John Jalsevac

130,000+ Reddit users flock to forum founded by atheist to quit pornography, masturbation

John Jalsevac
John Jalsevac
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Note: Since this article was first published, the number of members on NoFap has increased from 65,000, to over 130,000.

They’re called “fapstronauts”: men and women who, for whatever reason, have signed up to take the “ultimate challenge” and conquer the urge to masturbate (“fap” in Internet slang) and/or use porn, whether it be for a certain, set period of time, or permanently. And joining their ranks is quickly becoming one of the hottest new trends on the social media site Reddit.

The growing phenomenon recently captured the attention of New York Magazine and Nerve.com, while a short film highlighting the negative effects of porn and/or excessive masturbation is in the works on Kickstarter.

Already there are over 130,000 fapstronauts, with hundreds more joining by the day. These modern warriors against sexual temptation have gathered together under the roof of a dedicated “sub-Reddit” (/r/NoFap), where members can request publicly viewable badges (operated on the honor system) that track how many consecutive days of “fapstinence” they’ve clocked in, share their favorite tips on how to resist the urge, encourage newcomers by describing the benefits of a life of Spartan-like self-discipline, and seek solace and encouragement to get up and dust off when they fall back into old habits. 

The rules are few and simple: read the disclaimer (participants take a noFap challenge “at their own risk”); be respectful; don’t post pornography or links to the same; be sensitive in describing the details of your sex life in deference to the more easily “triggered”; and finally, only mention religion when it directly relates to your motivation to take up the NoFap challenge. 

The unlikely beginnings of NoFap: founded by an atheist

The last rule surprises a lot of people, says Alexander Rhodes, the unlikely founder of the forum, and along with it a burgeoning anti-porn social movement (although he readily admits that the general idea of quitting masturbating for a period of time online long predated the creation of the forum). Most people naturally assume that any group that takes a negative view of porn, let alone masturbation, must have close ties to the Christian/conservative social right. But Rhodes can confidently assure them that this is not the case: he himself is an atheist.  

While it might seem odd that an atheist is leading a crusade against “fapping,” the first thing that Rhodes explained in an interview with LifeSiteNews is that that’s exactly not what he’s doing. While he acknowledges there are plenty of noFap members who might disagree (and they’re welcome to their opinion) he believes masturbation can be healthy in moderation. Porn, on the other hand, he takes a darker view of.

Like a large number of (arguably most) young men his age, the 23-year-old Rhodes grew up on porn, which he discovered online at an early age. While admitting that he’s unsure if the smut is to blame, he describes himself, without elaborating, as having been a “hyper-sexual” adolescent. When he eventually became sexually involved with real women, he says he found the sex shallow and unfulfilling, and, in time, he began suffering from delayed ejaculation (the inability to orgasm during normal sex with a real life partner - an increasingly common complaint amongst heavy porn users).

That all changed one day in June of 2011. That’s when a thread about a study that found that men who don’t masturbate for 7 days experience a 45.7% increase in testosterone levels hit the front page of a popular forum on Reddit, sparking intense discussion. The conclusions of the study appealed to the budding biologist (Rhodes recently finished a B.S. degree in the science), and after several Redditors floated the possibility of founding a NoFap forum, Rhodes took the initiative and did so, “in the 23rd hour of June 20, 2011” (in the somewhat dramatic wording of a brief history of the forum penned by Rhodes).

The rest, as they say, is history. In the beginning NoFap ran weekly and monthly NoFap challenges for a small handful of devotees. But as the numbers of fapstronauts rapidly grew, the administrators hit on the idea of the badge system, and now forum members have the freedom to set their own challenges based upon their own personal goals.

“Superpowers” for fapstronauts

But what’s the point of it all? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Rhodes prides himself on the diversity of NoFap’s membership, ranging from atheists like himself to die-hard fundamentalist Christians. “I think that nofap may be the most supportive community on the Internet,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Regardless of who you are or what your goals are, the members of nofap will try to support you and genuinely care for you and try to push you to succeed.” Even the aforementioned rule about religion isn’t meant to discourage religious fapstronauts, who are more than welcome to discuss their beliefs when relevant, but simply to reduce heated and tangential religious debates that detract from the core goal of NoFap.

It’s the dedication to the core goal, says Rhodes, that unites all the users: that shared commitment to quitting porn and masturbation for some higher cause, whatever that might be. And those higher causes can vary dramatically from user to user. For some - the extreme cases - it’s quite simply a question of “do or die.” As Rhodes describes it, “they’ve never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend and they sit in their basements all the time looking at porn and masturbating and they never go outside and they don’t have jobs.” 

For others it’s as simple as the novelty of seeing if they can do it, or, somewhat controversially, the belief that abstaining from masturbation will give them the confidence they need to “get laid” with a real-life partner (A common theme on NoFap is the back-and-forth exchange between those who complain about the “get laid” crowd, and those who complain about the complainers, arguing that there’s no “bad” reason to take up a NoFap challenge). For most, the motivations fall somewhere in between: a desire to take control of their sexuality, or to make better use of their time, or to enhance their personal relationships, or to follow the teachings of their religion, or all of the above. 

By all accounts, for most people it works. Many users even tout what they call the “superpowers” they acquired during a successful NoFap challenge. These include (but are not limited to): dramatic increases in social confidence, energy levels, concentration levels, mental acuity, motivation, self-esteem, emotional stability, happiness, sexual prowess, and attractiveness to the opposite sex. A surprising number of users also express relief that they no longer feel “creepy” when they meet or see girls on the street, and that they are less likely to discover sexual subtexts in totally innocent conversations or situations. Some credit NoFap with literally saving their lives after years of crushing guilt, failed attempts to reform, and hopelessness. 

Some do experience such dramatic results, admits Rhodes. But he is careful not to promise anything at all to fledgling fapstronauts. For him, the benefits were well worth it, but didn’t amount to anything like “superpowers.” The most noticeable effect was an almost immediate cure for his delayed ejaculation. On top of that, he experienced elevated motivation, and, perhaps most importantly, a significantly greater sense of intimacy in his real-life romantic relationships. Some others, he says, don't experience any benefits at all. 

As a scientist, Rhodes is hesitant to speculate about why he or other fapstronauts might experience any positive effects, explaining that what he and the other moderators are really holding out for is a large controlled study into the phenomenon by a well-known university. In his explanations he’s more comfortable using the language of evolutionary biology than philosophy or theology, and he promptly sends new fapstronauts to Youtube to check out the neuro-chemistry-based TedX talk, “Your Brain on Porn.” However, when pressed on why he thinks NoFap has enhanced his romantic relationships, he reluctantly responds. 

“As for me personally, it’s just a relationship is so much more than…it’s really hard to put into words. A relationship is so much more than sex, because sex….By taking away masturbation you are relying on your partner,” he says hesitantly. “I just felt a stronger bond, a stronger attachment. Like an infatuation, like a schoolboy crush. It just does something. 

“I’m not really sure what it is. You’re devoting yourself completely to your significant other instead of random pixilated girls on the internet who you've never met. It’s about enhancing your meaningful relationship, instead of establishing five-minute relationships with virtual girls online.” 

He then lapses into silence, and adds: “I don’t really know why. It’s science.” 

NoFap will “save the world”

Not all of NoFap's leadership team is equally circumspect. One of Rhodes’ fellow forum moderators - who, because of the amount of deeply personal information available on the forum, prefers to be known simply by his Reddit user name, FaplessAndFancyFree (“FAFF,” for brevity’s sake) - has more definite ideas about why NoFap is changing people’s lives.

(Read the complete interview with FAFF here: Can a Reddit forum change the world? This Catholic, and recovering porn addict, thinks so)

FAFF describes himself as NoFap’s “resident Catholic/conservative weirdsmobile,” and is as quick to cite (from memory) specific passages from the Catholic Catechism and Thomas Aquinas as Rhodes is to speak about evolutionary psychology.  But despite being surrounded with all the wealth of Catholic theology, including Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, from an early age, FAFF says he found himself in the same humiliating position as his atheist colleague: obsessed to the point of addiction with pornography and masturbation.

Ironically, he stumbled on NoFap the same way many other users do – while searching for porn to use for masturbating. What he found amazed him, and revolutionized his life: a group of mostly atheist and agnostic Reddit users who, without ever reading a lick of Catholic theology, were independently discovering, simply through personal experience, everything that he had learned from years of reading the writings of the Church. 

“They were -- often without realizing it -- reaching in the direction of sexual truths that I recognized from my catechism,” he says. “But they hadn't read this stuff in a catechism, hadn't been taught it from a pulpit or an NFP class or their parents. They were discovering it (slowly, in pieces) by having lived through it.  They were stunned by what they were finding, which went against what they'd been taught.  And they were no less stunned to discover, all of a sudden, that they were not alone in feeling this way.”  

But the thing that struck FAFF the most, was quite simply what he describes as the “joy” of NoFap users, “the joy of people who have just heard the good news of freedom from pornography for the first time.” This contrasted with what he had experienced in many religious-based sex addiction recovery programs, which he says tended to be too full of guilt and “self-flagellation” for “joy to take root.” While he wouldn’t necessarily recommend sending a Catholic teen with a porn problem to NoFap, due to some of the uncouth material and more bizarre ideas in circulation on the forum, he says that it proved to be exactly what he needed to get a handle on his problem. 

“I found the spirit of NoFap very attractive -- holy, in its violent and sometimes graceless way -- and their hope and joy proved a little infectious,” he says. “So, every time I felt the urge to read some erotica, I went there instead and dispensed advice and encouragement.” In time, the moderators of the community noticed their new highly active member, and invited him to join them in moderating the forum. The result, he says, has been “a time of unparalleled success in my long battle to learn chastity.” 

Much of the power of NoFap, says FAFF, is precisely its secular nature – the fact that, without ever even explicitly mentioning morality or ethics, its users are discovering profound moral truths, and making them available in an unthreatening manner to others who are deeply hurting and in need of those truths, but who might not be willing to listen if those same truths were told them by their local pastor. 

“NoFap does not impose,” he explains. “Officially, it does not even propose -- the mod team is scrupulous about keeping our Official Seal of Approval off any particular version of the program.  There is a lot of debate, but no doctrines.  We simply provide a space for thousands of young men and women to tell their stories, and then we invite readers to ask themselves: does any of this sound familiar to me?  NoFap does not cite the authority of revelation or philosophy or history or science.  Our sole authority is one's own experience, and, though that authority has a hard time reaching the clean, universally applicable conclusions we find in, say, the Summa Contra Gentiles, it's also the hardest authority in the world to impeach.” 

Which immediately brings to mind a famous quote from C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, about the renowned Christian apologist's own failed and miserable youthful experiments with illicit sexual pleasure: “What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing," he wrote. "You may take any number of wrong turnings; but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear. You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you. The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it.” 

At the same time, FAFF admits that NoFap, on its own, isn’t necessarily enough. As a Catholic, he says, he feels that he has been given an advantage over many of his fellow users. While they are left to fall back on their own willpower and resources, he knows that he of himself cannot possibly win the fight for sexual purity, and that ultimately it is an operation of gratuitous Grace. “One of the great cruelties of secular humanism is its suggestion that a person can shape himself into anything he wants simply by putting his mind to it,” he says. “NoFap is a great help for the 99% of the process that is simply putting your mind to it, but sometimes it misses that last 1% that has to come from somewhere else.” 

"I know I can't resist this temptation all on my own.  I am not in control of it.  Without help from some factor outside my control -- I recognize it as grace, others may call it good luck -- I will fail."

But for all of NoFap's flaws, FAFF can barely contain his enthusiasm for what the forum is accomplishing. “I think this movement is (slowly) going to change the world,” he says, with what might seem like a hint of hyperbole. But when pressed on the point he stands by his declaration, and explains:

“As more and more people experience the terrible effects of pornography on their communities, their families, and their spirits, arguments about science and scripture and philosophy and sex are going to continue, as they always have.  But lived experience bypasses the porn industry's stranglehold on academic sexology, skips right past teleological arguments about genitalia.  

“In the end, NoFap changes the world without ever winning an argument or even taking a position on anything.  We change the world just by asking the right questions.”

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

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