Reboot, Relapse, Repeat: The Harm of Anti-Pornography Forums

Online forums like NoFap can have negative impacts on participants' mental and physical health.

Young Adult Man in Front of Computer Monitor

Read Time: 2 minutes


Many young, heterosexual men are not having sex. They may struggle to seek social support and communicate their feelings, preventing them from making interpersonal connections.

A subset of straight men claim to be involuntarily celibate, or “incels.” Incels often report mental and social distress related to rejection from women.

Incels often replace sex with pornography. Although porn use is not a recognized addiction, incels may view porn as addictive or emasculating.

Men engaged in NoFap (referring to “fapping,” slang for male masturbation), also known as “fapstronauts,” have decided to quit porn use. With help from unlicensed coaches, fapstronauts undergo a process of “rebooting.” These men abstain from porn use and masturbation as a masculinity challenge.

Fapstronauts anecdotally report gaining “superpowers” after rebooting. These range from improved confidence and focus to clearer vision, appeal to women, muscle and penis growth, and cured erectile dysfunction.

The promise of these superpowers is widely appealing. NoFap’s Reddit page has over 1.1 million members. NoFap is also the most active male health topic on TikTok.

NoFap forum participants often brag about their willpower and alleged superpowers. Their posts can be aggressive, encouraging others to harm or kill themselves. For anyone that breaks their period of abstinence from porn use or masturbation, reading these posts can be deeply humiliating.

Nicole Prause and James Binnie studied the negative effects of NoFap forums on men’s mental health. The researchers asked men that were recruited via Twitter, Reddit, and Discord to rate their involvement in NoFap forums and the intensity of their negative emotions (i.e., worthless, anxious, suicidal) following their latest “relapse” from NoFap.

The graph above maps participants’ negative emotion scores and involvement in NoFap. Negative emotions following relapse were strongest in participants that reported using NoFap forums more frequently.

While NoFap is a niche group, many young men struggle to make romantic connections and watch porn regularly. NoFap may appear to be an all-in-one fix for their mental and physical health. Despite its appeal, the study authors suggest that NoFap may harm participants. They compare its emotional impact to that of queer conversion therapy.

Databyte via Nicole Prause and James Binnie. Iatrogenic effects of Reboot/NoFap on public health: A preregistered survey study. Sexualities, February 2023.

Photo via Getty Images