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Three Years On…

It’s been over three years since I wrote the initial post in this blog: “How I did 70 days of NoFap on hardmode, without breaking a sweat, after 7 years of failure”. Since then, this blog has received around 150,000 views, 110,000 visitors, and 100 comments, which has been very encouraging.

I’ve also received a number of queries as to whether I’m still going strong, so I thought it was time to post an update on how I’m going, and then perhaps include some reflections or lessons I have learned over the last three years.

I’ll begin with a recap of the last three years. The first thing to say is “yes, I am still doing NoFap”. I did go through a bad patch in the middle of 2013, but I put that behind me. I now have a badge over at the NoFap reddit page that says I’m nearly 600 days fap-free. So I haven’t done a perfect three years, but I’m still definitely on the NoFap wagon.

 

Summary of my last three years

First streak: 6 months, in 2012-13 (this was when I wrote my initial blog post).

Bad patch: 4 ½ months, in 2013 (in a “quit then relapse” cycle).

Second streak: 10 months, in 2013-14 (this streak ended when I masturbated once).

Current streak: 19 months and counting, from 2014-present.

 

The last three years in a bit more detail

This next section might be a bit long or boring, so feel free to skip it if you’re happy with the above summary. I’ve included the section below just in case people want to know a bit more about the context and causes of my relapse and recovery.

The first ‘no sweat’ streak that I described in my original blog post lasted beyond the initial 70 days, to a total of 182 days – around six months. Everything that helped me succeed in that streak has been written up already in my previous posts, so I won’t say anything more about that.

About three months into that first streak, I asked a girl out and entered into a serious relationship. I was very glad to have gone three months without masturbating when I asked her out, because I could share with her the history of my struggle, but I could also say ‘I don’t do that anymore’. Because I could place it in the past, it was a lot easier to share with a girl I really liked. I fell in love, she fell in love with me, and things were great!

Then came my first relapse after discovering the new method. Part of the problem was that kissing my girlfriend, or even holding hands or just being around her, led to me becoming quite aroused, physically, even if I was controlling my thoughts and refusing to think about sex. It makes sense I guess. Even if you’re controlling your thoughts, not fantasising, and staying right in the moment; when you have a warm, soft, attractive body pressing against yours, arousal is the body’s natural response. Not much you can do about that, except not kiss and cuddle.

While I can’t say for sure if this is true, at the time I felt that I was becoming hooked on those warm feelings of arousal that I got when I was around my girlfriend. I found myself feeling quite down when we were apart, and in an attempt to get back some of those good feelings, and as a bit of a pick-me-up, I got into the habit of edging before going to sleep at night. In case you’re not familiar with that term, ‘edging’ is masturbating without orgasming. In my case, it was without porn or fantasy. Edging was comforting and made me feel better, and so just as long as I didn’t orgasm or look at porn or engage in sexual fantasy (it was within the bounds of the rules I had set for myself) I told myself it was fine. I wasn’t even worried that it would lead to a relapse, because I was so confident that I could shut down arousal and move on just by controlling my thoughts. And it’s true that I could stop edging, turn my mind to other things, go to sleep, and then the arousal would be gone the next day. It seemed to be totally fine. But then one night I went too far by accident, and orgasmed. In hindsight, it was probably inevitable.

I was pretty annoyed at myself for relapsing, but it got worse after that. It turns out that a significant part of my motivation for doing NoFap was to prove to myself and others that it was possible to go for extended periods of time without masturbating. And the day counter on the NoFap reddit was a great reminder of how much I had achieved. But now that my counter was reset to zero, and I had no long streak to ‘protect’, I had much less motivation to abstain from orgasm. In addition, I had proven to myself that I could go for a long time without masturbation, porn, or sexual fantasy, so with nothing left to prove, and confident that I could stop anytime, I let myself go for a bit. The next four and a half months were characterised by intermittent attempts to quit – one lasting over a month, but most around a week – interspersed with periods of masturbation – including porn and sexual fantasy. Looking back, I probably could have stopped properly at any time if I really wanted to, but the problem was a lack of motivation. I’ll talk about this in more depth in another post.

In the midst of all this, my girlfriend and I got engaged. Some might say it was a little quick, but I knew after the first date that I wanted to marry her, so waiting six months seemed like plenty of time. And I think this provided the motivation that I needed to quit masturbation again – I didn’t want to bring masturbation, porn and sexual fantasy into my marriage. Not only that, but I was getting sick of the up and downs of half-heartedly trying to quit masturbation and then relapsing over and over again. So I got real, I focussed, and resolved to quit well in advance of our wedding date – four months in advance to be exact. Once again I used the technique of complete thought and arousal control (insofar as one can control arousal while being engaged). It was much harder this time, what with being in a relationship, and having the constant arousal that went with that. But with my motivation restored, I was able to once again block out sexual thoughts and shut down arousal whenever I was not with her.

This second good streak lasted ten months – the four months leading up to the wedding, and then six months into the marriage. It ended when I masturbated once, about six months after we got married. We were travelling overseas, my wife was at a conference for the day, and I was bored in the hotel room. We hadn’t had sex for a couple of days, I was feeling aroused, and so I decided to masturbate. I thought to myself, ‘Why not? I’ll just fantasise about my wife, and so it will be fine, relationally and ethically speaking’. I think most people would agree that there’s nothing wrong with thinking sexual thoughts about one’s spouse, and I didn’t use porn or sexual fantasy, so was it fine?

At the end of the day, I regretted masturbating. I regretted it partly because it meant the end of a very long NoFap streak. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about NoFap or my streak counter for so long that it wasn’t even a factor when I decided to masturbate. But afterwards I realised that I would have to reset my counter and start over again, and that was a bit of a bummer.

But the main reason I regretted it was that when my wife got back to the hotel she wanted to have sex, but I wasn’t interested since I had just orgasmed. That was disappointing for my wife. And even though she was glad that I was thinking about her when I masturbated, and not fantasising about other women, she still felt a bit cheated that I had enjoyed sexual pleasure without her. So we sat down and talked about it, and we agreed that it would be better for our marriage if we both saved up our sexual energy so that we could have sex with each other. We also decided to make sexual pleasure something special that we would share and give to one another – something to be enjoyed only with the other person.

So that was that, and I haven’t masturbated since then, which was about a year and a half ago. And to be honest, I can’t see myself masturbating again. Now that I have experimented with masturbation in marriage, and found it dissatisfying and not relationally beneficial, I can’t see myself going back.

 

Where I am today

So what’s it like being married and not masturbating or using porn or sexual fantasy? Well it’s good, I guess, and I’m very glad that I don’t struggle with it any more. But I wouldn’t say it’s amazing; it’s not as though I wake up every day and high-five the world because I don’t masturbate. Sure, I felt that way when I first overcame my habit, but now it just feels normal. I guess we get used to changes and new ways of being, and they stop being so special. And that’s OK I guess. Mostly I’m thankful when I think about what it would be like if I didn’t have control over my sexuality, and if I were still addicted to sexual fantasy and masturbation. I really can’t imagine what it would be like, and how it would impact my marriage. Given that my wife and I are Christians, and we both believe that sexual desire should be directed only towards one’s spouse, if I were still masturbating and fantasising, I would either have to hide it from my wife, or it would be something that we were working towards fixing together. I don’t want to hide things from my wife – dishonesty can be hugely damaging to a marriage – and I don’t want to live in struggle-town either. So the place I am is really the best place I can be, even if it doesn’t make me euphoric all the time. On second thoughts, maybe I should be more thankful, and reflect on the blessing that it is to not struggle any more with something that so many people struggle with.

Well that’s about it. That should bring you up to speed for now. Stay tuned for some more posts to come, as I reflect on some of the things I’ve learned over the last three years.

Feel free to put any questions or comments below, and stay strong!

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How to master your thoughts

Introduction

In my other posts on overcoming porn, fantasy and masturbation, I talked about ‘turning away from’ or ‘blocking out’ a sexual thought, image or cue the very instant you become aware of it, before it has a chance to release more arousal hormones into your bloodstream.

In fact, I think that shutting down all sexual thought really was the key to me giving up porn, fantasy and masturbation so easily this time, because it allowed me to stop the battles before they even began. This made things so much more pleasant, and much more successful. One forum member described my experience almost exactly:

I believe this is a primary cause for my failure in the past — yes, I knew not to [masturbate], but I would allow my mind to wander all over the friggin place thinking that was a reasonable substitute. Yeah, that was okay for the first week or so, but as time wore on, it just becomes unbearable. Don’t torture yourselves like that.

Because blocking out sexual thought is so beneficial, I thought it would be worth writing a bit more on how this works, in case people are finding it difficult to control their thoughts. I realise that it’s probably not enough to just say, ‘Don’t think about sex’, and leave it at that. While I did talk a bit about this in another post (Section B, 2-4), I’ve had some more thoughts, and have gotten some input from others, which might help those still struggling with this technique.

Sexual thoughts, images or cues

Just to reiterate, a sexual thought, image or cue, which is what we want to shut down, is not necessarily a mental picture of a sexual nature. We need to learn to detect the sexual cues that are more subtle than that. Sometimes a sexual cue is not visual, but is rather just a thought. I often think about life and relationships and find myself riding a train of thought that leads from ‘making toast’ to ‘having sex’ (don’t worry, there were a number of steps in between). Sometimes the physical stimulation of a person’s body can produce a certain sensation which can implant in the mind a desire for sexual satisfaction. As mentioned elsewhere, a sexual cue could be situational, such as finding oneself home alone or laying down to rest after a hard day of work. Upon waking in the morning, a person might think to themselves: ‘Mmmm… warm bed… comfortable… pleasure… masturbate.’ This is somewhere between a situational cue and a train of thought, and in my experience the two often do go together. And then there are the obvious sensory cues like the sight and smell of an attractive person, or a billboard displaying women in underwear. For regular internet porn users, I suspect that the very action of opening up a web browser will trigger anticipation that pornography will be accessed, resulting in the release of arousal hormones. That alone could be a sexual cue. I know that when I open up a web browser, I often accidentally find myself on facebook or my email, even when I was actually intending to check the weather. And even if navigating to porn sites is not as habitual as navigating to facebook or email, porn will surely raise itself as an option numerous times over the course of a session sitting at a computer. As the mind flicks through the options for internet/computer use at a speed that makes it almost imperceptible, the idea of porn will be among them, and it will probably be a lot more attractive than the others. Even turning your computer on might prompt your mind to ask the question, ‘porn?’ That’s a situational cue, and even at that very initial stage your body might start releasing endorphins in anticipation. That’s why you need to be sensitive to excitement and arousal, be aware of the cues that cause it, and you need to shut them down hard and fast.

Avoiding sexual thoughts, images or cues?

When using my approach to this issue, I think it’s quite important that you don’t worry too much about the initial sexual thought, image or cue coming into your mind. More often than not, they just happen whether you like it or not, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. As attributed to Martin Luther (among others), “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” Some people go to great lengths to avoid situations or places where a sexual thought, image or cue might enter their mind, but I find this to be not only very burdensome, but ultimately quite impossible. As careful as I am, I find random sexual thoughts popping into my mind at the most unexpected of times. Like when making toast. If I freaked out every time this happens, I would freak out a lot. And the danger of over-emphasising the avoidance of initial sexual thoughts, images or cues is that it can leave us unprepared for when we inevitably encounter one. When we find ourselves sexually aroused, despite our best efforts, we might resign ourselves to relapse, because there was no plan for this contingency.

So rather than focussing on avoiding films, magazines, books, billboards, pop music, and people I find sexually attractive, I prefer to work on how I respond mentally when I encounter a sexual cue in a film, magazine, book etc. The advantage of this approach is that it is internal, rather than external. Because we can’t control the outside world, but we can control our inner thought life. Moreover, this approach, once perfected, renders us largely immune to whatever life may throw our way. And be assured that life will throw things your way. So I find it much more reliable to train my mind to deal with sexual cues in a consistent, positive manner, than to go through life hoping that I never encounter a sexual cue.

Of course it is wise to reduce external sexual stimulus as far as possible. Why make things harder on yourself? But I don’t think that this can be the only focus, or even the main one. And an added benefit of working on your internal response to sexual thoughts, images or cues is that as you grow accustomed to immediately turning the mind away from sexual thought, you will find that you no longer subconsciously seek out sexual thoughts, images or cues. Eyes will scan over a billboard of a woman in lingerie without even focussing on the image or taking it in. You will view women as people rather than sexual objects to be assessed and consumed, and your eyes will naturally focus on theirs, rather than straying downwards. Old situational cues, like waking from a nap, will no longer even trigger the initial burst or arousal, and random sexual thoughts will become less and less frequent. In the first month of abstinence I would have a random sexual thought around 2-3 times per day, which would release a burst of arousal hormones, and require me to turn away from the sexual thought immediately. Now, after 70 days, this usually happens only once per day, and often not at all. I suspect that this is my subconscious learning that there is really no point in raising the idea of sex in the first place, because it just doesn’t go anywhere.

How to ignore a sexual thought: thinking about something else

Finally I get to the key section. How to turn the mind away and ignore a sexual thought, image or cue. Part of the problem is that, as they say, it’s an impossible task to not think of a pink elephant. It’s more or less the same with sex. If you focus really hard on the sexual thought in an attempt to nullify it, it will only become more prominent in your mind. Trying really hard to not think about something doesn’t really work. But as Isaac Newton noted, a long time ago, “The way to chastity is not to struggle directly with incontinent thought, but to avert your thoughts by some employment – by reading or meditating on other things or by converse. For he that’s always thinking of chastity will be always thinking of women.”

So what you need to do is to ignore the sexual thought, image or cue. And the best way to do this is to think about something else. If you experience your mind as a visual field, then what you need to do is to focus your mind’s eye on another thought or idea, other than the sexual image. This act will result in the sexual image becoming out of focus, and eventually fading away. There are a number of different ways that a person might visualise this action, and I suspect that our subjective experiences of our minds are quite different. So I’ll present a few possible ways that one might describe the action of ignoring a sexual thought, in the hope that one might work for you. Any one will do if it works, so just ignore any that don’t really make sense. I’ll start with a few of my own attempts to describe what goes on in my own mind, before offering some ideas from others. What I describe is not going to be a perfect description of what goes on in my mind, because that is too vague to put into words. I’m aiming for rough equivalents, or analogies.

Analogy 1: The rabbit hole

Suppose you a Beagle, and you love chasing rabbits and sticking your head down rabbit holes. You are looking out over a green field, which contains grass, rocks and shrubs, when out of the corner of your eye you see a rabbit hole. A small, dark dot in your field of vision. As a Beagle, your instinct is to lock onto the rabbit hole and stare at it. When you do, the black hole moves to the centre of your vision, and you focus on it. You race towards it, and it gets larger, and larger, as you get closer. Eventually, you get so close it takes up almost all of your vision, and you stick your head down the hole, and the black dot fully envelopes you.

This is sometimes how I experience a sexual thought. The Beagle’s field of vision is your mind’s eye, and the rabbit hole is a sexual thought, image or cue that creeps into your mind. What begins as a small peripheral dot in my mind’s eye, draws my focus like a magnet. It is attractive and appealing. Like the Beagle, I lock onto it and race towards it and it becomes bigger and bigger, crowding out all other thoughts. Then I stick my head down into it and I forget everything else. That’s obviously what you don’t want to do. So these days, when I see that black dot out of the corner of my eye, rather than locking onto it and racing towards it, I look at something else. I look at the rocks, or the grass, or the shrubs, or the beautiful clouds in the sky. Oftentimes I think to myself, ‘Where was I going before I spotted that rabbit hole?’. If I was going over the hill, then I focus my eyes on the crest of the hill and run towards that. Or, shifting out of the metaphor, I ask myself, ‘What was I thinking about before I started thinking about sex?’. It’s a matter of latching onto something else, and ignoring the sexual thought.

Analogy 2: The waving hand

Another way of thinking about it might be thus. Suppose you are trying to read a book, but there is a hand waving in front of your face. If you get irritated and stare at the hand, it moves closer to your face, and seems to grow bigger, until it blocks your sight completely. But if you ignore it, look through it and past it, focus on the page, and continue reading, it moves away from your face, and seems to grow smaller. If you keep focussing on the book, eventually the hand moves back behind the book where it continues to wave back and forth, now appearing, then disappearing behind the book. The hand is still there, and you can see it in your peripheral vision, but it no longer obscures the text in the book, and it soon moves so far away that you more or less forget about it. The hand, of course, is the sexual thought, and again, your field of vision is your mind’s eye.

Key points

In both of these examples, I am trying to make three points. Firstly, you can’t actually make the sexual thought (the rabbit hole or waving hand) go away. That is not within the power of the either the Beagle or the reader. But it actually doesn’t matter, which brings me to the second point. The second point is that even though the sexual thought is there, it’s not a problem, because you can just ignore it and focus on something else, or even run towards something else. The sexual thought can stay within the peripheral vision of your mind’s eye as long as it wants, so long as you don’t focus on it and encourage it to grow. ‘Ignoring’ something does not rely on making something go away. It’s getting on with other things despite the presence of that thing. And the third point, and here’s the good news, is that as you pursue that other line of thought, the sexual thought will naturally shift out of focus, move to your peripheral vision, and shrink, until it ultimately vanishes. Or I suppose that’s what happens, because I’m no longer aware of it by that stage.

As no-one who wants you face up to your problems ever said, ‘Ignore it and it will go away.’ That’s not a prescription for dealing with life’s problems in general, but I have found it to be a good way to deal with sexual thought and arousal.

Stalling thoughts, not removing them

In my experience, you don’t need to worry too much about trying to remove or banish a thought from your mind completely. All you need to do is stall or starve the process by which a sexual thought grows in power and prominence. You just need to not encourage it. You see, normally when I notice a sexual thought, my mind latches onto it immediately. It’s attractive and alluring, like a rabbit hole to a Beagle (I guess). I focus on it, I examine it, and I start to delve deeper. I think about the sexual thought in more detail, and in richer colours. I explore the sexual scenario that comes to mind. I push into it, and what was once a small dark dot envelopes me and I lose myself in the fantasy. In this process, arousal hormones and endorphins are released, in initially small but ever increasing amounts. These in turn motivate me to press in even more deeply, and they also shut down the prefrontal cortex, as I have described elsewhere. It is in the nature of a sexual thought to draw you in and lead you into a more involved engagement with itself. Or perhaps it is in the nature of my mind to follow a sexual thought, explore it and attempt to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

However, if the instant I notice the sexual thought, image or cue, I simply turn away and focus on something else, then I starve it of the ability to grow, and it releases only the very initial burst of arousal hormones. I refuse to ‘examine’ it, even though it looks very interesting. I refuse to follow it down the rabbit hole. I just leave it sitting there as a random, impotent idea in my mind, and focus on something else. Whatever I do, I don’t follow the sexual thought where it wants to lead me.

Backtracking

Have you ever wondered how a weird conversation got so weird, thought back to the initial topic, and then traced its evolution to the present topic? Or have you ever been in a conversation where a person has forgotten what they wanted to say, so you quickly rehash the trajectory of the conversation in an attempt to jog their memory? Or have you ever found yourself thinking about something completely random, and wondered how you go to thinking about that? I often wonder about that when I find myself thinking about sex. And in fact, tracing the line of thought backwards can be a great way to turn away the sexual thought. As discussed above, sexual thoughts often seek to lead you onwards. They entice and drag you forwards into a deeper and more detailed consideration of the sexual thought. So a great way to stall that process is to backtrack – instead of following the train of thought forward, you follow it backwards, and try to recall what you were thinking about just before you started thinking about sex. If that thought is not particularly interesting or engaging, think about what the thought was prior to that, and so on. By the time you’ve thought back several steps, you should have found something else to think about, and forgotten the sexual thought, or at least stalled its progress.

Analogy 3: The energy beam

At other times, I imagine that a sexual thought or image is something that I can lock onto with my attention, like with one of those energy beams that the Ghostbusters use. The energy beam makes the sexual thought grow and grow, but when I break the connection, it stops growing, and starts to shrink. Of course the instant a sexual thought, image or cue enters my mind, my attention automatically locks onto it. That’s because I like those thoughts. They make me feel good, and I want to lock onto them and see them grow. But these days, the instant I realise that I have locked onto a sexual thought, I turn away and lock my energy beam onto something else, and break the connection to the sexual thought, image or cue. Then the sexual thought gradually shrinks and vanishes.

All of these different metaphors are just my attempts to explain the one process, as I perceive it in my mind. Although I have gone into some detail about what seems to be a lengthy process, in actual fact, when I do this, it is an almost instantaneous reaction of detaching my focus from the sexual thought and redirecting my attention elsewhere. It takes about half of a second. The descriptions I have given are what you might see if you zoomed right in and put the thought process into extreme slow motion. Another forum user explained it much more succinctly:

So, if you start thinking of porn, just open your eyes wide (physically), pay attention to your surroundings, and then start thinking about them or something else.

I should really learn to write this concisely.

Another technique

I’ve included below another technique, quite different to mine. I can’t verify its effectiveness, as I’ve never used it, but if it works for this forum user it might work for others.

If you read something or see something that makes you start thinking about masturbating (or if you’re just lying in bed and start thinking), you have to pull these thoughts out of your head. I mean literally PULLING them out of your head. So what I do is I grab an invisible rope on the side of my head (this rope is my masturbation fantasies). Then I start pulling the invisible rope out of my head. Then I throw it away. For me it also works to grab the thought, like DIGGING the thought out of my head, then when I am holding it in my hand, I throw it away. I repeat this action for a moment, maybe 30 seconds. (edited for punctuation, grammar and slang)

Although this technique is different to mine, in that it seeks to actually remove a thought rather than just sideline or ignore it, I’ve included it because it is dealing with the desire to masturbate at the thought level.

Practising the technique

Now that you have an idea of what it might look like to ignore or turn away from a sexual thought, image or cue, you can practise it the next time you notice that you are aroused. Try to catch the arousal at the very initial stage, the instant you start to feel curious about, or a pull towards, something sexual. When you notice even the slightest arousal, try to locate and identify what is actually going on on your body. Is there a warm, tingly feeling just above your stomach? Or in your groin? If you’re a guy, do you have an erection? Try to specify what is going on, and what you are feeling, physically. These are all the effects of endorphins in your blood stream. Then identify what the sexual thought, image or cue was that triggered the release of these endorphins in the first place. Is there an idea in your brain that is taking you for a ride? Did you see something and you are holding the image in your mind? Or did a bodily urge make you think about sex or masturbation? Do what I have suggested above to try to sideline that thought, image or cue – ignore it and focus completely on something else. Then check back in in an hour to see how you feel (maybe set an alarm to remind you to check back, because you don’t want to have to keep thinking about it). In an hour, if the physical effects (warm tingly feeling in the stomach etc) are gone, then congratulations, you have successfully prevented the further release of endorphins and terminated the arousal process, just by using your mind. Simply repeat this process whenever you notice arousal or become aware that you are dwelling on a sexual cue.

But if you find that in an hour you still feel aroused physically, then your mind is probably dwelling on the sexual cue. Even if you think that you are focussing on something else, you might be secretly keeping a part of your focus on the sexual cue. That’s understandable, because part of your brain really likes that thought and wants it to stick around. Part of your brain thinks that something good is going to come of it, and wants to keep the idea alive. So make sure that you tell yourself that you’re not going to gratify your arousal, and that you’re not going to masturbate. At least not today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today. “Sorry brain, it ain’t gonna happen. May as well forget about it.” Instead, visualise yourself in an hour’s time feeling 100% relaxed and un-aroused, without any desire to masturbate. Having accepted that nothing ‘good’ will come of this sexual thought today, get back to whatever else you were doing – completely refocus your mind on something else. So long as the arousal persists, keep practising turn your mind away from the sexual cue. Your brain will repeatedly want to go back to that sexual thought, however, because it’s a lot more interesting than your homework, but every time it does, just say, ‘Uh uh’, and turn back to your homework. Starve the thought and it will die.

Whatever you do, don’t fear the arousal, it’s actually a great opportunity to practice the very skill you want to develop. See the arousal as a welcome and necessary sparring partner. You will know that you have succeeded when you realise that the physical arousal is gone (it usually takes 30-60 mins after completely ceasing to dwell on the sexual image, thought or cue). Until that happens, keep trying! You will get it eventually.

One example of what not to do (perhaps think of your own examples)

In contrast to ignoring a sexual thought, image or cue, as described above, often when I was tempted to masturbate in the past, I would find myself ‘struggling against’ the temptation in a really, really stupid way. I would think to myself, “OK, I have just had the idea of masturbating, I wonder if I should do it or not? I probably shouldn’t, but let’s consider the pros and cons. The ‘pros’ are that it will feel really good. How will it feel? Well, let me think about what it feels like. Let me imagine myself masturbating and what I will be thinking of, and how it will make me feel (after all, I need to have an accurate idea of what the positive benefits of masturbation will be in order to make a good decision here).” Of course, by this stage I am completely aroused to the point where my prefrontal cortex is probably already shut down, and all the long-term, rational reasons I have for not masturbating are nowhere to be found. Game over.

Imagining or anticipating a potential actual sexual encounter (including masturbation) is one of the strongest sexual cues that exists. By ‘weighing up the pros and cons’, what I am really doing is dwelling on a massive sexual cue which leaves me so aroused that I am beyond the point of no return, though I don’t realise it. I kid myself that I am simply thinking through the ‘pros’ of masturbation, but then when I get to assessing the ‘cons’, well, long-term commitments just don’t seem so important anymore. Consequences in the middle to long-term future seem so far away. The cumulative effect of many of these sorts of actions is not such a big deal, because after all, “It’s just this one last time. And I’ll start over tomorrow.” I’m already beaten, and I don’t even know it. I think I’m being rational and I’m in control, but I’m a dead man walking.

The lesson is, don’t even think about masturbating, because when you do, you will get aroused. And the more aroused you are, the more you want to keep thinking about masturbation, which then makes you more aroused. It’s a positive feedback loop. So don’t even think about thinking about masturbation. Think about something else instead.

So now when I have the idea to masturbate, rather than projecting forward and imagining the act of masturbation in detail, I freeze the thought at the initial concept stage, perhaps limiting the thought to no more than the very word ‘masturbation’ – certainly not allowing that initial word or concept to flesh itself out into a more real or detailed mental scenario. At all costs I refuse to follow the cue or sign forward, to what it is pointing to. I freeze the process, and either backtrack to the previous thought, think about something else, or just back away very slowly. Whatever I do, I don’t follow the rabbit down the hole.

Conclusion

Well, I hope I haven’t bored you with too much detail, but since this practice seemed to be the key to my recent success in avoiding porn, sexual fantasy and masturbation, I thought I ought to explain it in more detail, rather than just saying ‘don’t think about sex’.

In summary, the key is to ignore the sexual thought, image or cue, and to turn your attention away from it. Turn the mind to something else, and don’t worry if the sexual thought remains in the background of your mind. It will go away by itself if you refuse to pay it any more attention.

Did I mention that this technique has many applications in other areas of life too? Are you stressing about something that you can’t control, and therefore don’t really need to think about? Just ignore it. Are you depressed about something that you can’t change? Just ignore it. Are you angry about something that you don’t want to be angry about? Just ignore it. Since quitting porn, sexual fantasy and masturbation over two months ago, I have found myself using this same technique to control sadness, anxiety and anger, to great positive effect. Don’t repress or ignore your emotions altogether though. If you’re angry or sad about something for good reason, acknowledge it. And if there’s a healthy way to express it, then express it. If your anxiety is telling you to take action, take it. If you’re constantly worried, look for the source and seek change. But sometimes there are things that we’ve thought about, and we know that we shouldn’t let them bother us, but they still do. Or maybe it’s something that we just can’t do anything about or express in a healthy way. Perhaps it’s an obsessive thought that you can’t stop thinking about but which is affecting your mood negatively. Sometimes it is just better to let it go. And I’ve found this to be a great way to do this.

If you have any questions at all, comment below and I will get back to you!

Helpful practices for the fight against porn, fantasy and masturbation

In my first post, on how I overcame porn, sexual fantasy and masturbation, I outlined eight key things that I did differently this time, that seemed to make the present attempt quite easy (Section B). Since then, I have become aware of some other useful practices or strategies that I used less consciously, and I have had other people suggest things that resonate with my own experiences. I have listed them below, and will continue to add ideas as they come to my attention. I have relisted the initial eight strategies for a sense of completeness, so if you have already read my first post, skip down and start at point 9.

1. Understanding the physiology and endocrinology of sexual arousal

One thing that really helped me was being aware that it is hormones and endorphins that make me feel aroused, horny, or ‘on edge’. I learned that these hormones are released in response to my mind dwelling on sexual cues, and I discovered that they are only temporary and don’t continue to escalate indefinitely (unless I continually dwell on sexual thoughts). I’ve come to realise that the minute I stop dwelling on sexual thoughts, the hormones start to subside, and they are usually gone within an hour, and always overnight. Knowing this makes it much easier to get through rough patches. Even if I find myself really aroused, I know that it will pass. Sometimes I’m even curious to see how long the arousal takes to subside – treating it like an experiment really helps. Interesting note: the other day a very arousing image came to mind while I was in the shower, and ‘BOOM!’, my body exploded with endorphins. I turned my mind away immediately and refused to give the image any more consideration. Twenty minutes later, the arousal was completely gone, and I was back to baseline. All it took was twenty minutes. That’s pretty sweet. Anyway, I’ve written a lot more on the physiology and endocrinology of sexual arousal, here. Have a look if you are interested.

2. Learning to recognise a sexual thought, image or cue

I believe that the single most important thing that I’ve changed this time, is that the instant I register a sexual thought or image or cue, I turn away immediately, and shut it out. That’s the key to my success, I have no doubt. But before you can shut out such a thought or image, you need to know when you’re onto one. I know when I’ve hit a sexual thought now because I feel a warm burst of endorphins flooding into the region just above my stomach, I feel my chest tighten, and sometimes my groin muscles start to loosen or contract. It’s pretty obvious to me now when that happens. The cue could be a cute girl who walks past in short shorts, a billboard of a model in lingerie, or a random thought about sex that my mind wanders into while I’m thinking about other things (trains of thought can be be pretty strange at times). Even if you don’t get a really obvious burst of endorphins, you’re probably aware of what a sexual thought is. Algebra is not sexual. Boobs are sexual. A sexual cue could even be situational, like a sense of anticipation as I get into the shower, or close my bedroom door and drop my bag after a long day. It might be the thought process that goes ‘Now that I’m done with that task, I can take a break. What would I like to do? I could have a coffee, a nap, I could masturbate…’. Or if I’m on the computer, it could be the thought, ‘I wonder if there are any new videos at that site?’ or ‘Hey, I could just check out that site for a bit – it might be interesting.’ Sometimes a sexual cue is nothing more than a bodily sense of longing for sexual gratification, with no real object of desire. Whatever the cue is that triggers your arousal (or even just piques your interest), you need to get good at recognising such a cue. Over time you’ll be able to know when you’ve hit a cue when you get a burst of endorphins. For me the endorphin burst became much more acute after a week without ejaculation, as my sex drive increased.

3. Learning to instantly turn the mind away from the sexual thought, image or cue

It’s important to know that these sexual ‘cues’ result in the release of endorphins into your system, which makes you feel interested, aroused, and warm and fuzzy, but also shuts down your prefrontal cortex (the higher, more rational part of your brain) which is telling you that you shouldn’t masturbate. For this reason, you need to block out the sexual thought or mental image immediately. Don’t entertain the thought or flirt with it just a little because you enjoy the warm feeling it brings. The same goes for edging. That warm feeling is hormones putting your body into sex mode and shutting down that part of your brain that reminds you why you don’t want to masturbate. That feeling is warm, creeping death. The instant you feel even a tiny bit aroused or curious, you need to shut out that thought. No arguments. But here’s the good news. Make that reaction automatic and you’ll never have to struggle with this again. You will have already won.

By now you will see that what I am suggesting is complete absence of intentional sexual thought. Random thoughts come whether we like it or not, but what I’m suggesting is that you instantly reject and block them. Now I know that’s something that not everyone is prepared to do. If you’re like me, you probably want to entertain and enjoy sexual thoughts and fantasies, and would rather not sacrifice all sexual thought. We just want to not masturbate. Of course this is up to each of us, and if people want to keep going with the sexual thought and fantasy, that’s their choice. But the only thing that worked for me was cutting out all sexual thought and arousal, so that might be something to consider. What I love about this method is that I don’t spend hours in that ‘warzone’ middle ground between feeling on top of things, and relapsing. I used to be constantly in that place, where my body and mind are completely on fire, and I’m just trying not to touch my junk, or where I’m edging but trying not to accidentally release. Or where I’m looking at sketchy pictures but rationalising that they’re not ‘porn’ etc. In the past there was so much struggle – it was frankly exhausting at times. Many times I would give in and masturbate just to end the conflict. But the zero-arousal approach I’ve adopted this time has made it really easy. I just stop the process before the struggle even begins.

While I’ve made it sound easy, I acknowledge that perhaps not everyone will be able to control their thoughts just like that, so it might help if I explain it a little. To me it’s like a blocking out, or a redirecting of the sexual thought. When I feel the burst of endorphins above my stomach, I have an immediate reaction that’s like, ‘Woooaah, uh uh!’ And then rather than focussing on the image or the thought, or ‘investigating’ it, which I would naturally want to do, instead I sideline it, look past it, or around it. It’s like your grandpa’s just walked into the kitchen in his Y-fronts and struck up a conversation, and you’re looking everywhere in the room but at him. Or as if there’s an object suspended a couple of feet in front of your face, and you’re focussing on the wall behind it, or on the ceiling above it, or on the person next to it, but never focussing on the object itself. I don’t say, ‘Don’t think about sex. Don’t think about sex!’ That doesn’t seem to work. Rather, the image stays there in my consciousness, and I’m aware of it, but is shifted out of focus, so that it is diffused and loses its power. It’s as though it moves into your peripheral vision, as you look at things around it. A good way to do this is to grab any other thought or idea that is available to you and focus on that instead. Sometimes it’s as easy as just refocussing on the task at hand (if I’m working or studying at that time), or refocussing on the book I’m reading, or the TV show that I’m watching. It’s easy if you’re with other people, because you can just refocus on what they are saying. That sort of thing.

Sometimes when I feel a burst of arousal hormones, I turn and focus on the actual sensation of the hormones in my body, make a note of their intensity, and try to predict how long that dose will take to leave my bloodstream. While that might seem like a bad idea, I don’t usually find that the sensations themselves are mentally arousing, because once you identify them and objectify them, and predict their demise, they actually lose some of their power. Usually by the time I’m done analysing the hormones and the sensation above my stomach, I’ve forgotten about the original sexual image or cue. More on this in point 4.

I actually  believe that learning to instantly turn the mind away from the sexual thought, image or cue is the key to my success in overcoming porn, fantasy and masturbation. For this reason, I have explained this process in much more detail here. Feel free to have a look if you are finding it hard to control your thoughts, or if you are perhaps not quite sure what I am talking about.

4. Transcending your emotions

In order to control your thoughts and ride out sexual arousal, it is very helpful if you can ‘transcend’ your emotions, as it were. Take a step back from them, lift your mind up out of the fog of emotion and hormones, and look down on your feelings objectively, as though they are something to be observed from a distance, rather than something that you are immersed in and being carried along by. This is something that I have learned to do over the past three years as I’ve struggled with anxiety. Now, when I have a feeling of anxiety and dread in my gut, rather than panicking or thinking that there is actually something to be afraid of, I just say to myself, ‘Oh, there’s that old familiar feeling of anxiety just above my stomach. That feeling is actually adrenaline that’s being released into my blood stream. It’s nothing to worry about, it’s just because my endocrine system is a little messed up.’ And so I ignore it. It’s the same with feelings of sexual longing or arousal, if you can lift your mind above the feeling, and look down on it, you can say, ‘Oh, I’m very aroused right now. In fact, my blood is pumping with endorphins and adrenaline. That’s because I just had a random thought about sex, and a whole lot of chemicals got dumped into my bloodstream. They’ll be gone in 10-30 minutes though, so just ignore it and get back to work.’ Being aware of your emotions and rising above them is a sweet skill to have, if you can cultivate it. This could be a great opportunity to learn it.

5. Being realistic about the increased sex drive in Stage 2 (hard mode)

It was very important for me to realise that “sexual pressure” does not relentlessly build up, making it harder and harder to keep my mind off sex, and leading to inevitable relapse. But my experience had always been that things seemed to get harder the longer I went without masturbation. Why was that? As explained above, I learned that regular ejaculation dulls the sex drive, and that after a week or two of abstaining, the sex drive returns to full strength, making it much harder to control. This was a whole new league that I was stepping into, and something I was not used to at all. But it was important to understand why this was happening, and to expect it, and to not freak out and think that I can’t handle it. On the plus side, the enhanced sensitivity to visual and mental sexual cues can actually be advantageous, because the burst of hormones which functions as a warning system, alerting you to turn the mind away from a sexual cue, becomes much more clear and noticeable. There is far less danger of finding yourself accidentally a long way down the path to masturbation, when the initial warning sign is so distinct.

6. Committing to short periods only, and using delaying tactics

By signing up to a ten-day experiment, I was motivated to finish the ten-day experiment, just to see how it went (particularly to see how Day 7 was, and whether Days 8-10 were easier than Day 7). And when I was tempted to masturbate during those ten days I was able to just stall for time, and put it off until the end of the ten days, with the promise that I could go back to masturbating then, if I liked. It’s much easier to say to yourself ‘wait a few days, then masturbate’, than it is to say ‘don’t masturbate now or ever again.’ And ten days seems so much easier and more manageable than ‘forever’. But by the time the ten-day marker came around, I was feeling great, and I realised that the ten days hadn’t been all that hard, and I was pumped at having gotten through the ten days. So I was ready to sign up for another ten days. I’m now on my seventh lot of ten days, and I still haven’t decided to go back to masturbating, although I’m open to it if I decide that it’s a better lifestyle.

I reckon that making just a few big decisions in your right mind is better than making a whole lot of little decisions when you’re aroused. Who has the energy to repeatedly review all the reasons why they don’t want to masturbate every time a sexual thought pops into your head (especially in the fog of horniness)? Just trust yourself and trust that your decision/commitment to abstain for ten days is a good one, with the promise that you can masturbate at the end of the ten days if you still want to.

7. Keeping a journal

Keeping the journal was really helpful in reinforcing the experimental aspect of it, and also giving me some perspective in the couple of harder patches – I could look at it from a 20-day perspective, or wherever I was up to, which would show me that what I was feeling was out of the ordinary, and temporary, and had only lasted a short time in the past. I used to think that the longer you go without orgasm, the harder it becomes. And that the pressure just builds and builds until you just can’t help yourself. Keeping this journal has shown me that the pressure actually resets overnight, and that I generally feel fine the next morning, even if I was feeling really aroused or ‘on edge’ the night before. As someone, somewhere, once said, ‘You can’t improve what you can’t measure’ (or something like that).

8. Remembering past struggles, relapses and what it felt like to be addicted

Although the last 70 days have been pretty easy, there have been a couple of times where I’ve thought, ‘I’m not enjoying this sense of sexual longing. I think I’d prefer to just go back to how it was, with the porn, fantasy and masturbation.’ Or times when I really miss the nice feeling that masturbation used to give me. What was really helpful at those times was to look back over some journal entries I had made previously, and to see how frustrated and depressed I was that I simply could not overcome this habit, no matter how hard I tried. Having seen this, it was a no-brainer to keep going. I could clearly see that I am much happier overall now than I was back when I was masturbating regularly. Similar to this, sometimes when I’m tempted I visualise that moment right after I masturbate, when I’ve just broken a long period of successful abstinence. I remember how bad that feels, and how disappointed I am when I do that. This reality check usually puts to rest any illusions that I have that I’d be happier if I went back to the old ways, and reminds me that I’m actually feeling much better right now than I will be after I masturbate.

9. Writing a list of the sexual cues that you encounter

In point 2, I talked about learning to recognise a sexual thought, image or cue. Since these can be so many and varied, my personal method for recognising one is simply to grow sensitive to the release of arousal hormones that they trigger. If this sensation is not so clear to you, the following might be of benefit. One forum member suggested writing a list of all the different sexual cues that you encounter, as you become aware of them (or fall to them), so that you might be more prepared for them the next time they arise. You might start with visual cues, and include billboards, women at work or school, films, facebook ads etc. and then list situational cues, such as showering, waking in the morning, going to bed at night, etc. If you’re a person like me, with an active imagination who spends a lot of time inside their own head, then you might add ‘random thoughts about sex’ to your list. Everyone’s list will be different, because what piques one person’s interest will have no impact on someone else. With the technique that I have used, it’s not a matter of avoiding all sexual cues (although it’s wise not to seek them out), but rather it is a matter of training the mind to respond to them in a helpful way, by refusing to dwell on them or follow them where they lead. The idea of making a list of potential sexual cues is just to aid you in recognising them, so that you can be alert to them and ready to deal with them when you next encounter them.

10. Writing down the reasons you have for giving up masturbating

This one is quite similar to point eight. One trap that is quite easy to fall into in the later stages of abstinence from sexual fantasy, porn or masturbation is forgetting why you gave it up in the first place. After the first two weeks of abstinence, I found that my reaction to sexual cues became almost instinctive, and I had little to no trouble with arousal and acute urges. But the times when I came close to relapsing were when I felt a generalised, and sometimes bodily, longing for sexual fulfilment, and thought to myself, ‘I wonder if I wouldn’t be happier and more content if I went back to my old masturbation habit?’ When we first make a commitment to quit, our minds are filled with all the reasons why. It seems crazy to continue with porn and masturbation. But after a couple of months, we can forget. It is easy to romanticise the habit, and to think that it wasn’t all that bad after all. Of course, if you do relapse, you will very quickly remember all the reasons why you wanted to quit in the first place. The aim of this strategy is to help you remember all the reasons why you wanted to quit, BEFORE you relapse. So write down all the reasons why you are giving up porn, fantasy or masturbation, and refer to the list when you are tempted, and even when you are not.

Here’s a good example list from a forum user:

10 Reasons Why I want to Quit Masturbating

1. I feel guilty afterwards
2. It makes me tired
3. It takes up a lot of time
4. It makes it difficult for me to think
5. It stresses me out that I might get caught
6. It is at odds with my ideals
7. It makes me smell and sweaty
8. It takes away my sexual interest in my relationship
9. It makes me over objectify women
10. It prevents me from being successful in what matters most to me.

Use this as inspiration as you write your own.

11. Writing down refutations to your excuses

With most addictions, the addicted brain will look for excuses to satisfy its craving. Particularly in the early stages of abstinence and withdrawal, your brain will suggest reasons why you should masturbate or look at porn. It can be helpful to become aware of the excuses that your brain offers, and to be ready with true responses to them. I found myself doing this mentally, after falling for these excuses one too many times. It might be a good idea to write down a list of the excuses that lead you to relapse, and to write down refutations to each of them. Don’t wait until you are struggling to do this. Write them down when you are thinking clearly and in your right mind.

Here are some examples:

Excuse: I’m quite aroused, so I have to masturbate or I won’t be able to sleep.

Response: There are better ways to relax, like switching off your mind. Also you often feel agitated and restless after you masturbate anyway.

Excuse: I’m feeling really horny because I haven’t masturbated in a few days, and the only way to release the pressure is to masturbate eventually, so I might as well do it now.

Refutation: I’m not horny because I haven’t masturbated in a while. I’m horny because I’m thinking about sex and masturbation. Stop thinking about sex and masturbation and the ‘pressure’ will subside naturally.

Excuse: I’ll feel much better afterwards.

Refutation: Uhhh… No I won’t. I always feel crap after I masturbate.

Make a list and add to it as your brain devises new schemes. If you like, it might help to read this list regularly, not just when you’re struggling. That way you’ll be ready with the response to a common excuse, the minute your brain offers it.

I hope you might find some of these practices helpful. If you have any questions at all, comment below and I will get back to you!

The physiology and endocrinology of sexual arousal

To figure out what goes on in the mind and body when a person feels tempted to engage in porn, fantasy or masturbation, I had to patch together the picture from a number of different sources. I couldn’t find one article that explained the whole thing really well.

Disclaimer: A lot of this is my own suspicions and hunches, supported by possibly unreliable science. The references I have included are mainly those that confirm my theories and fit well with my own personal experience. Therefore I make no claim to the scientific truth of the ideas below. As far as I know, everything below is correct and true, and I haven’t deliberately ignored any science that contradicts what I am saying, but I may have jumped to conclusions or made connections or assumptions that a scientist would hesitate to make. What I do claim, however, is that this stuff worked for me. As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’

Sexual cues incite sexual desire

The initial stage in the sexual response cycle for men and women is desire, the urge for sexual intimacy or sexual gratification. Desire takes place mostly in the mind. It is related to your sex drive or libido. It could be considered the potential for sexual arousal or excitement. There are many cues that incite sexual desire; some are physical, others are psychological. These cues may come in a variety of stimuli. [Visual, Auditory, Olfactory, Kinesthetic, Tactile, Memory, Fantasy]…It is important to note that you may feel desire without any object of desire, just a feeling of wanting sexual gratification.1

Speaking personally, cues to sexual desire can be external (seeing women in short shorts, near-naked women on billboards) or internal (memories, random sexual thoughts, random sexual urges). It could be something like hearing the front door close, signalling that you are home alone, or throwing your bag on the bedroom floor after a long day of work, signalling the opportunity to ‘take a break’ (look at pornography or masturbate). Anticipation of potential sexual activity can be a cue.2

‘Arousal hormones’ are released

Initially, when we begin to feel an attraction towards someone of the opposite sex, our heart rate increases and blood levels of adrenaline and the “stress hormone” known as cortisol rise accordingly. This is then followed by the release of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that induce an intense rush of pleasure, similar to the stimulatory effects of cocaine and amphetamine.3

…The second stage in the sexual response cycle is that of excitement. It is also called the arousal phase. This is the stage where you start to sense erotic feelings and responses in your body.4

So sexual cues incite desire in the mind, which prompts the release of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, serotonin and dopamine, which give ‘erotic feelings and responses in your body’. My experience bears this out pretty much exactly. For example, when I see a billboard featuring a woman in her underwear, if I am seriously pre-occupied, or deep in conversation, I might not register that it is a desirable image, and the cue will have no impact. But if the cue is registered in my mind as sexually desirable, then I immediately experience a mental attraction or desire – a strong sense of curiosity, if you will, which tells me that the object is valuable and important, and prompts me to look again and investigate the source of desire. If I look again, and my mind dwells on that desirable image, within about a second I experience a physical reaction: a feeling of warmth mixed with excitement flooding down into the region just above my stomach. There’s also a bit of a tightening of the chest, similar to feelings of anxiety (this is probably the adrenaline). This is sometimes followed by the feeling of muscles loosening or contracting in the groin. These changes are the beginnings of arousal, and of course feel quite good, which in turn increases motivation to dwell on the sexual cue or engage in sexual fantasy, in order to further the arousal process, and increase the good feelings.

Positive feedback loops come into play

Moreover, the symptoms of sexual arousal themselves can become their own source of sexual stimulation, thus generating a positive feedback loop.

Several body systems engage in positive feedback loops as sexual excitement increases. One example of this is vasoconstriction. The brain, in response to some initial stimulation, may tell the cardiovascular system to restrict blood flow out of the genital area. The brain then senses the resulting engorgement as a new source of sexual stimulation. This induces it to direct the veins to constrict even further to maximize the engorgement of sexual tissue.5

A friend who is a psychologist explained a similar feedback loop that was feeding my anxiety when I drank coffee. Caffeine stimulates the cardiovascular system, causing the heart rate to increase and breathing to quicken. Accelerated heart-rate and breathing are symptoms of anxiety, and the brain, perceiving these changes, is tricked into thinking that I am anxious, which then stimulates the further release of adrenaline, and anxiety sets in for real. The solution to that problem was simple: to avoid caffeine. But what are we to do when seemingly unavoidable sexual cues trigger the release of ‘arousal hormones’?

‘Arousal hormones’ decline over time

In conversation, a GP friend of mine told me that adrenaline only has a very short half-life (2 minutes), which means that any given burst of adrenaline should be 97% gone in 10 minutes. The ongoing experience of adrenaline in the body after a near-miss is the result of a person’s mind replaying the event. The continual occupation of the mind with that stressful event causes it to continually release adrenaline into the bloodstream, which is why a person can feel ‘fragile’ or ‘shaken’ for many hours after the event, even after the initial dose of adrenaline is long gone.

I theorise that whichever ‘arousal hormones’ are released into the bloodstream in response to a sexual cue should have a similar half-life. Even if these hormones last longer, they are not permanent. I theorise that the body will break down these hormones within twenty minutes to an hour, or at the very most, overnight. The time taken for feelings of arousal to subside should depend on how long the mind dwells on the sexual cue and consequently how much ‘arousal hormone’ is released into the blood stream. For example, I recently recalled a pornographic image from my past, and felt an unmistakeable burst of hormones above my stomach. The image remained in my consciousness for only a fraction of a second, and only twenty minutes later the arousal was completely gone, as far as I could feel. The important thing, then, is to prevent the mind from replaying the sexual cue, or dwelling on the symptoms of sexual arousal, either of which will perpetuate the release of arousal hormones, and further the progress of sexual arousal.

How arousal affects decision-making

The importance stopping the process of sexual arousal in the very earliest stage becomes clear when we consider that the activity of the brain’s limbic system (which deals with emotions like fear and sexual arousal, and is involved in the release of hormones like adrenaline) tends to shut down the activity of the prefrontal cortex, which ‘is responsible for higher-level cognitive functions like decision-making’.6

The limbic system operates by influencing the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system. It is highly interconnected with the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, which plays a role in sexual arousal and the “high” derived from certain recreational drugs.7

…adrenaline shuts down the pre-frontal cortex, thereby inhibiting it from thinking. The body is further readied for action…One way to understand the relationship between the limbic brain and the prefrontal cortex is by way of ratio: the degree of limbic activity is usually inversely proportional to prefrontal activity. The more reactive (limbic) we are, the less we are in thinking (pre-frontal cortex) mode, and vice versa.8

So as I understand it, when the mind and body are in a state of sexual arousal, the limbic system is in full swing, which results in the shutting down of the prefrontal cortex, which is that higher part of the brain that makes decisions (Should I look at porn? Is this really a wise thing to do?). Contrary to common thought, sexual temptation is not a battle between the pleasure centre and the rational part of the mind. The rational part is already dead – it’s not even fighting. Is it any wonder that we fail to make the right decision 80% of the time?

The solution

The only reliable course of action that I have found is to turn the mind aside from even the most preliminary of sexual cues, the very instant you become aware of them. Remember that sexual cues can be physical, like a caress or accidental stimulation of the genitals, or visual, like a billboard, movie or real-life woman. They can be mental, like recalling a past sexual experience, pornographic image or sexual fantasy. I have found that the mind will often wander, seemingly at random, into thinking about sex a number of times over the course of a normal day. You need to turn away from it, and block out such thoughts immediately. There can be situational cues, like hearing the sound of the front door closing, indicating that you are home alone, or undressing to get into the shower. If there is a habit of masturbating in bed, then getting into bed or waking up in the morning can be a sexual cue. Sexual cues can be almost anything it seems, which means that becoming aware of the full range of potential sexual cues that might trigger sexual desire is important, so that we are not caught unawares.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is to become sensitive to the feeling of the very initial stages of physical arousal. As I have mentioned, I believe I can sense ‘arousal hormones’ being released into my bloodstream, which I experience as a feeling of warmth mixed with excitement flooding down into the region just above my stomach, a tightening of the chest, similar to feelings of anxiety, sometimes followed by the feeling of muscles loosening or contracting in the groin. The minute I am alert to this sensation, I immediately turn the mind away from whatever is the cause. I block it out, think about something else, and wait for the physical feelings to subside, which they usually do in twenty minutes to an hour. More detail on this process is given here.

The impact of testosterone

Unlike some other hormones (like adrenaline) which are released very quickly and subside in minutes, testosterone is much slower. It increases more gradually, and has a half-life of 2-4 hours. So to remove 97% of a testosterone boost might take around 15 hours.9

Serum testosterone levels are believed to be a significant factor in the strength of sexual drive or libido in males. Higher levels of testosterone increases sexual motivation and sexual desire.10

There will be some days or times when testosterone levels are higher than others. During those times, there may be more physical yearnings and the endocrine response to sexual cues will possibly be more intense and more easily triggered. This means that it will be harder to keep thoughts away from sex. One study shows that on the seventh day of sexual abstinence there is a temporary boost in serum testosterone levels.11 So expect day seven to be harder than day six. On the plus side, things should return to normal by day eight. Other times when an increase in testosterone might make things harder is after talking to women. Studies have shown that testosterone increases in men who engage in brief conversations with women.12 This has been borne out in my experience. In addition, testosterone levels can naturally fluctuate widely, between 10-40%.13 If there are times when you feel more easily aroused, or have physical longings, this may be a time of boosted testosterone. Ride it out, and you should be fine the next day. Or, if this is your sort of thing, take the opportunity to hit the gym. Word on the street is that higher testosterone levels help build muscle.

The “pressure” myth

One very important consideration when attempting to abstain from masturbation is the effect that abstinence has on the libido. Anecdotal accounts suggest that the longer a man goes without sex or ejaculation, the higher his sex drive will be. There is the idea that ‘sexual energy’ or ‘sexual pressure’ inevitably builds up, increasing sex drive indefinitely, and that the ‘pressure’ can only be ‘released’ by ejaculation. In reality there is probably no ‘pressure’. In the absence of ejaculation, old semen is simply broken down and reabsorbed by the body.14 If for some reason ejaculation is required for the health of the body, it seems that the body will do this spontaneously while sleeping.15 As detailed above, sexual arousal is caused by sexual cues triggering the release of hormones, rather than by the build-up of ‘pressure’. The feeling of ‘release’ upon orgasm is simply the body releasing hormones like oxytocin and prolactin into the bloodstream, which suppress arousal hormones like dopamine, and induce a feeling of relaxation and satisfaction.16 If orgasm never comes, however, arousal hormones naturally subside within the body, as discussed above, bringing a person back to baseline levels in a short period of time.

There is one uncomfortable phenomenon experienced by some men, colloquially known as ‘blue balls’, which may have lent credence to the ‘pressure’ myth. This condition sometimes occurs after an extended period of sexual arousal which does not result in ejaculation. This is not the result of a build-up of semen, however, but rather it is pain caused by the prolonged swelling of bodily tissues in the groin (testicles and prostate) which results from the increased blood flow and blood pressure to the area during arousal.17 Ejaculation will cause blood vessels to dilate, reversing this problem, but ‘blue balls’ will also resolve itself without ejaculation, assuming the state of arousal is not perpetuated indefinitely.18 The best way to deal with this problem is to avoid reaching a heightened state of arousal in the first place, or to back out of such a state as soon as one becomes aware of it. ‘Blue balls’ certainly not an inevitable result of refraining from ejaculation.

Two different playing fields

But if sexual ‘pressure’ doesn’t actually build up, why is it more difficult to abstain from masturbation after a few days without ejaculation? The first day is easy, but then it seems to get tougher and tougher. Why does temptation become more intense the longer you go without ejaculation? Surely that’s the pressure building up, making it harder to think about anything other than sex? Well, personal experience tells me that abstinence doesn’t get increasingly tougher indefinitely. It does get tougher, but it only gets progressively tougher for a week or two, before it plateaus. Rather than a continual increase in pressure, it’s more like two different playing fields.

As explained above, testosterone has a big influence on the male libido. While there is not much evidence that serum testosterone levels are affected by abstinence from ejaculation, apart from a peak on day seven, there is evidence that every ejaculation temporarily depletes androgen receptors, which means that testosterone (an androgen) does not have its usual effect on the brain. This depletion of receptors can take days to recover from.19 So if you are masturbating regularly, say once a week or more, your brain may be operating with a perpetual depletion of androgen receptors, which means that the testosterone in your blood will not be affecting your brain to its fullest capacity. The result will be a perpetually lower-than-normal sex drive. If you then stop masturbating, as your androgen receptors recover, you would expect to experience an increase in sex drive over several days until you return to a stable, celibate level of sex drive.

In a study on rats suffering from ‘sexual exhaustion’ (and thus unable to ejaculate), after a 7-day period of sexual rest the ejaculatory capacity of almost all animals increased to 4 successive ejaculations, to 5 after 10 days and to 6 after 15 days of sexual rest. Another study reported a period of 15 days for full recovery from sexual exhaustion in rats.20 There are probably differences between the recovery times of rats and humans, and it’s unlikely that someone who masturbates daily would be classed as ‘sexually exhausted’, but this suggests that there might be a medium term (1-2 week) recovery time from ejaculation in which we should expect to see a steady increase in sex drive. Note that two-thirds of the recovery occurs in the first seven days, which suggests that the most noticeable increase in sex drive will be in the earlier stages of abstinence, with the rate of increase gradually diminishing. Another study, this time on humans, showed that men who had abstained from sexual activity for three weeks showed ‘enhanced sensitivity to anticipatory cues’, and higher levels of subjective arousal when subjected to erotic stimuli than men who were sexually active.21

It seems that regular ejaculation lowers the sex drive and decreases sensitivity to sexual cues. Consequently, abstinence from masturbation is perceived as ‘pressure building up’ when in reality it is just the body and mind returning to regular, higher levels of sex drive and sensitivity. Regular, high levels of sex drive should be reached within about two weeks, whereupon they will become more or less stable. They will not increase indefinitely.

Although we don’t have to face ever-increasing ‘sexual pressure’, the higher sex drive, attained after two weeks of abstinence, is definitely harder to handle than the dulled state achieved by regular masturbation. It pays to be aware of this, and to be ready. ‘Enhanced sensitivity to anticipatory cues’ and a general increase in sex drive means that sexual cues will hit you harder and more often. You will be triggered more easily, and the bursts of ‘arousal hormones’ will be much more intense. This can actually be advantageous, however, as the burst of hormones which functions as a warning system, alerting you to turn the mind away from a sexual cue, becomes much more clear and noticeable. There is far less danger of finding yourself accidentally a long way down the path to masturbation, when the initial warning sign is so distinct. Although initially harder, it is not impossible to be sexually pure after weeks or months of abstinence from masturbation. Practice makes it a lot easier, and before long you won’t even notice it, as your mind will instinctively and automatically shut out sexual cues before they even release that burst of ‘arousal hormones’.

The Chaser Effect”

Many people who are trying to quit porn and masturbation report something known as ‘The Chaser Effect’, which is an increase in sexual urges or desire to masturbate in the days immediately after orgasm. This is in one sense counter-intuitive, because we would instead expect a person to be satisfied after orgasm. While it’s true that there may be initial, immediate satisfaction, it seems that this, in some instances, may be rather short-lived, replaced by dissatisfaction and desire. The explanation for this is that when a person encounters an abundance of something very rewarding, like food or sex, the extraordinary surge of dopamine that is released overloads the pleasure centres of the brain, causing them to prune back dopamine receptors. Following this surge, normal, everyday levels of dopamine are no longer enough to satisfy. The recent high is demanded again or the brain feels dissatisfied, as though it is lacking something.22

Why would the body do this, though? Gary Wilson explains it in this way:

Obviously, a “binge trigger” (via whatever mechanisms) is an evolutionary advantage in situations where survival is furthered by engaging in a behavior past the point of normal satiety. Think of bear gorging on high fat salmon before hibernating. Or wolves, which need to stow away up to twenty pounds of a single kill at one go. Or our ancestors, who needed to store high-quality calories as a few extra pounds for easy transport to survive hard times. Or yourself when you’re jam-packed with turkey and mashed potatoes and your favorite Thanksgiving pie appears. When our primitive brain perceives something as really valuable, it wants us to exploit the golden opportunity…fully. It can’t do that with warm, fuzzy feelings of satisfaction. Nope. It has to create feelings of lack or dissatisfaction (cravings) in order to drive us past our normal limits.23

If this is true, it would explain why people trying to recover from addiction to sexual fantasy, porn and masturbation so often fall into a serious binge if they relapse once. That was pretty common for me, at least. This behaviour may be reinforced by the idea that, ‘Since I’ve already relapsed, I might as well really enjoy myself before I get back on the wagon.’ Knowing this, we ought to be prepared to resist the urge to binge, in the event that we slip up and masturbate once.  Knowing the danger that awaits might even motivate us to not relapse in the first instance!

A further implication of the chaser effect is that the first few days of attempted abstinence, after that final orgasm, may be really tough. Until dopamine receptors recover, the brain will be crying out for more dopamine-releasing stimulation, which may lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, strong desire for orgasm or porn, and even anxiety. Hang in there. The good news is that the increased desire for masturbation or sex in the first few days after quitting might be a result of the chaser effect, rather than the recovery of sex drive as discussed in the point above. This means that these super-urges will be temporary, and should subside when dopamine receptors recover. I still maintain that sex drive after two weeks of abstinence is much higher than when one is masturbating every day or two, but it’s not as bad as the first week. Get past day three or four, and things should get easier. In addition, it stands to reason that the heavier your addiction to pornography and the more extreme the porn that you use, the more your dopamine receptors will be depleted. For heavier porn users, the chaser effect should be more significant. For only moderate porn users, or those who masturbate to fairly mild fantasies, there may be no chaser effect at all.

In a similar way to the chaser effect, I have discovered over my period of abstinence that my sex drive and urges to masturbate are significantly higher for 1-2 days after an instance of heightened sexual arousal, such as that brought on by an intense sexual dream, or accidentally viewing an explicit picture. It seems that when I become significantly aroused, for whatever reason, there is a lingering effect for a day or two, even if I immediately turn my mind to other things and shut down the arousal as usual. This is not the chaser effect per se, because there is no orgasm, although it might just be a milder version of the same mechanism – I’m not sure. Another possible explanation is that the after-effects are the result of testosterone being released during arousal, but actually the jury is still out as to whether arousal actually releases testosterone at all.24 Moreover, it is unlikely that testosterone would linger in the system for more than 15 hours. A better explanation might be that the increased sex drive and desire to masturbate after arousal is caused by the brain subconsciously dwelling on recent memories and thought patterns that the arousal evoked. Whatever the explanation, the lesson here is clear. Even if you are confident that you can shut down a heightened state of arousal without masturbating, you should still try to avoid getting aroused in the first place, because it will make the next couple of days quite uncomfortable. Or if it is unavoidable, like in the case of a sexual dream, just prepare for a tougher than usual day or two, and look forward to relief in around 48 hours.

Why it’s important to know this stuff

I have found it immeasurably easier to bring my body and mind under control now that I am aware of the processes that go on in my body and mind, and how my thoughts can influence these processes.

Specifically, it is helpful to know that sexual arousal is caused by hormones that are released in response to the mind dwelling on sexual cues, and that these hormones will naturally subside within a short period of time, providing that the mind does not continue to dwell on the sexual cue. This highlights the need to prevent the mind from dwelling on sexual thoughts, and also promises complete relief from feelings of longing simply by diverting the mind and waiting it out, without the need for ejaculation.

Specifically, it is helpful to know that the process of arousal shuts down the decision-making part of the brain, and activates positive feedback loops. This highlights the need to short-circuit the process of arousal at the very earliest stage, before it escalates and has a chance to shut down the prefrontal cortex.

Specifically, it is helpful to know that sexual tension or longing doesn’t ‘build up’ inexorably until it is ‘released’ by ejaculation. If it did, there would be no effective way to overcome sexual arousal or longing without eventually resorting to masturbation. I used to think, ‘I’m going to inevitably masturbate sooner or later, and keeping my mind pure will get increasingly harder until I do, so why not do it now, rather than later, and save myself a lot of struggle?’ Now I no longer fear the inevitable relapse. Instead I know that by controlling my mind, I can control my body.

If you have any questions at all, comment below and I will get back to you!

2Graham J. M., Desjardins C (1980) Classical conditioning: Induction of luteinizing hormone and testosterone secretion in anticipation of sexual activity. Science 210: 1039-1041.

How I did 70 days of NoFap on hardmode, without breaking a sweat, after 7 years of failure

Glossary: 

PMO – Porn, Masturbation, Orgasm. These three things usually go together. For me it was more often sexual fantasy with masturbation, although I did also PMO.

Fap – a colloquial term for ‘masturbate’.

Nofap – a subreddit where folks discuss giving up porn and masturbation. Also refers to the challenge itself, e.g. ‘Doing nofap can free up a lot of time’.

Summary: I finally overcame PMO addiction after 7 years of failure. It was really easy this time. The solution that worked for me was complete thought control, with a zero-arousal policy, and I enacted it over two stages. Everything explained in detail in the full post.

CONTENTS

Section A describes my background and the actual process I went through this time.

Section B describes in detail certain techniques and strategies that I think were crucial.

Section C explains why the two-stage process worked so well for me.

SECTION A – My Story

Introduction

Basically I wrote all this down on the off chance that someone else might be able to benefit from my experiences. I’m not sure if anyone will find it useful, because we’re all different, and we’re all at different stages on our nofap journeys, and have different starting points. But you never know, there might be something here that others can benefit from, or be encouraged by, in the same way that the nofap subreddit has encouraged me.

So, I’m a 31 year-old Christian male, and I’d been trying on and off to give up porn, sexual fantasy and masturbation for about 7 years (ever since I became a Christian), but to no avail. I could go a week or two if I tried really hard, and once I did a month, but it was an awful struggle, and that one month was the longest I ever managed. Usually I only lasted a few days. Most of the time I thought it must be impossible, and couldn’t even be bothered trying to give it up.

This time (over 70 days so far) I have had almost no struggles, and it has been really, really easy. If you’ve tried to give this stuff up and found it very hard, you’ll understand how surprised I was to find it so easy this time. I haven’t put a filter on my internet, I haven’t consciously avoided any places or people, I can sit at my computer late at night, I don’t have anyone keeping me accountable, I don’t have cold showers and I don’t exercise to burn off ‘sexual energy’. In fact, I don’t think that I have employed any of the recommended strategies at all.

I’m not going to go into detail about the benefits I’ve experienced as a result, as they’ve been well described elsewhere. Basically, I’ve got more confidence, feel better about myself, have a much clearer mind, and feel more in control of all aspects of my life (and I’d swear I have a deeper voice, but is that even possible?). The main benefit for me is that this struggle that I’ve been engaged in for the last eight years has finally been won. And it’s such a huge weight off my shoulders to not have to worry about this issue any more. Such a good feeling.

So why did this struggle become really easy all of a sudden? Well there were a few things that happened this time that were quite different to before. But before I detail the process and strategy, I’ll share my background with this issue. I don’t think I was a typical PMO user, so if my situation seems way too different to yours, I’m sorry – my solution might not work for you. But if someone is in a similar situation to mine, or able to get themselves to that place, then this process might work. Or perhaps you might just be able to take away a couple of principles or ideas that you can put to good use.

Background

I’ve been single most of my life, which I’m pretty happy with, although I am open to getting married in the next few years if I meet the right girl. I’m a virgin, too, and I think I’d like to stay that way unless and until I get married.

I’ve always had a great imagination, and as an introvert who didn’t have many friends as a kid, I spent most of my time at school day-dreaming – living in a fantasy world. Mix puberty into the equation, and the results are predictable.

Age 11 – Started regularly losing myself in sexual fantasy.

Age 19 – Started masturbating (very late, I know).

Age 23 – Started using internet porn.

Age 24 – Became a Christian.

Age 31 – Finally overcame addiction to masturbation, fantasy and porn.

So the last 8 years, between ages 23-31, have been characterised by pretty consistent, although perhaps moderate, PMO and sexual fantasy. I would masturbate once every day or two, but sometimes a couple of times a day. I was using internet porn maybe once or twice a week, although there were times when I would get into it quite heavily for a few days, and then there were months when I would go without altogether. When I wasn’t using porn, I’d normally masturbate to sexual fantasy – stuff that I thought up in my own mind. I’ve generally found that the scenarios I could think up were more interesting to me than the unimaginative stuff on the internet, but that might just be me. Nevertheless, I know that I was addicted to masturbation with fantasy or porn, because I could never give it up for long, even though I was trying on and off for about 7 years.

When I did try to quit I would usually just go cold turkey, resolving to never masturbate again. When I did this, the first few days would be fine, but then I would struggle constantly, and I would feel like it was just getting tougher and tougher – I would feel like the pressure was getting worse and worse – until sooner or later, I would give in, and crash back into a binge of the most hardcore PMO and fantasy that I could think up. I would have a solid few days of indulgence before I would become so appalled that I would resolve to never do it again. Restart cold turkey process, but with the same results every time. Sometimes I would last a week or two, sometimes a month. But the result was always the same – a seemingly inevitable plunge back into acting out on things that I’d been secretly desiring the whole time I was abstaining. In hindsight, I think a major part of the problem was that while I’d tell myself, ‘I’m not going to masturbate’, my brain would seek every other avenue of sexual stimulation, like sexual fantasy, porn, and even edging (as if that’s not masturbation). I’d try to get as much as I could without actually orgasming as a result of masturbating, but of course this would leave me completely fired up, and my brain would constantly be dwelling on sex. I would be aroused 24/7. It’s no wonder I found it really hard to not go the whole way, and would usually relapse within a few days.

Eventually I concluded that quitting masturbation might even be impossible. And here’s where I want to give credit to the NoFap subreddit, because reading it was the first time I realised that it was actually physically and mentally possible to give up masturbation for over a month. Thinking that it was impossible obviously didn’t help me in my previous attempts. Interestingly, thinking that it was impossible was what made me start on Stage 1, so let’s start there.

Stage 1: Mastering the mind, letting the body go (easy mode)

In the two months prior to my current streak, I had decided that cold turkey was too hard, and resolved on a compromise. I realised that what I really wanted to get rid of was the porn and the weird fantasy that I was so into (I’m considering marriage, and I don’t want to have these weird fantasies and desires that my wife will never be able to satisfy. I really want to be satisfied with my wife.) So I resolved to get rid of the fantasy and the porn, but to keep masturbating, because at this stage I still thought it was impossible to go without physical release, and I didn’t want the pressure to ‘build up’ and make me really horny, which then usually led to the weird fantasy that seemed to come out stronger when I was more ‘on edge’.

So I committed to masturbating whenever the heck I wanted to, at even the slightest sexual thought or inclination (assuming I was at home, and not in public, that is). But the one condition of this masturbation free-for-all was that at the instant when I felt the inclination, and had decided to masturbate, I would absolutely stay away from porn, and I would fantasise only about plain-as-vanilla, PIV, nothing else sex. I would visualise a naked female body, but nobody I knew (I don’t want to take sex, even in my mind, from someone I know without permission – I feel it’s disrespectful – but maybe that’s just me). Nor would I fantasise about a movie star or a woman I had seen on the street for the same reasons. I would think, ‘I have no idea who’s wife that woman is, or who’s daughter she is. What right do I have to take her sexually, even in my imagination?’ So I would just imagine making love to an attractive but generic female body.

[A little bit of Christian theory here, I don’t actually think that the physical act of masturbation is sinful. Rather it’s the thoughts and fantasies that are the issue (Matt 5:28). A Christian mentor of mine asked me what my conscience told me after I masturbated to this image of a ‘generic female body’, and I realised that I never felt guilty or bad about it. So I don’t think it is a sin, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend this to others. There is, however, the valid question of whether masturbation is the ideal expression of human sexuality, given that it is not relational. Actually I don’t think it’s ideal, and so I recommend going on to Stage 2 when possible, but I don’t think masturbation is necessarily sinful or wrong, and think it can sometimes be a helpful aid to mental purity if used wisely.]

So I spent about two months letting the physical thing take care of itself in the morning after showering, and just focussing on the mental situation. It was all about keeping control of my thoughts, and not letting them descend into unhealthy sexual fantasy or porn. Sure, there were a few times when I slipped up and went back to some weird fantasies, and a couple of times I watched some porn, but strangely I didn’t really enjoy those times so much.

Now I suspect that for many people who are more heavily addicted to porn than I was, masturbating to a boring mental image like this might not be possible. But I found that after 2-3 days without masturbation I was usually horny enough to find a plain fantasy like this quite adequate. So for moderate PMO users like I was, who nevertheless can’t seem to get past a week without relapsing, and who feel that it just gets harder and harder without release, this might be a plausible arrangement to get away from porn and wrong fantasy. I’ll talk more in Section 3 about why I think Stage 1 was helpful, but it’s probably not absolutely necessary. It was just the process that I went through.

Stage 2: Trying it on hard mode

While I was managing things in Stage 1, I learned a few things that made me reconsider the idea that ‘sexual pressure’ just builds up and up until you have to give in. For starters, there were guys just like you on the nofap reddit who were actually going months without ejaculation. And I read articles online that suggested that masturbation was not at all necessary. So why did I always find it harder the longer I went without masturbation? I read a few studies on abstinence that suggest that the male sex drive takes up to two weeks to recover from an ejaculation, which means that when you first stop masturbating, your sex-drive increases and you gradually become much more sensitive to arousal and being triggered by sexual thoughts, ideas or images. But it’s not an ever-increasing level of difficulty – after two weeks, the sex drive should be as high as it will go. So I saw that there are basically two levels on which you can play the mental game. The “releasing yourself every 48 hours or so” level of hormones (easy mode), and the “haven’t ejaculated for a week or two” level of hormones (hard mode). I was doing really well at controlling my thoughts on easy mode, so I thought, ‘what the heck, let’s see how I go on hard mode – with no masturbation’.

I decided to run it as an experiment – ten days to start with. I’ve read that there is a temporary boost of testosterone on the seventh day after stopping, so I was interested to see if Day 7 was noticeably harder than Days 5 and 6. Then I was interested to see how Days 8-10 were. I figured if I could handle the 8th-10th days (which I thought would be hard mode), I should be good to go 90 days, or forever. So in I went, keeping a journal every night of whether I found the day hard, where my head was at, how my mood was generally, whether there were any random sexual thoughts or visual stimulation that caused a feeling of arousal etc. And it was a great success. There were a few times in the first week when I felt quite aroused, or had a real longing to masturbate, but I just rode it out and turned my mind to other things, and the feelings subsided within an hour or so. Day 7 was the hardest, as expected. But since I was expecting it, I just rode it out and kept doing whatever other stuff I had to do. After Day 7 I found Days 8-10 pretty easy, and at the end of the ten-day experiment I was feeling confident, in control and just great, so I signed up for another ten.

There were a few days the next ten that were a bit tough, but not really. There was the odd burst of hormones when I was triggered by a sexual cue, and the occasional sense of longing, but I just rode them out for the sake of the experiment – I was mainly interested to see whether the arousal and urges subsided by themselves as I expected them to. They did. Also when I had a real desire to masturbate, I would just tell myself to wait until the ten days were up. But at Day 20 I was feeling totally baller, and so I decided to sign up for another ten days…

The third set of ten days were even easier, with hardly any temptation worth reporting, and in fact, since Day 20, things have been pretty much on cruise control and I haven’t felt much in the way of temptation at all. I still keep a journal each night, but there’s less and less to report. These days I’m so stoked that I’ve finally cracked this thing that at the end of every ten day period, when I ask myself whether I should go back to Stage 1 (easy mode), I’m like, ‘Heck NO!’

SECTION B – Things that seemed to make a difference this time

So here are eight things that I did differently this time, that I think made a real difference.

Note: I have copied and expanded on this list in this post.

1. Understanding the physiology and endocrinology of sexual arousal

One thing that really helped me was being aware that it is hormones and endorphins that make me feel aroused, horny, or ‘on edge’. I learned that these hormones are released in response to my mind dwelling on sexual cues, and I discovered that they are only temporary and don’t continue to escalate indefinitely (unless I continually dwell on sexual thoughts). I’ve come to realise that the minute I stop dwelling on sexual thoughts, the hormones start to subside, and they are usually gone within an hour, and always overnight. Knowing this makes it much easier to get through rough patches. Even if I find myself really aroused, I know that it will pass. Sometimes I’m even curious to see how long the arousal takes to subside – treating it like an experiment really helps. Interesting note: the other day a very arousing image came to mind while I was in the shower, and ‘BOOM!’, my body exploded with endorphins. I turned my mind away immediately and refused to give the image any more consideration. Twenty minutes later, the arousal was completely gone, and I was back to baseline. All it took was twenty minutes. That’s pretty sweet. Anyway, I’ve written a lot more on the physiology and endocrinology of sexual arousal, here. Have a look if you are interested.

2. Learning to recognise a sexual thought, image or cue

I believe that the single most important thing that I’ve changed this time, is that the instant I register a sexual thought or image or cue, I turn away immediately, and shut it out. That’s the key to my success, I have no doubt. But before you can shut out such a thought or image, you need to know when you’re onto one. I know when I’ve hit a sexual thought now because I feel a warm burst of endorphins flooding into the region just above my stomach, I feel my chest tighten, and sometimes my groin muscles start to loosen or contract. It’s pretty obvious to me now when that happens. The cue could be a cute girl who walks past in short shorts, a billboard of a model in lingerie, or a random thought about sex that my mind wanders into while I’m thinking about other things (trains of thought can be be pretty strange at times). Even if you don’t get a really obvious burst of endorphins, you’re probably aware of what a sexual thought is. Algebra is not sexual. Boobs are sexual. A sexual cue could even be situational, like a sense of anticipation as I get into the shower, or close my bedroom door and drop my bag after a long day. It might be the thought process that goes ‘Now that I’m done with that task, I can take a break. What would I like to do? I could have a coffee, a nap, a fap…’. Or if I’m on the computer, it could be the thought, ‘I wonder if there are any new videos at that site?’ or ‘Hey, I could just check out that site for a bit – it might be interesting.’ Sometimes a sexual cue is nothing more than a bodily sense of longing for sexual gratification, with no real object of desire. Whatever the cue is that triggers your arousal (or even just piques your interest), you need to get good at recognising such a cue. Over time you’ll be able to know when you’ve hit a cue when you get a burst of endorphins. For me the endorphin burst became much more acute after a week without ejaculation, as my sex drive increased.

3. Learning to instantly turn the mind away from the sexual thought, image or cue

It’s important to know that these sexual ‘cues’ result in the release of endorphins into your system, which makes you feel interested, aroused, and warm and fuzzy, but also shuts down your prefrontal cortex (the higher, more rational part of your brain) which is telling you that you shouldn’t fap. For this reason, you need to block out the sexual thought or mental image immediately. Don’t entertain the thought or flirt with it just a little because you enjoy the warm feeling it brings. The same goes for edging. That warm feeling is hormones putting your body into sex mode and shutting down that part of your brain that reminds you why you don’t want to fap. That feeling is warm, creeping death. The instant you feel even a tiny bit aroused or curious, you need to shut out that thought. No arguments. But here’s the good news. Make that reaction automatic and you’ll never have to struggle with this again. You will have already won.

By now you will see that what I am suggesting is complete absence of intentional sexual thought. Random thoughts come whether we like it or not, but what I’m suggesting is that you instantly reject and block them. Now I know that’s something that not everyone is prepared to do. If you’re like me, you probably want to entertain and enjoy sexual thoughts and fantasies, and would rather not sacrifice all sexual thought. We just want to not fap. Of course this is up to each of us, and if people want to keep going with the sexual thought and fantasy, that’s their choice. But the only thing that worked for me was cutting out all sexual thought and arousal, so that might be something to consider. What I love about this method is that I don’t spend hours in that ‘warzone’ middle ground between feeling on top of things, and relapsing. I used to be constantly in that place, where my body and mind are completely on fire, and I’m just trying not to touch my junk, or where I’m edging but trying not to accidentally release. Or where I’m looking at sketchy pictures but rationalising that they’re not ‘porn’ etc. In the past there was so much struggle – it was frankly exhausting at times. Many times I would give in and masturbate just to end the conflict. But the zero-arousal approach I’ve adopted this time has made it really easy. I just stop the process before the struggle even begins.

While I’ve made it sound easy, I acknowledge that perhaps not everyone will be able to control their thoughts just like that, so it might help if I explain it a little. To me it’s like a blocking out, or a redirecting of the sexual thought. When I feel the burst of endorphins above my stomach, I have an immediate reaction that’s like, ‘Woooaah, uh uh!’ And then rather than focussing on the image or the thought, or ‘investigating’ it, which I would naturally want to do, instead I sideline it, look past it, or around it. It’s like your grandpa’s just walked into the kitchen in his Y-fronts and struck up a conversation, and you’re looking everywhere in the room but at him. Or as if there’s an object suspended a couple of feet in front of your face, and you’re focussing on the wall behind it, or on the ceiling above it, or on the person next to it, but never focussing on the object itself. I don’t say, ‘Don’t think about sex. Don’t think about sex!’ That doesn’t seem to work. Rather, the image stays there in my consciousness, and I’m aware of it, but is shifted out of focus, so that it is diffused and loses its power. It’s as though it moves into your peripheral vision, as you look at things around it. A good way to do this is to grab any other thought or idea that is available to you and focus on that instead. Sometimes it’s as easy as just refocussing on the task at hand (if I’m working or studying at that time), or refocussing on the book I’m reading, or the TV show that I’m watching. It’s easy if you’re with other people, because you can just refocus on what they are saying. That sort of thing.

Sometimes when I feel a burst of arousal hormones, I turn and focus on the actual sensation of the hormones in my body, make a note of their intensity, and try to predict how long that dose will take to leave my bloodstream. While that might seem like a bad idea, I don’t usually find that the sensations themselves are mentally arousing, because once you identify them and objectify them, and predict their demise, they actually lose some of their power. Usually by the time I’m done analysing the hormones and the sensation above my stomach, I’ve forgotten about the original sexual image or cue. More on this in point 4.

I actually  believe that learning to instantly turn the mind away from the sexual thought, image or cue is the key to my success in overcoming porn, fantasy and masturbation. For this reason, I have explained this process in much more detail here. Feel free to have a look if you are finding it hard to control your thoughts, or if you are perhaps not quite sure what I am talking about.

4. Transcending your emotions

In order to control your thoughts and ride out sexual arousal, it is very helpful if you can ‘transcend’ your emotions, as it were. Take a step back from them, lift your mind up out of the fog of emotion and hormones, and look down on your feelings objectively, as though they are something to be observed from a distance, rather than something that you are immersed in and being carried along by. This is something that I have learned to do over the past three years as I’ve struggled with anxiety. Now, when I have a feeling of anxiety and dread in my gut, rather than panicking or thinking that there is actually something to be afraid of, I just say to myself, ‘Oh, there’s that old familiar feeling of anxiety just above my stomach. That feeling is actually adrenaline that’s being released into my blood stream. It’s nothing to worry about, it’s just because my endocrine system is a little messed up.’ And so I ignore it. It’s the same with feelings of sexual longing or arousal, if you can lift your mind above the feeling, and look down on it, you can say, ‘Oh, I’m very aroused right now. In fact, my blood is pumping with endorphins and adrenaline. That’s because I just had a random thought about sex, and a whole lot of chemicals got dumped into my bloodstream. They’ll be gone in 10-30 minutes though, so just ignore it and get back to work.’ Being aware of your emotions and rising above them is a sweet skill to have, if you can cultivate it. This could be a great opportunity to learn it.

5. Being realistic about the increased sex drive in Stage 2 (hard mode)

It was very important for me to realise that “sexual pressure” does not relentlessly build up, making it harder and harder to keep my mind off sex, and leading to inevitable relapse. But my experience had always been that things seemed to get harder the longer I went without masturbation. Why was that? As explained above, I learned that regular ejaculation dulls the sex drive, and that after a week or two of abstaining, the sex drive returns to full strength, making it much harder to control. This was a whole new league that I was stepping into, and something I was not used to at all. But it was important to understand why this was happening, and to expect it, and to not freak out and think that I can’t handle it. On the plus side, the enhanced sensitivity to visual and mental sexual cues can actually be advantageous, because the burst of hormones which functions as a warning system, alerting you to turn the mind away from a sexual cue, becomes much more clear and noticeable. There is far less danger of finding yourself accidentally a long way down the path to masturbation, when the initial warning sign is so distinct.

6. Committing to short periods only, and using delaying tactics

By signing up to a ten-day experiment, I was motivated to finish the ten-day experiment, just to see how it went (particularly to see how Day 7 was, and whether Days 8-10 were easier than Day 7). And when I was tempted to masturbate during those ten days I was able to just stall for time, and put it off until the end of the ten days, with the promise that I could go back to masturbating then, if I liked. It’s much easier to say to yourself ‘wait a few days, then masturbate’, than it is to say ‘don’t masturbate now or ever again.’ And ten days seems so much easier and more manageable than ‘forever’. But by the time the ten-day marker came around, I was feeling great, and I realised that the ten days hadn’t been all that hard, and I was pumped at having gotten through the ten days. So I was ready to sign up for another ten days. I’m now on my seventh lot of ten days, and I still haven’t decided to go back to masturbating, although I’m open to it if I decide that it’s a better lifestyle.

I reckon that making just a few big decisions in your right mind is better than making a whole lot of little decisions when you’re aroused. Who has the energy to repeatedly review all the reasons why they don’t want to fap every time a sexual thought pops into your head (especially in the fog of horniness)? Just trust yourself and trust that your decision/commitment to abstain for ten days is a good one, with the promise that you can fap at the end of the ten days if you still want to.

7. Keeping a journal

Keeping the journal was really helpful in reinforcing the experimental aspect of it, and also giving me some perspective in the couple of harder patches – I could look at it from a 20-day perspective, or wherever I was up to, which would show me that what I was feeling was out of the ordinary, and temporary, and had only lasted a short time in the past. I used to think that the longer you go without orgasm, the harder it becomes. And that the pressure just builds and builds until you just can’t help yourself. Keeping this journal has shown me that the pressure actually resets overnight, and that I generally feel fine the next morning, even if I was feeling really aroused or ‘on edge’ the night before. As someone, somewhere, once said, ‘You can’t improve what you can’t measure’ (or something like that).

8. Remembering past struggles, relapses and why you are doing NoFap

Although the last 70 days have been pretty easy, there have been a couple of times where I’ve thought, ‘I’m not enjoying this sense of sexual longing. I think I’d prefer to just go back to how it was, with the PMO.’ Or times when I really miss the nice feeling that masturbation used to give me. What was really helpful at those times was to look back over some journal entries I had made previously, and to see how frustrated and depressed I was that I simply could not overcome this habit, no matter how hard I tried. Having seen this, it was a no-brainer to keep going. I could clearly see that I am much happier overall now than I was back when I was masturbating regularly. Similar to this, sometimes when I’m tempted I visualise that moment right after I masturbate, when I’ve just broken a long period of successful abstinence. I remember how bad that feels, and how disappointed I am when I do that. This reality check usually puts to rest any illusions that I have that I’d be happier if I went back to the old ways, and reminds me that I’m actually feeling much better right now than I will be after I fap.

SECTION C – Why the two-stage approach worked so well for me

1. It was like training wheels

One possible benefit of Stage 1 (easy mode) was that it gave me a couple of months to learn to control my thoughts in a less intense and easier setting. With regular ejaculation, my sex drive was dulled to a level that I was used to, which made my mind easier to control. Only when I had learned to control my thoughts on easy mode was I able to control my thoughts on hard mode. Having said this, I’m sure it’s possible for someone to learn to control their thoughts on hard mode, and skip Stage 1 if they prefer.

2. It took me halfway with very little effort

My past addiction was partly to the intense mental arousal that accompanied porn and sexual fantasy, and partly to the physical pleasure of masturbation. Going through Stage 1 for a couple of months probably went a long way towards breaking the first half of that addiction – the addiction to porn and sexual fantasy. Once that was under control, I then went on to tackle the addiction to physical masturbation. I know that the general feel on the internet is that you should go cold turkey on porn and masturbation all at once, but it kind of makes sense to me to break down a really hard task into more manageable halves. Well, it worked for me anyway. Another benefit of Stage 1 was that it probably reset a lot of my brain wiring that had associated arousal and orgasm with porn and weird fantasy, and rewired it to associate arousal and orgasm with plain-as-vanilla, PIV, nothing else sex. Since Stage 1 was not really a challenge at all (hey, I can masturbate any time I want!), this meant that I could wean myself off porn and fantasy with no real effort.

3. It defused the whole issue

In the past when I was trying to give up PMO, as I have mentioned, I would find it a constant struggle, and rarely last more than a week at best. And then when I had given up trying to quit, I would feel bad about it, so either way it was an issue. But when I did Stage 1, and just masturbated whenever I wanted to without fantasy or porn, what was interesting was that I felt no shame or guilt. And I no longer had to struggle against anything, because I was satisfying myself whenever I wanted to. What was really cool was that in the absence of the struggle and the guilt, and in the routine of masturbating very morning if I felt like it, I ended up more or less forgetting about the whole thing – it just became a bit of a non-issue. During the day, I would just get on with whatever I had to do, and not bother thinking about sex or seeking mental sexual stimulation, because I knew that I would be able to masturbate when I got home if I felt like it. This obviously helped me in my attempts to free my mind from dwelling on porn and sexual fantasy. I’m not sure why, but knowing that I’m not supposed to do something just makes me think about it more, and makes it more appealing. By contrast, having permission to masturbate made it less appealing. Anyway, it became such a non-issue that before long I found myself going three or four days without even masturbating, because I was busy doing other things, or just couldn’t be bothered. Sometimes I’d think about masturbating, but then say, ‘Nah, I’m too tired. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow’. From this starting point, giving up masturbation in Stage 2 was then not such a big deal as it might have been.

4. It gave me a fall-back position, which removed both the fear of relapse and the appeal of relapse

I was raised to be a ‘moral’ person who places a lot of value on being good and upstanding, and so I naturally feel guilty when I do something bad or wrong. Now that I’m a Christian, however, I know that guilt is no longer a part of my life, and that I am acceptable before God because of his grace, not because of what I have done or not done. Christ has taken away my guilt. But old habits die hard, and still the feelings of guilt persist. But here’s why I don’t think guilt works: guilt leads to fear, and fear leads to failure. If I’m doing well at nofap, then I’m feeling good about myself. Then when I start to struggle, I remember all the times that I’ve relapsed, and logically conclude that relapse is inevitable or at least probable. Then I start to fear relapse and the associated guilt. Now the problem with fear is that, like arousal, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for higher, more rational functions, like decision making, and making plans and commitments. So when the fear of guilt kicks in, there goes my decision-making capacity, along with all the carefully thought-out reasons that I have for doing nofap. Paradoxically, the fear of fapping leads to fapping.

But after I had done Stage 1 for a few months, which was relaxed, easy and guilt-free, when I decided to try Stage 2 (hard mode) for ten days, I had safety net to fall back on. I no longer feared relapse, because all that failure would mean was going back to Stage 1, which was fine anyway. I was doing Stage 2 a bit like an experiment. I just wanted to see if I could go 10 days without masturbating, and I wanted to keep a record of how I felt over the ten days. If I couldn’t last ten days, that was fine, I would just go back to Stage 1 (guilt free), and count it as a successful experiment. So that took away all of the fear and intensity, which made it a lot easier. I no longer feared relapse, so I would just laugh at the temptation – it lost it’s power over me. Stage 2 became a light-hearted, interesting and fun process, which made it so much easier than the white-knuckle, legalistic, fearful, “Must. Not. Fap.” process of the past.

Not only did the fall-back position of Stage 1 take away the fear of relapse, it also made it less appealing. When I was attempting Stage 2, whenever I felt a strong urge to masturbate, and thought to myself ‘giving up all ejaculation is just too tough, I can’t do this’, I told myself, ‘Fine, go back to Stage 1 if you like, where you can masturbate whenever you need to.’ But as described above masturbation wasn’t all that interesting in Stage 1 after a while. It dealt with my urges, and left me comfortable and happy, but it wasn’t all that interesting or appealing. So when faced with the choice of going back to Stage 1, which would deal effectively with my urges but still not be very exciting, or staying on Stage 2 where I could feel like a total baller 24/7, but suffer the occasional urge, I always chose to stay on Stage 2. I guess I was tricking my brain by offering only two alternatives, but it worked.

Epilogue

Well, that’s pretty much all I can think of that might be important to mention. Reading back over it, a lot of it looks kind of weird and idiosyncratic, so it might be stuff that only works for me. But I hope that someone might be able to get some ideas from some of the things that worked for me, and perhaps adapt them to their own circumstances and journey. If you have any questions at all, please do ask. I would be delighted to do whatever I can to help someone else get to where I am today. Like I said at the beginning, I’m still shocked that I finally overcame this thing, and that it was so easy this time. I also hope that in all this I don’t come across as smug or proud. For seven years I failed miserably to make any significant process by exercising my feeble self-control and making promises to myself and to God. I clearly have no reason to be proud.

If you have any questions at all, comment below and I will get back to you!

Soli Deo Gloria