Op-Ed: '#NoNutNovember' and the Prudish Cult of Semen Retention

Op-Ed: '#NoNutNovember' and the Prudish Cult of Semen Retention

CYBERSPACE — Halloween is behind us and we’re moving into the cornucopian glory of November, the month renowned for Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and, among a small-but-vocal internet cult with utterly unscientific notions of the relationship between semen retention and personal success, #NoNutNovember.

#NoNutNovember is the pumpkin-spiced, seasonal relative of #NoFap, which is a supposedly secular recruiting tool for the most definitely religiously motivated Anti-Porn movement. The Anti-Porn movement is waging a well-funded all-fronts War on Porn, attempting to get porn classified as “a public health crisis,” to spread the made-up notion of “sexual addiction,” and to equate the entire adult entertainment industry with human trafficking and sexual abuse.

The shared goal of avoiding all ejaculation, particularly solitary masturbation, for the entire month of November arose, naturally, among the pack-mentality-oriented subcultures of masculinist subreddits.

The ridiculous idea that retaining all the semen produced by the prostate gland and the seminal vesicles and then stored in a man’s balls has a magical effect on enhanced focus, partner-attraction, “mojo,” etc. has been widely debunked. Increased irritability, either physically or psychological, seems to correlate with deliberately avoiding masturbation regardless of desire.

And when was the last time you heard a potential sexual partner or co-worker say “Wow, that man is so on edge, so attractively irritable”?

The male superstition that semen retention is related to magical masculine powers has a long history, including the Victorian notion of “sexual hygiene,” a part of “social hygiene,” the bundle of absurd ideas that also gave the world’s most virulent racists the pseudoscience of “eugenics.”

The obsession with purity and fluids, especially as they relate to virility and masculinity, has been used for comical effect by artists like Stanley Kubrick. Who can forget Sterling Hayden as Cold War General Jack D. Ripper getting himself worked up over his “precious bodily fluids”?

“Loss of essence. I can assure you it has not recurred,” General Ripper tells Peter Sellers’ Mandrake. “Women, er, women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake — but I do deny them my essence.”

A conservative child of the early 20th Century, General Ripper is echoing widespread pseudoscientific notions about masturbation and semen retention, which are responsible, among other things, for the traditional American breakfast. (If you don’t believe me, check out this article on anti-masturbation crusader Dr. Kellogg — yup, corn flakes Kellogg.)

Ten Irritable Men

According to scholar Dr. Eleanor Janega, who writes the popular blog and Twitter account GoingMedieval “the whole misguided, misogynist, pseudo-science” #NoNutNovember nonsense “has all the hallmarks of medieval medical and theological thought on sex.”

Janega published an extensive essay last year analyzing the roots of the “masturbation fasting will make me a better man” myth long beyond the Victorian era.

As the medievalist academic points out, the redditors behind #NoNutNovember trotted out a single study which supposedly showed that “a period of abstinence from masturbation in ten healthy men led to a spike of testosterone production in the subjects.”

Another reddit-based cabal of guilt-ridden semen-retention fetishists, #NoFap, then endorsed #NoNutNovember, but either for reasons of taste or because, despite their protestations, the group is a covert religious operation and they wanted to rebrand the stunt as #NNN or “New Life November.”

Janega points out that these sexual fasts, like the notion of “sex addiction,” has "very little to do with sexual behaviour and much more often correlates with the religiosity of the person complaining of it.”

Janega’s essay also identifies that behind the pseudoscientific talk about testosterone and small-sample studies, “all of this extremely rational and manly abstinence” conceals “a darker side, because while they are busy rejecting sex many of these charmers also take the opportunity to attack women as "THOTS" and “sluts” because women’s very existence is threatening to the very important mission of not masturbating. Some have even gone as far as issuing death threats to pornography companies claiming that masturbation to pornography is linked to depression.”

“All of this is of interest to me,” Janega writes, “because many of the conceptions about sexuality in men on display in the NNN subculture can be found within classical and medieval conceptions of male sexuality.”

Ancient and Medieval #NoNutters

Among Janega’s historical research into the ideology of semen retention advocates, some nuggets stand out:

  • Roman medical authorities “warned men against sexual excess, which they felt would diminish the vital spirit, called the pneuma, which activates the body. Roman men were thus warned against having sex on an empty or overly full stomach; having sex in the morning; ideally encouraged to take some exercise before engaging in sex and have a massage afterwards.”
  • Classical philosophers “took the same concept a step further. According to them, men didn’t need to moderate sex only to be healthy — they needed to avoid it to be a more masculine man, and therefore be able to participate in public life. Sexual moderation, they felt, helped men to cultivate the superior masculine qualities of men, which they identified as rationality, power, authority and strength.”
  • “Excessive sex, would have a feminizing effect on men because as Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a physician from the first century BCE, had identified, these masculine qualities could be found in semen itself. Therefore, if men ejaculated too much, they were essentially dispensing all of their masculinity and becoming like irrational, weak women.”
  • Humor theory, familiar to readers of Shakespeare, "further backed up this view of the world. According to it, men were hot and dry, but excessive ejaculation could upset the balance of humors and make men cold and wet, or, 'feminized.'"
  • “Medieval people continued to think, more or less, the same things about sexuality and the body, but with a new gloss of Christian theology. As far as medieval people were concerned, men were indeed hot and dry, rational and active in the world, and they felt that semen in particular was linked to these concepts.”
  • “Isidore of Seville identified masturbation as specifically effeminate. Women were the ones that were supposed to lie back and experience pleasure during sex. Men were supposed to be actively going out and taking sexual pleasure by doing it to someone, compelled on by their magical manly sperm. By masturbating, men dishonored the rationality and vigor of masculinity by enjoying a non-active and physically robust form of sex.”
  • Thomas Aquinas “argued that really the most rational way to relate to sex was to just not have it. You wouldn’t expend your rational male power. You wouldn’t sin. God would love it. Job done. Of course, if you were going to have sex then you should be doing it while married and when you were pretty sure that you could become pregnant, as that was the only type of sex that God accepted. All other sexual activities he then ranked in order or rationality from what he saw as the sex most likely to result in children that could be born into a home, down to sex that could never result in children.”
  • Masturbation, for Aquinas, “was more or less a type of sodomy that you did to yourself. It was therefore totally irrational. You were sinning, couldn’t get anyone pregnant and you were wasting precious semen and risking your masculinity.”
  • Saint Jerome warned that the sexuality of women, who were insatiable and extremely DTF, could have "deleterious effects on men’s forceful rationality." He claimed that exposure to women and sex "enervates a man’s mind and engrosses all thought except for the passion which it feeds." In other words, if you have too much sex you can’t concentrate on any of your important manly work, and will simply be awash in thoughts of lust, becoming more and more like a sex-crazed woman.

These ideas, Janega correctly points out, “all track perfectly with the conceptual apparatus of #NoNutNovember.”

“Like medieval people,” she concludes, the #NoNutters believe that “the very essence of maleness is sperm. They think that it must be kept inside of them in order to keep themselves vital, attentive, and rational. Not ejaculating allows men to store up this energy and express it elsewhere in their lives.”

For the rest of Dr. Eleanor Janega’s essay for Going Medieval, “On No Nut November,” click here.

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