November acts as the marker of many things: the tail end of fall, the crux of cuffing season, and a time to eat turkey while dodging invasive questions from distant family members. But for users of the popular viral video app TikTok, the last month of autumn also offers up an opportunity to tackle new goals — namely, the "No Nut November" challenge, which encourages participants to abstain from ejaculating through masturbation or intercourse until the tidings of December. And it's wildly popular.
The trend is so popular in fact, that the hashtag #nonutnovember currently has 387.1 million views — and though participation may feel inherently gendered, there are videos of users from all genders participating. Perhaps most surprising is that, despite the elongated period (30 days is a long time to withhold ejaculate), participants are up to the task at hand — literally. "It's hard, but not impossible," Joshua*, 24, who attempted No Nut November in 2016 but broke his vow to masturbate, tells me.
Originally created as an Urban Dictionary entry in 2011, then later popularized on Twitter in the fall of 2017 as a parody of internet phenomena, like the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Tide Pod Challenge, No Nut November is the latest iteration of 2006's far-right No Fap Movement. But the challenge takes viral extremity to new levels by overstating the benefits of abstaining from ejaculation. A 2018 entry on Urban Dictionary will tell you that No Nut November is actually an "an ancient ritual" that encourages a man to "control his primal urges" in order to "save humanity." A second definition from 2017 claims that, when participating, "around week two, you can start to levitate." The entire definition reads as satire, and though users are in on the joke, they've taken it to new extremes. TikTok user Alejandro, 19, claims he "actually learned how to levitate last No Nut November."
If so many users are actually willingly participating in the challenge in the name of sarcasm, at what point does a dare go from a viral gag to a health risk? To be honest, is it even healthy to hold your nut?
Dr. Philip Cheng, a urologist with Reproductive Medicine Associates, New Jersey, says, "Despite reports that abstaining from ejaculation, masturbation, and/or sex can lead to health benefits, such as raising testosterone levels, there is a lack of quality scientific evidence to support these claims — there actually is more evidence to support the contrary."
You've probably heard about “blue balls,” the scrotal and testicular pain caused by prolonged arousal or sexual stimulation without ejaculation. Not only can participating in No Nut November cause similar discomfort, but the challenge's consequences can be even more severe. According to Dr. Cheng, abstaining from ejaculation has been linked to various serious health risks. "Infrequent ejaculation overall can potentially increase the risk for prostate cancer," he says. "Several studies have shown an association between frequent ejaculation and a decreased risk of prostate cancer, though it is important to stress that a causal relationship has not been proven." Dr. Lamia Gabal, a board-certified urologist who has been in practice in Southern California for over 20 years, adds that other than as a form of sex therapy for those who struggle with premature ejaculation, there is no reason to withhold ejaculate. "It does not hold any particular health benefits on its own," Dr. Gabal says.
From a fertility standpoint, it's a common myth that "saving up sperm" for long periods of time by abstaining from ejaculation will help with getting pregnant. But according to Dr. Cheng, "there is some evidence that longer abstinence periods may be harmful to sperm quality, such as sperm motility. Accordingly, I often counsel my patients to ejaculate more frequently and have shorter abstinence periods."
Despite the potential health risks, some participants aren't concerned. "I'm not worried because [the challenge] is kind of done ironically," Chester,* 25, says. "I mean, I'd just nut in my sleep."
If the potential negative impact the No Nut November challenge can have on your physical health feels obvious, then it's the ramifications it can have on the health of your relationship that are cause for further alarm.
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, involuntarily abstaining from sex for a month can impact the health of a relationship in a number of ways, depending upon the health of the relationship, in and out of the bedroom. For example, if your sex life with your partner has grown stale, taking a month off from any sort of sexual activity might help to rekindle the now-dormant desire. However, this can only work if both partners are on the same page. "It could be very threatening if this is something that only one partner really wants to do because the non-abstaining partner may feel rejected," he says. "This can be a destructive pattern that you want to avoid as it will do damage to your relationship."
Additionally, Dr. Brown warns it's actually much harder to go a month without ejaculating than one might think when you're in a relationship. "Most couples — even where they both agree to abstain for a month — more often than not, don't make it a month," he says. "There really is something about wanting something you think you can't or aren't supposed to have." In fact, by forbidding ejaculation, it can seem even more arousing or appealing. "There's something to wanting what you think you can't or aren't supposed to have."
The millions of users participating in the No Nut November, however, disagree.
Kyle*, 24, says the majority of challenge participants taking the vow seriously most likely aren't in relationships. "No Nut November is the WOAT [worst of all time]," he explains. "People try to play it off as a joke, but those people just aren't getting laid. So it's just a façade. They use it as an excuse. If you have a girlfriend, you do not partake."
Carolyn, 22, agrees. After she first downloaded TikTok, she couldn't understand why users were participating and thought the entire challenge was a joke. "Now, I think there is some feigned sincerity to the whole thing," she says. "It's definitely done ironically, especially amongst the pretty boy subset of TikTok. But I think they also treat it as a competition, one they'll try to win. Honestly, it probably started from not getting laid and trying to take back that power, but I think it snowballed into something bigger."
If externally, No Nut November is a joke, internally, it may very well be a defense mechanism for being single during the holiday season. Reflecting on his own experience, Joshua says, "I think people are making light of not getting laid. For segments of the population that aren't having sex, but want people to think they are, maybe it is a defense."
Joshua's experience rings true. According to a 2018 Elite Daily study of 119 participants ages 18 to 38, 60% of people said they'd met a significant other between Oct. 1 and Feb. 14, and of those people, 48% reported having met their partner during the month of October. So, once November rolls around and the majority of your friends are paired up, it's understandable to be feeling defensive of your single status. "No right-minded man with a girlfriend would actively choose not to have sex for a month if he could," Chester says. Carolyn adds, "It's like a hit to all the overly loving relationships on TikTok." It might feel empowering to reclaim that narrative by trying to see how long you can go without ejaculating.
Given the health risks associated with the challenge, however, doesn't partaking in a month-long quest to avoid ejaculating seem a little, well, nuts?
*Names have been changed.
Dr. Philip Cheng, a urologist with RMA, NJ
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles
Dr. Lamia Gabal, board-certified urologist