masculine subjects, has been well-researched (Burnett, 2022). However, the modern form of the subjectivity of jieyou in China was best understood in a neo/non-liberal context where a therapeutic mode of governance and traditional patriarchal ideology had penetrated citizens' practices. ...
Full-text available
About 6 million men in China engage in jiese (abstaining from masturbation and porn) and call themselves jieyou (porn-free self-help community members). In this article, we sought to unpack how the idea of jiese took root in Chinese historical, social, and cultural contexts by interviewing 32 jieyou. Guided by the sensemaking theory, we conducted a critical discourse analysis of participants’ responses and ended up identifying four major themes: embodied experiences, jiese as rational and noble, reconstructing the subjectivity of jieyou, and nationalistic sentiments. We found out that jieyou tended to justify their abstinence by seeking sources of legitimacy in traditional Chinese culture, the ideology of healthism, science, and patriotic discourses. We argue that jiese reflects young men’s contradictory cultural practices of conservatism, self-medicalization, and neoliberal governmentality.
... Some authors have characterized NoFap as being a part of, or an entry point into, the "manosphere" (Burnett, 2021;Hartmann, 2021;Johanssen, 2021): a coalition of online communities in which anti-feminist/male hegemonic masculinities are constructed and affirmed. Constituent groups include Involuntary Celibates (incels), Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and Pick-Up Artists (PUAs). ...
... Nor do we think they would sympathize with/ celebrate murderers such as Elliot Rodger. Moreover, unlike incels, MGTOW or PUAs NoFap is a registered organization with a homepage instead of a loose identity stemming from a range of blogs, forums, and websites (Burnett, 2021;Ging, 2019). And to the extent that registered users align themselves with the publicly expressed values of a website, their official outlets are markedly different to other candidate manosphere spaces because they explicitly forbid "sweeping anti-women comments." ...
... Like the website repeatedly points out, the group is not homogenous ("What is NoFap" n.d.), and as stated above, there are a range of reasons individuals take up the challenge. ATwitter analysis by Burnett (2021) supported this notion by identifying seven overlapping masculine subjectivities associated with the community. All of these share elements of the discourses detailed by Taylor and Jackson (2018), that is, innate masculinity being degraded by society and pornography, men having a physical predisposition for power, and the need to take ownership of it. ...
Full-text available
NoFap is a community of mostly heterosexual men abstaining from what they see as an addictive cycle of pornography, masturbation, and orgasm, induced by the exploitation of innate male urges by the pornography industry. In the general population, increased masturbation and consumption of pornography are associated with psychological factors including low affect, loneliness, and boredom, all of which may be exacerbated by the lockdown/social distancing measures adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The present study explores how the NoFap community has responded to the pandemic through discourse analysis of an online message board. We identify four key themes: i) I let go in lockdown, ii) the opportunity of lockdown, iii) testing the parameters of NoFap, and iv) community cohesion. Each is defined and discussed. Combined they illustrate a digital community struggling to honor its meritocratic masculine ideals in the face of challenging circumstances.
... This language of the sexual marketplace, which elevates men and demonizes feminists, is also common across much of the right. Sites like Reddit's Red Pill forum construct a kind of "sexual meritocracy" (Burnett 2021) that rates men's access to women, success dating or sleeping with them, in terms of his "sexual market value" or his "relationship market value." Women, as well, are encouraged to be submissive to raise their relationship market value or lose weight to improve their sexual value. ...
Full-text available
NoFap is a growing online community of mostly heterosexual men seeking to abstain from masturbation. Rereading scholarship on the history of men’s masturbation, I undertake a critical discourse analysis of NoFap-videos on YouTube to investigate NoFap’s interpellative matrix. NoFap offers a specific mode of becoming a man by advocating a particular form of self-relation. To become a man, one needs to reconcile one’s self-government with one’s organismic existence as a body ‘naturally’ built for meritocratic heterosexuality. Reflecting on NoFap as a community connected to the manosphere, I conclude by suggesting that we thoroughly analyze manospherian modes of self-relation.
We present a study of the online forum Reddit, specifically a sub-forum for (typically heterosexual) men who identify as involuntary celibates or incels . Incels are an online imagined community/community of practice who wish to, but do not, have sexual relations with women. Owing to this identity, they view themselves as non-normative within broader society and see women and societal standards of masculinity as the cause of their problems. In this paper, we take a small corpus of 67,000 words generated from 50 threads created, and commented on, by incels. We analyse keywords, word frequencies, and concordance lines to explore the representation of gendered social actors. Keyword analysis reveals that references to gendered social actors are particularly salient within this community, leading to an analysis of all such social actors in the corpus. The findings suggest that incels position different groups of men in a hierarchy in which conventionally attractive men occupy the top position. Notably, we find that female social actors are not placed in a similar hierarchy. An additional appraisal analysis of the most frequently occurring male and female social actors shows that men are judged as incapacitated while women are seen as immoral, dishonest and capable of hurting men. Members of the online community also seem preoccupied with physical attractiveness. The study opens up a number of avenues for future research, especially into the complexities with which members of non-normative heterosexual groups simultaneously orient to and reject social norms.
This study investigates how the lemmas woman, girl, man and guy are used to discursively represent and construct gender identities in an anti-feminist forum on the discussion website Reddit. The lemmas were analysed using corpus-assisted social actor analysis and appraisal theory. Similarities and differences within three sub-communities of the TRP subreddit were considered: Men’s Rights (activists who believe that men are systemically disadvantaged in society), Men Going Their Own Way (who abstain from relationships with women), and Red Pill Theory (primarily pick-up artists). The corpus was characterised by bare assertions about gendered behaviour, although the masculine gender role was less well-defined than the feminine one. Women and girls were dehumanised and sexually objectified, negatively judged for morality and veracity, and constructed as desiring hostile behaviour from male social actors. Conversely, men were constructed as victims of female social actors and external institutions and, as a result, as unhappy and insecure.
Part of identity development involves the construction of a sexual self. Sexual selves are constructed based on interactions with others. Based on in-depth interviews with 59 heterosexual men between the ages of 30 and 59, I look at the way research participants defined heterosexual men’s desirability through their framing of their sexual selves. I show how participants’ stories revealed a link between desirability and masculinity for heterosexual men in U.S. culture. Moreover, I find that consistent with narratives of hegemonic masculinity, men were concerned with proving their desirability and hetero-masculinity through what I call “evidentiary stories.” These stories focused on men’s telling of how they were seen by others or in other contexts, with such accounts serving as evidence of their desirability. Through these stories, men constructed sexual selves that met (or failed to meet) dominant narratives of hetero-masculine desirability. In so doing, men also participated in the construction of a hierarchy of desirability among heterosexual men, underscoring the idea that certain men are more sought-after or valued than others—both by women partners and others at large.
Dominant understandings of men’s sexuality claim that men are always up for sex; as such, research on heterosexual men’s sexual refusals is sparse. Drawing on interviews conducted with young people (aged 18–23) living in and around Melbourne, Australia, this article explores three young people’s experiences of men saying ‘no’ to a woman’s request for sex within an ongoing relationship. In each of these instances the refusal was, to some extent, not respected. This presents a challenge to men’s masculinity which then needs to be redressed through compensatory manhood acts. This article explores how the truth claims of hegemonic masculinity and the male sexual drive discourse are reproduced through men and women’s social interactions, and unpacks the implications of men’s sexual refusals not being heard for sexual ethics education programmes.
The literature on hybrid masculinity suggests that some men manage subordinate or contradictory forms of masculinity while still maintaining and benefiting from gender inequality. Drawing from 35 in-depth qualitative interviews with religious participants in pornography addiction recovery programs, we expand this literature by illustrating how hybrid masculinity operates through shared cultural knowledge about sex, gender, and sexuality. We find that participants use distinct cultural schemas related to religion and science to explain how men are created by God to be biologically “hard-wired” for pornography addiction. We use the phrase redemptive masculinity to describe a type of hybrid masculinity that upholds the cultural association between hegemonic masculinity and pornography consumption, but allows religious men to describe their avoidance of pornography as a masculine feat. Redemptive masculinity depends upon particular beliefs about gender that give advantage to the religious men who work to overcome pornography addiction. We show how their stories reinforce essentialist differences between male and female bodies that protect the interests and sexual expressions of religious men. In turn, we show how hybrid masculinities may involve gender-flexible practices for men but also how these may ultimately reinforce strict and inflexible beliefs about so-called “opposite” sexes.