Skepticism

Is Pornography Addictive? NoFap Founder Sues Neuroscientist Who Says No

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Transcript:

NoFap Founder Is Suing a Neuroscientist Who Thinks Masturbating Is Fine,” so I read in Vice this week. How appropriate! It’s about sex, science, pseudoscience, AND this is “#NoNutNovember!” I couldn’t wait to make a video on this. I was wrong. Making this video nearly broke me. I’ve spent hours reading court documents, Tweets, and forum posts from a bunch of people who think that not masturbating for a month will give them magical powers. I need a stiff drink. Pun intended.

“NoFap” was started and trademarked a few years ago by Alexander Rhodes, who now runs NoFap.com and helps oversee a nofap subreddit, all of which are critical of the porn industry and try to encourage people (mostly men) to stop masturbating to pornography, and to stop masturbating in general, in order to receive a number of benefits. What those benefits are vary from person to person and belief system to belief system, but generally they claim that you can strengthen your own relationships, have better control over your life in general, and have more energy for doing things other than cranking your meat. The NoFap website also makes it clear that they believe porn addiction is real and is damaging to people with it.

Nicole Prause is a neuroscientist who has researched pornography and found that there is most likely no such thing as porn addiction. You can form a habit of watching porn, and that habit can get out of control, but it’s not a physiological addiction like, say, being addicted to tobacco.

The general scientific consensus is with Prause, here. NoFap.com claims to be “science-based” but they simply are not when it comes to this, and their site is awash in evo psych pseudoscience like explaining how porn is at odds with the “primitive environment” our brains evolved in.

Prause clearly has a scientific bone to pick (haha) with Rhodes, and so when I saw the Vice article proclaiming that Rhodes was now suing her for libel I immediately heard alarm bells. I’ve made many videos about the chilling effect of libel laws and how pseudoscientists use them all the time to silence scientific criticism. The Vice article points that out, along with describing how NoFap is misogynist, racist, and full of harassers who doggedly attack critics.

It all made sense but there was one thing missing: Vice didn’t discuss what the actual supposed basis of the lawsuit was. No quotes from a libel suit claiming, for instance, that Prause had libeled Rhodes and NoFap by claiming they were wrong about porn addiction. So I went looking for all the court documents, and what a can of worms I found. 

First of all, I found the website YourBrainonPorn.com, made and maintained by Gary Wilson, author of a book by the same name. Wilson has collected several text books of information about Nicole Prause. I mean, regardless of what Prause has done to him, it’s an obsessive amount of links and screenshots and screeds. I’ll be honest, it immediately added more credence to Prause’s position that NoFap and/or the people affiliated with them are a bunch of stalkers.

But I found the court documents that Rhodes filed and I looked through them anyway. Rhodes isn’t suing Prause for saying that pornography isn’t addictive, at least on the surface. He’s suing her because, according to Rhodes, Prause repeatedly over the past three years falsely claimed that he was stalking her, harassing her, violating restraining orders, is a misogynist, and promotes the neo-Nazi Proud Boys.

And here’s the thing: Rhodes includes screenshots of all of this, and it looks like he’s telling the truth. Let’s take the Proud Boys thing. Rhodes presents tons of screenshots of Prause telling the world constantly that Rhodes promotes and works with the Proud Boys. The truth is clearly that back in April of 2016, Rhodes went on Proud Boys’ founder Gavin McGinnes’s show. Rhodes points out that back then, McGinnis was simply known as the founder of Vice, who had a popular streaming show. (Yes that’s right, Vice, the publisher of the article I read bashing Rhodes.) That’s because McGinnes would not even form the Proud Boys for another 5 months. Rhodes says that he would never interact with McGinnes now that he (and the rest of us) know he’s a neo-Nazi. And that appears to be true as he has not been on the show since.

The rest of Prause’s claims are like that — misunderstandings of the facts that deliberately or not paint Rhodes to look terrible. She quotes a jerk on Twitter with “NoFap” in his username and Rhodes replied on Twitter that they had already served him a cease and desist. She ignores his reply and changes the subject to talk about a random person who blogged that she should “get fucked,” and then a post on the nofap forum where a random user calls someone a professor when that person doesn’t have a degree. Her tweets were, to put it in a scientific context, completely batshit.

I do sympathize because I’m sure that NoFap attracts its fair share of misogynists. The subreddit is especially at risk because of how easily incels and other misogynists propagate there. But just for fun I checked out the forum on NoFap.com and it was completely clear of sexism as far as I could see. I even looked in the “lonely incel” section and all I found were some dudes who were genuinely sad about not being confident enough to try to go on dates. None of them were blaming women — they were all talking about how hard it is to improve themselves in the face of depression. You know, real incel shit without the misogyny.

In fact, over on Twitter I noticed this in one of the replies to the official NoFap account’s description of the lawsuit:

“I was banned from your website for saying that Jews own the pornography industry. Now they are attacking you guys, calling you hateful, antisemitic, deceitful, sexist, etc in full force. SWEET FUCKINH KARMA. YA SHOULD HAVE LISTENED.”

Prause claims that the official NoFap forum is antisemitic but here, this stupid piece of shit is coming right out and saying, “Nope! They banned me.”

Does that mean I think Rhodes should be suing her for libel? I’m not a lawyer, and I tend to think that libel lawsuits should only happen when the case is egregious and really damages someone. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had fantasies about suing some of my harassers for libel. If I had the extra money laying around and the energy for it, who’s to say?

And does all this mean that I think that Prause is wrong about the addictive nature of porn, or that Rhodes is right? Abso-fucking-lutely not. Let me make this very clear: the scientific consensus is that pornography is not addictive, nor is it bad for society in general. Masturbation is not bad for you, and in fact it can be very good for you if it keeps you relaxed. In fact, several studies have suggested that regular ejaculation, whether through masturbation, sex, or wet dreams, may reduce your risk of testicular cancer.

Most if not all of the benefits people claim they get from not masturbating are pure fantasy and pseudoscience. I may not have found misogyny on the NoFap forum but I did find some real howlers, like this poor guy who thinks that not ejaculating helps his body absorb sperm that will turn into stem cells and repair his body like Wolverine. There’s an entire subform for talking about “sexual transmutation,” the idea that you can take whatever energy you aren’t spending on sex or masturbation and instead spend it on success. I hear that’s how Isaac Newton managed to come up with the idea of gravity. It was all thanks to the not fucking.

So no, the entire thing is stupid. But some people like it, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is when it turns into a cult, and when you read the nofap subreddit it does sound exactly like a cult. I wouldn’t be surprised if some assholes who identify with nofap and frequent those forums and buy into the idea that this is a life-changing philosophy would turn around and harass scientists who point out inconvenient facts, like that porn isn’t actually a physiological addiction. But in this case, it really does look like the guy who runs NoFap.com, and who trademarked the name, is keeping his house clean and disavowing people who do stupid shit like that. The core philosophy of NoFap doesn’t appear to be misogynist, or anti-semitic in the least. That misogynists and anti-semites have gravitated to it honestly doesn’t seem to be Rhodes’s fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Gavin McGinnes, who adopted the philosophy and then spread it to the Proud Boys movement he later kickstarted.

So yeah, I know this video is probably going to surprise some people but for the first time ever, a pseudoscientist is suing a scientist for libel and I can’t say that I’m 100% on the side of the scientist.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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