When a person with a uterus doesn’t engage in reproductive intercourse that successfully results in pregnancy, the uterus responds by angrily destroying the cozy little home it built for a baby to live. It does this month after month in the form of a menstrual period. When a penis-haver doesn’t contribute its portion to the baby-making process in the form of ejaculation, surely the body must similarly undergo some kind of aggressive blood-letting process, right?
This, at least, seems to be the concern for some tentative edgers, NoFappers and potential tantric sex havers — maybe not that they’re going to bleed from their penis exactly, but that something bad will happen to their reproductive organs if they don’t ejaculate as planned. Considering how not pooping or peeing can cause your organs to rupture, it’s not that much of a stretch to wonder if ejaculate functions similarly.
Fortunately, that’s not the case.
During their reproductive prime, men produce millions of sperm a day. In the testicles, germ cells are transformed into sperm cells by testosterone. The sperm then hangs out in a tube behind the testes called the epididymis, before moving on to the vas deferens. This whole process takes between five and seven weeks. When a man becomes aroused, the sperm is mixed with seminal fluid created by the prostate gland and vesicles.
If you never become aroused, your body will continue to produce sperm, but it will never mix with seminal fluid to form semen as we know it. When someone becomes aroused but doesn’t ejaculate, semen is formed, but never goes through the final step of being released through the urethra via muscle contractions. In order to not cum, one has to exert mental control over these muscles or prevent the contractions by ceasing sex or masturbation. As such, the semen sits around the prostate gland until breaking down and being reabsorbed.
Though the medical consensus is generally that edging is perfectly safe, a few horror stories on Reddit might make you think otherwise. In a post titled “Be Careful Edging,” one redditor explains that after a few hours of edging with a partner, he began to feel a tightness in his testicles. When he eventually did ejaculate, he experienced “the worst pain [he’s] ever felt.” The tightness persisted for a few days after that, leading him to go to the doctor who told him he had “swollen ejaculatory ducts.” In the comments, others reported that edging resulted in them contracting prostatitis, a bacterial infection in their prostate.
While prostatitis and swollen ejaculatory ducts are linked, there’s not much evidence that either might be caused by edging. Often, swollen ejaculatory ducts are a symptom of prostatitis, and might make it difficult for one to fully ejaculate. That said, it’s unclear whether or not ejaculating could lead to either of these problems, and both can happen without warning to just about anyone with a prostate.
Stories of negative side effects are largely the exception, though. For the most part, people who refrain from ejaculating habitually report that not masturbating has made them happier and more clear-headed. Most link this phenomenon to the thinking that because masturbation releases dopamine, they’re better in control of their brain chemistry when they don’t partake. A subgroup of non-ejaculators, however, believes that the positive side effects they experience come straight from their semen. On r/SemenRetention, men report that not cumming has given them “superpowers.” For example, one man describes meditating in a church after 32 days of celibacy, and reports being able to silence the tourists visiting the church with his mind. “God loves retainers, we are the true cultivators of the human body, fighting sin and lust,” responded one member.
That phenomenon seems, um, unverifiable, considering the fact that semen isn’t actually produced until arousal occurs, meaning that someone practicing complete celibacy wouldn’t actually produce semen at all. Instead, they’d only produce sperm.
Still, most edgers aren’t actually avoiding ejaculating entirely, nor are they likely doing it for any spiritual reason. Instead, most people seem to do it just because it feels good. “I’m a big fan of edging,” says James, a man in his 40s from Montana. “I typically do it when I know that I won’t be having sex for a few days. Right now is a perfect example — my lady friend is out of town until Monday, so I will edge until then. She has already made it clear that she expects sex immediately upon her arrival. Edging until then will not only give me an incredible orgasm Monday night, but will also ensure that I will be ready to ravage her. I usually edge to an extent when I masturbate, but I don’t withhold orgasm for days very often, usually just an hour or two.”
For James, edging prior to sex helps him feel “lustier” toward his partners, which he finds they enjoy. As such, he mostly practices during masturbation. “It usually isn’t too hard for me,” he says. “There’s usually a minute or two where I want to cum really bad, but once that passes, I’m pretty much over it. It’s definitely easier for me to edge if I know I’m going to edge before I masturbate. It’s good to get the goal of cumming out of the way immediately if I want to edge.”
Still, it took practice to be able to do it at all. “For a while, I didn’t think I could ever do it,” he says. “But once I did it a couple times, it was easier. Well, it’s never easy, just easier!”
And there you have it. Despite the expression, there really is very little danger in living on the edge.