Skepticism

No Nut November: Can You Increase Testosterone & Perform Better in Sports?

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Well here we are in November already, and you know what that means: an entire month of fan fiction writers telling you about their novels, my legs getting even hairier than usual, and Redditors pretending that not having sex is a positive lifestyle choice. That’s right, I am once again going to talk about No Nut November, despite the fact that the last time I discussed the “No Fap” movement a batshit porn researcher filed DMCAs to take my videos down because I showed a picture of her. But what can I say? I’m a NUT for NO NUT. Well, I’m a nut for the weird claims they make.

The FIRST time I talked about No Fap two years ago, I pointed out that the NoFap.com forum included guys who thought that by abstaining from ejaculation, they would reabsorb their sperm which would then turn into stem cells that magically repair their bodies. That didn’t really need a thorough debunking.

But this week, someone asked me if it’s true that abstaining from ejaculation can improve one’s performance in sporting events, due to an increase in testosterone. Now that’s an interesting claim! After hearing about it, I went onto the NoFap subreddit and immediately found one example of a guy trying to, well, “scientifically” test whether or not he could increase his testosterone by not orgasming. It does seem like this is a pretty common belief and honestly I’d rather talk about that then some of the other posts over there, so let’s get into it.

First of all, let me just state outright that the average man wanting to increase his testosterone is weird. Yeah, you heard me: WEIRD. Testosterone is just a hormone. Your body has, like, 50 different hormones, and the only time you want to increase one is if your doctor points out that it’s too low and is causing problems. And, get ready for this, but sometimes hormone levels are TOO HIGH and need to be lowered. There’s literally no reason why anyone should be thinking about raising their hormone levels because that hormone is “good” so more must be better — like, no non-diabetic is out there going “hey guys if I stop masturbating will my insulin go up? My blood sugar is gonna be regulated AS FUCK. But many men want more testosterone — the most common and somewhat understandable reason is because more testosterone means more, faster muscle building, which is why athletes love the stuff. But overdoing any hormone is going to come with drawbacks — in the case of testosterone, that includes developing voluptuous boobies, shrinking your testicles down to raisins, acne, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver damage, and the ever-famous “roid rage.”

So let’s talk about the two claims being made: first, that abstinence will improve your “performance,” and then we’ll get to whether or not abstinence will elevate your testosterone.

The idea that ejaculation will negatively impact a man’s performance in sports goes back a long way — we’re talking the Greeks. The ancient kind. Around 200 BC the famed boxer Clitomachus claimed he owed his success to his abstinence (ironic name alert), saying that he would avert his eyes if he saw two dogs fucking. This idea is actually supported by today’s intellectuals who are NOT known for their boxing prowess and LOVE watching dogs fuck.

In the first century AD, the doctor Aretaeus said, “If any man is in possession of semen, he is fierce, courageous and physically mighty, like beasts. Evidence for this is to be found in athletes who practise abstinence.” But of course, the ancient Greeks also thought depression happened because your spleen produced too much black bile, so while they did have some damn good ideas, maybe they aren’t the go-to medical experts here.

In modern times, researchers have taken much interest in the question of sex and sports, producing hundreds of studies on the topic. In 2016, a systematic review narrowed them down to just nine studies that met their inclusion and quality criteria. As you might guess, even the good studies were super messy. But in the end, they concluded that there was no overall negative impact on sports performance for men OR women who had sex, with the possible exception of the lotharios who have sex within two hours of a competition. Which…yeah, that makes sense. I wouldn’t have sex two hours before I had to catch a plane.

Another study in 2018 had 12 healthy men test their muscle strength and endurance after having sex and after abstaining from sex, and found that there was no difference either way. Pretty damning, but the researchers themselves lament that a more robust study would have relied upon direct observation of the sexual activity rather than self-reports. Pervs.

So there’s simply no compelling data to suggest that abstaining from sex or masturbation improves a man’s physical performance, despite an awful lot of research on the topic. But fine, you are a normal man and you’ve decided more testosterone is what you need to achieve your life goals, and you’ve decided the way to go about that is to stop ejaculating.

First of all, while your decision is deeply weird, I want to congratulate you for going about this in the safest way possible. Whether it works or not, you will most likely be healthier than the guy who just goes online and orders a tub of synthetic testosterone and a needle. I’ve never bought performance enhancing drugs before but I assume testosterone is sold by the tub, the most masculine way to consume anything.

I’ll be honest, I went into this pretty, um, skeptical of the idea that not ejaculating might increase your testosterone. If anything, my hypothesis was that it would do the opposite — testosterone tends to increase sex drive for both men and women, and from personal experience I’ve found that if you go without sex for an extended amount of time you tend to kind of stop missing it. Like sugar. The first few days abstaining are rough but then your body just goes “oh, we aren’t getting that anymore I guess. Time to lower the hormones and stuff that make us crave that.”

And, bragging time here, the first study I found on this topic supports that. In 2003, researchers tested the testosterone of 14 men over the course of several weeks after they last masturbated (there was another set of 14 men who didn’t abstain as a control). They found that testosterone DID increase in the abstainers, but it reached its peak (of about 50% more than normal) after 7 days, at which point it dropped back down to normal.

While looking for other, larger, more recent studies I found that this kind of research is much needed, thanks in part to fertility concerns. Doctors need to figure out if ejaculating screws with your hormones and sperm in such a way that testing you too soon (or too long) after you last ejaculated might give them an incorrect result. Currently doctors may ask you to abstain for up to 5 days to get the best test result, but in 2018 researchers did a meta-analysis that found that “shortening of the abstinence period may be beneficial to sperm quality”. I know that’s an aside to the testosterone issue but I really can’t stress enough that there’s always a trade off if you’re trying to “hack” your body to produce one particular hormone you think is a net good.

But yes, it may be true that abstaining from ejaculation might increase your testosterone after 7 days, at which point you may as well go ahead and jerk it because your levels are probably going to drop again on day eight. But overall, if your focus is on simply being physically healthy, your best bet is to ejaculate when you feel like it. I mean, not if you’re on the subway or whatever, but if you want to masturbate or have consensual sex twice a day, daily, or weekly, or whatever, that’s absolutely okay for your hormone levels and overall physical needs.

All that said, I’m sure the good men of NoFap really do find something good in abstaining. Feeling like you have control over your body, and that you’re overcoming “base” or “animalistic” urges can feel good — I sometimes get that feeling when I don’t eat and drink to excess, or when I push myself past what I thought was my limit when surfing or hiking or running. There’s a reason why asceticism has caught on in various cultures over the centuries — there’s just something we humans love sometimes about denying ourselves pleasure. But of course, there are also people who take that feeling of absolute control to a dangerous limit, and turn something that could be healthy into something deeply unhealthy and even deadly.

Tales from middle school aside, I don’t think anyone ever died directly from not ejaculating, but as I’ve said before it may lead to some problems. A study in 2016 found that men who ejaculated 21 times per month had a lower incidence of prostate cancer than those who ejaculated 4 to 7 times a month. Plus, a good orgasm can reduce psychological issues like anxiety and depression.

So sure, participate in No Nut November if it makes you feel good. But don’t be fooled by the idea that it will have any tangible benefits to your physical health. For that, it’s just the same old boring advice: eat your vegetables, get some exercise, avoid stress, and rub one out every now and again.

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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