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American Pie reddit groups spirituality of semen retention
American Pie (1999). Film still

Why so many men are preaching the spirituality of semen retention

Redditors are swearing off ejaculation and describing myriad spiritual and physical benefits – but how credible are these claims?

Part support group, part sharing circle, the r/Semenretention subreddit is a 139,000-strong community of cis guys all dedicated to not getting off. An average day might see posts ranging from Notes app screenshots of tips for “defeating the demon of lust”, to urgent, typo-filled questions on how to maintain a streak. But what is semen retention? And why are men swearing off orgasm?

Contrary to the voluntary celibacy movement taking hold among young women and queer people on TikTok, the members of the r/Semenretention online community aren’t abstaining from sex, per se – it’s specifically about not ejaculating. The movement has been around for a while – the subreddit launched in 2014 – and, away from Reddit, even has some celebrity followers, with rappers NLE Choppa and Joey Bada$ both dedicated to the cause. 

Dave* is a personal trainer who has engaged in stints of semen retention for the past seven years. He claims that when he goes through periods of abstaining from ejaculating, he feels emotionally stronger and more empowered. “Maintaining your sexual charge, your sexual energy is how you increase your presence, your aura, your power, your mental clarity,” he tells Dazed. Hearing him talk about his journey with semen retention makes it sound kind of transcendent – and in fact, he credits it with a spiritual awakening of sorts. “Semen retention is pure alchemy,” he explains. “It makes you realise that there are multiple dimensions in this reality. It’s not purely physical, you understand that there are things that are unseen around you that affect your aura.” 

Comments like these are echoed throughout the semen retention community, and it’s this spiritual aspect that marks semen retention as different from other cis male-centred abstinence movements such as NoFap, which encourages individuals to avoid masturbation and watching porn. Those who engage in semen retention speak about their cum as a “life force”. This kind of rhetoric goes back to Taoist beliefs, where semen contains jing – your bodily essence. Jing is important because it can then be called on to transform into qi (energy), which then, in turn, stimulates shen (the spirit). Consequently, Taoist sexual practices recommend controlling or completely avoiding ejaculation so as to preserve jing, which appears to feed into some of the thinking behind the contemporary cult of not coming.

But there’s also the idea of sexual transmutation or sexual alchemy – the concept that sexual energy is also creative energy and that if you learn to harness that, you can channel it into different areas of your life such as your career, your relationship or achieving your goals. This is what the leadership coach Nakula Das has specialised in for the past three years. “I’d been a coach and trainer mainly helping people generate sales and be better communicators,” he says. “When I combined [this coaching] with sexual alchemy, it really magnified the results I was able to get in the men I’m working with; they felt more free in their sexuality, more motivation and greater clarity of mind, focus and determination.”

Das himself adheres to a form of semen retention but, given that he’s married, doesn’t forgo sex altogether. “It’s not that I never ejaculate, I regulate it, and limit my sexual activity to partnered sex with my wife,” he says. “With meditation, breathwork and muscle control, I’m able to have non-ejaculatory sex which allows me to practice semen retention.” He claims that not ejaculating is actually a help, not a hindrance, to sexual pleasure. 

“One of the things which draw men to this practice is premature ejaculation and being unable to last long in the bedroom,” he continues. “Through [non-ejaculatory sex] they can last for hours in the bedroom and show up as a more present and empowered partner.” This approach to sex attempts to maintain the plateau stage – after initial arousal, when the penis is fully erect – for as long as possible and avoid orgasm. You can try to stay in the plateau stage through controlled breathing, taking breaks whenever you think you’re close to climax and engaging in the slow, lingering touch associated with tantric sex

It all sounds great, especially when you add in the fact that plenty of people who subscribe to semen retention talk of physical benefits in addition to spiritual ones: better performance at the gym, more energy, sharper focus. But how credible are these claims? Gigi Engle, ACS, a certified sex educator and resident intimacy expert at 3Fun, has her doubts. “The only benefits to avoiding ejaculation are for people who may deal with delayed ejaculation – but this is only clinically seen, not study-approved,” she says. “There are no real health benefits to avoiding ejaculation, the idea that semen retention is good for you comes from myths around masturbation as being ‘self-polluting’ and misguided Reddit threads.”

Part of the reason why advocates claim semen retention is beneficial is to do with the idea that when you ejaculate, you release testosterone, a hormone linked to higher energy and denser muscle mass. It’s an idea that goes back to Ancient Rome, when they believed that loss of semen could lead to loss of physical vigour and mental acuity, and can still be found today among athletes like footballers, who are often banned from having sex during tournaments. Although apparently no one told the Olympians – condoms are in such high demand that past games have run out of protection, and in Tokyo athletes were given 14 free condoms each (160,000 in total). 

However, experts suggest that ejaculating will only cause a short-term dip in T levels, which then go back to normal over time. And although a 2003 study claimed that men who didn’t ejaculate for seven days more than doubled their testosterone levels, this was retracted in 2021. Another oft-mentioned claim is that when you ejaculate, you deplete your body of the minerals and proteins found in semen – which leads to further arguments that abstaining keeps you stronger and healthier. This, however, overlooks a simple fact: the average semen discharge is only between 1.5ml and 5ml, not exactly enough to cause you any great nutritional deficiency.

Long story short, avoiding ejaculation shouldn’t necessarily lead to the physical transformations people are claiming it does. In fact, avoiding ejaculation can lead you to lose out on some health benefits. Did you know that research recommends that if you have a penis, you ejaculate at least 21 times a month? Orgasms have many health benefits, scientists found that climaxing led to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Ejaculation also leads to the release of oxytocin, which decreases the stress hormone cortisol, and has also been tied to a lower chance of dying from heart disease

So, what do the semen retention fans think of these findings? Dave isn’t convinced. “There are zero negatives about semen retention, I’ve got to get that out of people’s heads. There’s a lot of misinformation on this topic,” he says. For him it’s about trusting his own body rather than what any scientific or medical professional might claim. “I have real life experience of this. Not only me but tons of my people who retain [semen] see the power, see the poise, see the influence through your vibration and your presence. There’s zero negatives, none.”

But as Dave continues talking on the subject, he starts to edge towards language that sounds not too dissimilar to conspiracy theory-speak. He claims that any research contradicting semen retention benefits is “pseudo-science” which is “funded by the very people who want to destroy us”. Shortly after, he broaches another topic: his belief that the sex industry is being used to weaken men’s role in society. “The reason why you see such a prominent increase in porn and OnlyFans and all this bullshit is to make sure that men are releasing their sexual energy,” he says. “Porn isn’t targeted at women, it’s targeted at men. Why? Because if you keep men weak you create a weak world. Weak men aren’t going to lead, they’re not going to create a powerful aura so their kids have something to look up to.” 

Running underneath some of the community’s more spiritual leanings is a desire to reinforce traditional gender roles of a strong, stoic masculinity – even if this time man is unencumbered by sexual urges. Porn performers, sex workers and women who express their sexuality, on the other hand, are stigmatised as harmful and unhealthy. As Engle puts it; “When we buy into these ideas, we're giving into messages of shame and sex negativity.”

That’s not to say that semen retention is intrinsically sex-negative. For many, semen retention is part of their spiritual or cultural practice, or their own inner journey. But some of the rhetoric around the movement does reinforce harmful gender stereotypes while the claims being made about physical improvements are likely psychological. For Das, this is what semen retention is all about: not necessarily a miracle cure but a tool, like meditation, which can be used as part of a journey towards self-mastery and self-knowledge. “It’s really about bringing awareness around sexual energy and how it influences our behaviour and energies,” he explains. 

Unlike Das, Engle makes it clear she doesn’t want to encourage movements like NoFap and semen retention. But for anyone looking to experiment with sex breaks or forms of abstinence in the hopes of emotional growth, she recommends beginning the journey with an awareness of what you are doing and why. “You get to make your own choices about your sexual wellbeing,” she says. Ultimately, whatever other people’s thoughts on semen retention or forms of celibacy, it’s vital that you’re making the decisions you want to make and aren’t being influenced by outside factors – be they from society or social media. “What's needed is information and thoughtful decision-making,” Engle concludes.

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