In life, two things are inevitable: death and male masturbation. According to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, over 94 percent of men ages 25 to 29 report having masturbated in their lifetime and, according to common sense, the other 6 percent are probably lying.
Trying to curtail male masturbation is like standing in front of a speeding train full of semen, but that hasn’t discouraged lifestyle blogger Tim Ferriss (of 4-Hour Workweek fame) from throwing down the gauntlet with a 30-day “no booze, no masturbation” challenge that he’s calling “NOBNOM.” The challenge starts on August 1 and, while it comes with a chance at a $500 reward, all hopefuls must “put some of [their] own cash on the line” in order to participate.
If you’re not familiar with Ferriss, he is essentially a TED Talk in human form—and yes, he’s delivered one of his own entitled “Smash Fear, Learn Anything.” He’s the very image of the 21st-century self-made man, one who sustains his position of immense socioeconomic privilege by passing it off as the product of his own commodifiable ingenuity. In the 2000s, Ferriss left behind his career in data storage in order to take up “lifestyle design.” With his bestselling 4-Hour series of self-help books, he’s proved that it’s still possible for a white man to become successful simply by offering others the promise of success.
But a human TED Talk might be the only kind of person who can successfully persuade men to cut back on their solo time, for better or for worse. Ferriss’ mixture of empty entrepreneurial spirit, cavalier sexism, and macho posturing—this is a man who unironically uses the expression “sumnabitch”—make him uniquely equipped to become the Pied Piper of abstaining men.
Online communities like NoFap on reddit offer mutual support for men who want to cut back on masturbation, but Ferriss has just given the movement a figurehead. Organized religion, too, has tried to curtail male masturbation for centuries, but Ferriss might have figured out how to control it in a single blog post.
Ferriss’ NOBNOM challenge somehow manages to make not masturbating seem manly. “Given how transformative this was for me,” he writes, from atop his inherently persuasive piles of money, “I’m inviting you to join me for another thirty days.” By holding up the promise of himself—the illusory image of an ideal, productive, alpha male—as a reward for his readers’ self-restraint, he effectively feeds one of masculinity’s most timeless mechanisms for catharsis to masculinity itself, like some sort of sexually-frustrated Ouroboros.
Ferriss eschews any sort of pious or moralistic critique of masturbation in favor of a non-judgmental, one-bro-to-another approach. He opens the NOBNOM challenge by gently needling his readers—“You know who you are, you filthy animals”—before flexing his secret knowledge of all the places that men stash porn: “Secret bookmarks to Pornhub (‘Discount airfare’—Ha!), secret folders labeled ‘Tax Returns’ for when WiFi fails…” With this effortless display of convivial homosociality, Ferriss reassures his readers that he has their number. He gets its. He’s been there. He was once like you.
It’s worth noting that his female readers (a lot of whom “don’t [masturbate] but should” in Ferriss’ expert opinion) are invited to try the “no booze, no complaining” challenge instead of NOBNOM. Women are not “filthy animals,” after all. It’s common knowledge that we women like to come home at the end of a long day, light a few candles, crawl under the covers, and just complain for a few minutes straight. (A quick glance at the same National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior data would show Ferriss that most women do masturbate, just not with the same awe-inspiring level of devotion as his male readers.)
But Ferriss’ expertise lies elsewhere, in his ability to dangle masculinity as the carrot on the stick of his anti-masturbation campaign. With his readers’ collective guards lowered by his winking and ribbing, Ferriss swoops in with the promise of reward, the reward of his own hegemonic masculinity. He assures NOBNOM participants that they will experience “a dramatic surge in free testosterone and sex drive,” teasing the lesser men who will spend their evenings “wanking, watching Battlestar Galactica, and calling it a night” instead.
He also promises a dramatic increase in both “cognitive endurance” (whatever that means) and productivity, estimating that those who accept his challenge will get “roughly 50-100% more done.” “You’ll clear off that goddamn to-do list faster than Speedy Gonzalez [sic],” Ferriss guarantees. His own to-do list presumably includes learning some more sophisticated and less racist metaphors.
By promising greater efficiency, sexual pleasure, and peace of mind to NOBNOM participants, Ferriss is making himself into a walking advertisement for the challenge. His career as a lifestyle designer has hinged on his ability to approximate the ideal masculine image of the 21st-century West: a wealthy, clean-cut young man who has perfectly streamlined his life but still knows how to crack a joke and play hard. He’s a kale smoothie with a side of kickass. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with but he also owns the bar you’re sitting in.
Ferriss seals the NOBNOM deal by playfully concluding his blog post with some pornography and alcohol recommendations for one “last hurrah” before August begins: try “a bottle of 2011 Ménage à Trois red,” he suggests, and “a viewing of ‘Momoko and Anjelica.’” This is the knockout punch in Ferriss’ NOBNOM pitch, one final reassurance that he is not some pious ideologue trying to take away every man’s favorite pastime. Ferriss is just a dude like you who likes his boobs and his booze but knows what he has to do to “level up.”
Ferriss has realized that the only way he can persuade men to temporarily give up masturbation is by detaching the act from any notion of personal purity. When set against the backdrop of one of the most hilarious pieces of anti-masturbation literature ever written, for example, the full and frightening brilliance of Ferriss’ NOBNOM campaign starts to shine through. I’m referring, of course, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ To Young Men Only, a 1980 pamphlet distributed to young Mormon men warning them of the dangers of masturbation and homosexuality.
To Young Men Only typifies organized religion’s approach to curtailing male masturbation. It is a deeply paternalistic document, taken from an address given to a group of boys by Boyd K. Packer, a then-52-year old Mormon Church leader. With a noxious mixture of condescension and euphemism, Packer describes the male genitalia as “a little factory in your body” in painfully detailed paragraphs like the following:
“As you move closer to manhood, this little factory will sometimes produce an oversupply of… substance. The Lord has provided a way for that to be released. It will happen without any help or without any resistance from you. Perhaps, one night you will have a dream…”
Religious leaders like Packer talk down to their faithful when it comes to matters of a sexual nature; Ferriss rubs shoulders with his followers, offering them the illusion of equality even as he cleverly positions himself as the pinnacle of masculine success.
And where Ferriss offers tangible, material, and immediate rewards for men who take a break from tampering with their “little factories,” Packer can only promise the delayed and immaterial rewards of “worthiness and virtue and fullness of joy at the proper time in life.” Ferriss’ assurance of increased testosterone, greater productivity, and a chance at a $500 prize sounds pretty enticing when compared with the prospect of ethereal, heavenly love. Perhaps it’s time for religions like Mormonism to take a page from Ferriss’ playbook and start hosting some chastity raffles.
In the game of masturbation regulation, Ferriss might succeed where all others have failed. He can use the ideals of secular Western masculinity to his advantage in a way that religious leaders cannot; the Mormon prophet can’t dish out porn recommendations to establish his credibility and the Pope definitely won’t give you $500 to leave your member alone. Ferriss has taken masturbation out of God’s arena, demoting it from a sin to a needless distraction from masculine success.
And besides, Ferriss himself is the god of a new religion of vapid men who prize wealth, material success, and bodily perfection above all else. He doesn’t need to pontificate to his followers in order to persuade them, he just needs to make them feel like they’re part of an elite club. By finally divorcing masturbation from morality, Ferriss may have finally figured out how to keep men from touching themselves, at least for a month.