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“There’s more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Right now men are collectivizing online to help each other not jerk off. #NOFAP is the movement (and meme), fap [verb] being an onomatopoeic term for penile masturbation, e.g. Mom caught me fapping to Taylor Swift music videos last night. #NOFAPPERS come together on forums like Reddit to discuss and support their not cumming. The reasons to not have to do with mental health and getting “the real thing,” laid by a likely-woman (the talk is chiefly hetero: “Save it for a girl then its gonna be like phwwwoooaaarrrrr over her titt1ez,” posts user “HCAFC” on a “Teen Misc. >> Anti-fap motivation thread” on bodybuilding.com). Abstaining from ejaculation, #NOFAPPERS believe—this based on a National Institute of Health study, because real men believe science—boosts men’s testosterone levels, making them more confident, energetic, and desiring, and so more attractive to others. The program is formulated in response to online porn, its accessibility: it is a distraction, it may become a compulsion; “it's only good till you come, then you feel like **** and possibly fall asleep in your own puddle.” 

There are myriad tricks #NOFAPPERS trade to help each other “no pmo” (no porn, masturbation, orgasm), like going to the gym, or rubbing your hands in hot chili peppers. Much of it is simple mindfulness training. “Alert, avert, affirm,” one forum poster shared as a mantra. Alert meaning noticing yourself wanting, being alert to your triggers. Avert: turning away. And affirm: literally telling yourself affirmations, like “I deserve to be a good father,” or, “I deserve to fuck a real woman,” or, “I deserve love.”

“The word mantra,” wrote B.K.S. Iyengar in his 1965 book Light on Yoga, “is derived from the root ‘man’, meaning to think. Mantra thus means a sacred thought or prayer to be repeated with full understanding of its meaning.” (There’s now a voice in my head lecturing on how inappropriate it is to quote a spiritual text of a foreign faith in the context of jerk-offs. But then, Iyengar again: “The sacred books of the world are for all to read… As bees savor the nectar in various flowers, so the sadhaka absorbs things in other faiths which will enable him to appreciate his own faith better.”) In writing, I work to control meaning, weighing words in context, for their connotations and sound. In speaking, though, and in my mind’s free steam, I can be careless with language, and so of my life’s meaning. A mantra is a mental exercise. You repeat a word or phrase until it flows with breath. In me, it goes like this: Repeating, say, “still,” brings my attention to the absurdity of word forms. In this, I recognize how words are tools; with them, we gesture. I then focus on what’s beyond, or at the root of—whatever my mantra gestures to. I feel for the souls of words, so to speak. I feel—maybe, even—“my” “soul,” this vibratory, forgetful “I am.”

I feel for the souls of words, so to speak.

In 1992, Kathy Acker wrote an essay on bodybuilding. She’d been practicing the art for 10 years, and trying—failing—to write on it for a few. The piece was commissioned, so she made this plan: “I would attend the gym as usual. Immediately after each workout, I would describe all I had just experienced, thought and done.” But always, she forgot to write: “I…some part of me…the part of the ‘I’ who bodybuilds… was rejecting language, any verbal description of the processes of bodybuilding.” Her essay asks why. She describes:

The crossing of the threshold from the world defined by verbal language into the gym in which the outside world is not allowed (and all of its languages) (in this sense, the gym is sacred) takes several minutes. What happens during these minutes is that I forget. Masses of swirling thought, verbalized insofar as I am conscious of them, disappear as mind or thought begins to focus.

At the gym, Acker does reps. She counts motion with breath: “meaning and breath become one.” This Acker calls “the language of the body.” Unlike “ordinary language” (verbal language), wherein, “meaning is contextual,” the language of the body feels eternal; it gets at chaos, essence, strangeness, the felt-truths of being. I think I get it: when I make it with a true-felt lover, or bike Montreal; when I eat Monique’s cooking, baked. It could also be the body’s instinctual response to threat, like when I flew off my bike, flipped, and landed scathe-free like a cat. The language of the body is connecting with what feels “natural” in us. It’s what I imagine “God” feels like to certain believers, this harmony, a hum, vibratory and forgetful, unforced… (“Words tend to be inadequate.”) it comes…

Oh my god oh my god oh my god I’m going to cum I’m going to cum I’m going to cum I’m — I’m — I’m — I’m — still — Yes yes yes Fuck! Yes! fuck, shit, wow… that was…

I can fake to orgasm. I learned this early on. Against the pop feminist counsel that a woman should never, I would. I would to ease my performance anxiety, a fear from late blooming that I couldn’t get there, from a post-feminist man’s expectation that I must. Hearing myself fake, my lust would accelerate. Sounding out loud aroused rhythmic breath (before held). My audible turn on would turn him on and his audible turn on would turn me on and soon enough quite often we were cumming in concert.

My faking was a fix, the problem being voices in my head. I was anxious in bed, reeling on ideas of how I should be, from patriarchal and feminist sources alike. Media media. The entitled lover. And friends: their gossip. I trusted others more than myself, because what could I know? At eighteen? I sought sources for wisdom I thought beyond my years. I tried to see me from without. (I’ve always wanted to be in other people’s heads.)

Lurking #NOFAP forums, I get a glimpse into heads unlike my own. They, these straight guys, whose base desires are advertised everywhere. They who most porn, most media, is made for. Even they have it hard. I imagine porn stars bounce in the imaginations of men who #NOFAP like voices bounce in mine; desire becomes obsession, distraction, interfering; it becomes too much.

“Hyper” comes from the Greek “huper,” meaning over, above, beyond, exceedingly, to excess. Is that the “hyperreal” condition—that there’s too much reality? Too many stories and voices? Too much news, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52.1775 weeks a year? Too much porn—endless streams? Is there too much stuff? Too much being sold to?

Too much of one thing means not enough of another, it’s a being off-kilter. My early sex suffered for having too many desires storied to me—for not being so practiced in touch. It’s a contemporary American affliction: our culture is simultaneously hypersexual and anti-sex. “We simultaneously fetishize and disdain the athlete, a worker in the body,” wrote Acker (I’d extend that to sex workers, including porn stars, and to women in general, depending on the “we”). “For we still live under the sign of Descartes. This sign is also the sign of patriarchy.” Pop culture loves the idea and the image of sex, especially female sex (male gaze), but bodily complexity, intimacy, self-love… hot nuance is hard to come by.

Some #NOFAPPERS are learning nuance, like of their pelvic floors, like how to orgasm without ejaculating—bless the men who can. They are using mantras to go beyond what’s given (in media, culture), to get into the language of their bodies. Still others are repeating patriarchal scripts—of male domination, their entitlement. Their “no pmo” is geared to lay a chick, as if it were a trick. For them, I have a mantra to offer: “I am not a dick.” Try for the soul of it.

Image credits, from top to bottom: 

Cover image by Mike Rinaldi.

Table of contents image by Kristie Muller.

“Excitation/frustration” photograph by Amalia Ulman from “The Destruction of Experience.”

“Visual Orgasms” waterfall gif by Faith Holland.

“Just Feel” photographs by Anna-Sophie Berger.

Boobs gif by Faith Holland.

Bottom banner by Mike Rinaldi.

All images reproduced with permission from the artist.

Supervised by ADULT Magazine.