When we spoke to Syed, a 21-year-old Californian, he hadn’t masturbated for 180 days — and counting.
The first five days were terrible.
I was stressed out.
I was irritable.
I felt like a drug addict — I would just sit around, horny beyond imagination, jonesing for that quick hit of endorphins.
It wasn’t the first time I felt this way. Or the first time I had tried giving up masturbation. That was two years ago. But I was 19 at the time — and full of hormones. So I’d string together only a few days before succumbing to temptation and firing up some porn.
Still, each new streak would get a little longer, and I suspected I could quit once for and all.
As the year drew to a close, I was more determined than ever before. Masturbation had been sapping my drive and discipline. I’d wake up and masturbate — pushing my 8:30 a.m. workout back an hour, if it happened at all. After which, I’d also masturbate, causing me to miss a meeting at work. It went on and on like this throughout the day.
Something had to be done. So on New Year’s Eve, I said, “That’s it. I’m done. I don’t want to masturbate anymore.”
I didn’t even last 24 hours. On New Year’s Day, the urge to jerk off took hold and I didn’t have the willpower to stop it. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked myself. I was embarrassed by my complete lack of self-control.
I started all over again on January 2. A few days in, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I used to stay up until 6 a.m. watching porn, jerking off five times a day. Suddenly, I had all this free time, and no way to fill it.
At the same time, however, the surplus testosterone gave me a surge of energy. I’d wake up feeling like everything in the world was mine to be had. I was more confident and full of life. Everything I did was bombastic.
Then, after about two weeks, my libido and testosterone levels totally dropped. The urges to masturbate were less and less, and my usual triggers — looking at nude photos or passing a beautiful woman on the street — were less stimulating.
I decided to replace that missing testosterone the natural way — by lifting weights. I would burst into the gym and just blast through my workout, pent-up aggression coursing through my veins.
Lifting weights only went so far, though. Inside, I was still at war with my base desires. I’d fantasize about sex and my nerves would feel like they were on fire. My heart would race, and my muscles would tense. At the end of January — about three weeks in — I had the first wet dream of my life.
There were some nights I came within a few Google searches of breaking my streak. I’d type in some combination of “girl,” “hot” and “sexy” and stare at the image results. My conscious mind was saying Don’t do it. You got this. Meanwhile, my hand was opening an incognito tab.
I kept repeating the usual justifications to myself:
It’s normal! Everyone does it.
You just needed a break.
Everyone needs a release sometimes.
Eventually, I snapped out of it and realized those justifications were bullshit.
Things finally normalized after about 35 days. My body settled; I wasn’t brimming with anxiety, and my energy wasn’t erratic. Not masturbating became just another part of my life. I stopped noticing it, for the most part. Or better put, it helped me start to notice the bigger problems in my life.
When diagnosing someone in medicine, you’re not always looking for factors to support the existence of a certain disease, but to exclude the existence of others. For years, masturbation was just the coping mechanism for my anxiety and insecurities. It’s what I turned to whenever I was depressed and needed a quick release. I’d get a bad grade and jerk away my disappointment. Then, afterward, I’d invariably feel worse.
Now when I’m depressed or anxious or have a problem, I find a more productive solution. Which has completely worked for me. My GPA has jumped from a 2.2 to a 3.9. All the while, I’ve added more than 20 pounds of muscle. Before, I could only bench press the bar. Now I put up 155 pounds without a problem.
Don’t get me wrong; I still fantasize. But when I do, I’m quicker to bring myself back to reality. I don’t sit for hours thinking about what it’d be like to have sex with the beautiful woman I saw in the coffee shop. I just move on mentally and think about something else.
When I first started my current streak in January, I wrote the date for one year later on a Post-It and stuck it to my computer. That was the goal — to go a year without masturbating.
I’m more than halfway there. But I’ll be honest: I hope the streak lasts forever.
— As told to John McDermott