If you spend a lot of time in certain Extremely Online corners of the internet ecosystem, you’ve likely stumbled onto #NoNutNovember, or just #NNN for short. An annual challenge encouraging men to refrain from masturbating (or even, for many, having any sex) for the month, No Nut November was initially created as a parody of internet-borne phenomena such as the Ice Bucket Challenge or Movember, skewering the silliness of viral internet challenges along with the more extreme claims made by proponents of NoFap, an anti-porn subreddit with half a million members. (No Nut November has no connection to NoFap, though the two are often conflated and NoFap will sometimes post #NNN memes on its social media pages, says Matthew Plummer, a community manager for NoFap.)
For most participants, the challenge is essentially an excuse to shitpost, as well as tweet memes skewering some of the more exaggerated purported benefits of abstaining from masturbation. But there are many who take it seriously, with at least 52,000 people as of this writing diligently documenting their day-by-day progress (and setbacks) on the subreddit r/NoNutNovember. r/NoNutNovember moderator /u/yeeval estimates that approximately 90% of the posts are from people “actively participating, and also there’s the occasional fallen member who stays on the subreddit for the community and laughs.”
On its surface, No Nut November is a fairly innocuous challenge: while it may seem silly to abstain from masturbation for virtually no reason, some of the memes are pretty funny, and a month of abstinence (whether it be from sex or masturbation) certainly isn’t going to kill anyone. u/yeeval says the goal isn’t to demonize porn or masturbation per se, but to prompt men to examine their own masturbation habits. “In my opinion, most originally participate in NNN for the meme aspect of the challenge but as the days go on people begin to see how big their porn or masturbation dependency is,” he says. Plummer too says the general goal of NoFap is not to discourage masturbation in general, but to encourage men to temporarily abstain from the practice and return to “moderate, porn-free, non-compulsive masturbation.”
Yet it would be naive to ignore that there’s significant overlap between the general ideology behind NoFap — and, to a degree, No Nut November — and that of the far right, which has increasingly coopted the principles of masturbation abstinence. Because the challenge is associated with abstaining from porn, some people associated with the movement have taken the extra step of harassing adult performers on social media, giving it an additional layer of troubling implications. “In the past [No Nut November] has always been like, ‘Oh, look at this ridiculous thing some people are participating in,'” says adult performer and director Casey Calvert. “This year, people [in the industry] are talking about, ‘Oh, actually this is connected to the far right and maybe we shouldn’t just be saying hahaha, No Nut November.'”
A new meme brings these implications into sharp relief. Coomer is a reference to a meme of an unkempt, skeezy-looking bearded man in a white tank top with vaguely Semitic features, accompanied by descriptive text like “doesn’t even know anything about politics,” “extremely aesthetic right arm (huge muscle),” and “has never heard of NoFap.”
TAKE THE PLEDGE pic.twitter.com/IGfZ4up4QL
— Teapot (endorsed by pewdiepie) (@TeapotLad) October 29, 2019
It’s been circulating on 4chan for the past year, but Alex Hawkins, the vice president of the porn tube site xHamster, says he started seeing it in the replies on his company’s Twitter feed back in September, when presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted about limiting access to pornography. At first, “we didn’t really know what it meant and thought it was funny,” he tells Rolling Stone. Then, in late October, the coomer resurfaced thanks to a Twitter campaign led by a user named TeapotLad, in which users vowed to change their avatars to the coomer should they fail No Nut November. PewDiePie shouted out the campaign in a recent YouTube video, as did far-right YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson, who is perhaps best known for being one of the many extremist figures, including Milo Yiannopolous and Alex Jones, to be banned from Facebook. “No Nut November and the Coomer meme represent a deeper meaning,” he said in a tweet. “Porn is evil. It literally re-wires your brain and causes erectile dysfunction. Take the pledge. Don’t be a Coomer.”
The term has also been used in the context of “OK coomer,” a play on the “OK boomer” meme, in response to tweets critical of No Nut November or masturbation abstinence in general. “It’s positioned as this epic battle between the weak beta masturbators and the strong, alpha NoFappers,” says Hawkins.
— xHamster (@xhamstercom) November 2, 2019
Like most memes, “coomer” carries with it more than a tinge of irony, and it’s not always easy to determine whether it’s being used flippantly or to actually deride men who masturbate. But the implication is clear: masturbating is an urge that should be resisted at all costs. David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist who studies pornography and mental health, saw the meme after he tweeted his criticism of No Nut November, referring to it as “a creepy little smorgasbord of insecurity-driven hate with anti-Semitism, misogyny, and homophobia all rolled up in one,” he tells Rolling Stone. (Ley has partnered with the cam website Stripchat to do AMAs about sexual health, and plans to appear in one debunking some of the myths associated with No Nut November.)
The idea that there are significant health benefits from abstaining from masturbation is partially based on the (primarily internet-propagated) theory that semen retention is linked to an increase in testosterone and male virility, an idea that has been widely debunked. For the most part, however, the idea that masturbation is somehow feminizing is “rooted in extremely antiquated ideas of masculinity,” many of which are also promoted by far-right groups, says Ley. The Proud Boys, for instance, a far-right extremist group known for its propensity toward violence, has long advocated for its members to abstain from masturbation on the grounds that it boosts testosterone and makes them more appealing to women; indeed, founder Gavin McInnes gave a shoutout to NoFap in a 2015 article for the far-right publication Taki’s Magazine. (The organizers of NoFap have strongly refuted any connection to the Proud Boys.)
An even more extremist version of this far-right anti-masturbation philosophy has been promoted by David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, who has propagated the conspiracy theory that Jews dominate the porn industry and use pornography as a way to control white men. On far-right threads on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, this sentiment is fairly widespread. “Jews not only control most of the pornography industry, they also rely on the goyim to maintain a routine of ejaculation in order to stay docile and non-violent,” one comment reads. Another shared a viral Pornhub tweet poking fun at viewers who’d failed No Nut November, writing, “the Jew mocks you as they poison the minds of millions.” (Pornhub is owned by the Canadian company MindGeek, the CEO of which, Feras Antoon, does not appear to be Jewish, even though there are numerous 4chan /pol/ threads speculating as such.)
Update: 100 million have now fallen.
To the soldiers still going strong, we salute you. Only 29 days to go.
— Pornhub ARIA (@Pornhub) November 2, 2019
This anti-Semitism is also often accompanied by healthy doses of homophobia and racism as well: on these threads, you’ll frequently see users deriding men who masturbate to heterosexual porn, on the grounds that being aroused by another man’s penis makes you gay (even if said penis is depicted going into a vagina). And because mainstream porn often features white women paired with black men, there’s also a virulently racist element to much of this discourse, such as the suggestion that interracial porn is intended to steer white women away from procreating with white men and toward men of color.
The irony of this strain of the anti-masturbation movement is that, while it’s ostensibly intended to fight the larger porn industry’s attempts to brainwash and emasculate white men, anti-masturbation ideology has historically been used as a tool by fascist figures to gain social control. Cultural stigma associated with masturbation, combined with the fact that pretty much everyone masturbates, invariably leads to a lot of men “developing a lot of internal shame,” says Ley. “And that makes them open to manipulation and social control.” As an example, he cited the National Socialist Party in 1930s Germany, which strongly discouraged Hitler Youth members from engaging in masturbation. Because anti-porn and anti-masturbation movements tend to be comprised of young heterosexual males, they could potentially be viewed by some on the far right as ideal recruitment grounds. The fact that something like No Nut November appears to be a joke on its face “appears to serve as this interesting front door recruiting kind of strategy to bring folks into this deeper, much more insidious and shaming movement,” says Ley.
Of course, it goes without saying that not everyone who participates in No Nut November or NoFap is a white supremacist or religious fundamentalist, and that the founders of these groups explicitly reject any suggestions of overlap between the two communities. u/yeeval says he has seen no hint of any anti-Semitic or misogynistic commentary on the subreddit, chalking any suggestions of Jewish porn conspiracy theories to “someone trying to make a bad / overtly offensive joke.” “NoNutNovember isn’t a political movement. We are not anti-porn. We are not anti-woman. We are not anti-masturbation or anti-sex,” he says. “In its most simple form NoNutNovember just a fun internet challenge that has grown in popularity due to many memes that circulate the internet…However, I also think that the reason that it has become so widespread is that it has given many the opportunity to look within themselves and realize that they might be relying on masturbation and porn for comfort.”
Plummer, the NoFap community manager, says that the subreddit’s moderators have been “dismayed to see that some hate and fringe groups, particularly antisemitic groups, appear to be co-opting anti-porn views as a part of their platforms.” “We’ve only seen a small handful of antisemitic trolls join our website forum irregularly, only to be immediately banned by our moderation team,” he says, pointing to the subreddit’s policies banning misogynistic or anti-Semitic posts. He characterizes the suggestion of overlap between anti-pornography ideology and far-right groups as a tool utilized by the “porn industry and its advocates…to smear people in recovery,” referring to it as “not only very lazy, fallacious, and disingenuous, but also highly offensive to those who have been fighting for the official recognition of ‘porn addiction’ from the mental healthcare field for years.”
The coomer meme is also, at least inherently, apolitical, says Alice Vaughn, host of Two Girls One Mic, a podcast about porn tropes. “The concept surrounding ‘Coomer’ is neither right nor left politically. The urge to shame those with higher sex drives is nothing new, and is a subject many are uncomfortable with, especially adolescents (which is predominately 4Chan’s user base),” she says.
But the rise of “coomer,” with its distinctly conservative implications about male sexuality, would seem to refute that the anti-masturbation movement is totally innocent or entirely intended in jest. The fact that it’s often used in the context of “OK coomer,” a play on a meme intended to skewer boomers’ criticism of Gen Z, also indicates that this is primarily a youth-driven phenomenon. When you consider how younger generations have typically adopted a more healthy, progressive view of sexuality than previous ones, this doesn’t make a lot of intuitive sense — but it actually tracks with current data, which indicates that younger generations are having less sex, Ley says.
Usually, this phenomenon is attributed to male millennials and zoomers (members of Gen Z) spending more time watching porn, and to an extent this may be true; when it comes to determining the effects of pornography viewing on male sex lives, research is somewhat mixed. But it’s also just as likely that sociocultural factors like economic unrest and fear-mongering abstinence-only education have also played a role in these declining sexual activity rates. “We’ve spent decades telling these young kids be afraid of sex, and that only hereto monogamous sex is OK and moral,” says Ley. “Now all of a sudden they are really conflicted about sex and their own sexuality.”
That said, there’s also an awful lot of men who are not participating in No Nut November in earnest, and many more who aren’t participating at all. In an email to Rolling Stone, Pornhub vice president Corey Price said that traffic is virtually unaffected by No Nut November, and few of the adult performers Rolling Stone spoke with said that they hadn’t seen their engagement go down considerably during the month either. Considering that annual Pornhub traffic numbers are in the tens of billions, if there is indeed a wider porn conspiracy to sap men of their virility, that conspiracy appears to be working pretty well. But for those who are participating in the challenge, and may have stumbled along the way, Calvert has a comforting message: “I personally think No Nut November is very silly,” she says. “Not masturbating for a month does not make you a better man or a stronger man.”
Editors note: This story has been updated to include comment from NoFap and the creator of the No Nut November subreddit, as well as to clarify the masturbation stance of NoFap.