If you’ve scrolled through social media recently, you’ve probably come across (pardon the pun) some very vocal fans of semen retention — the practice of withholding ejaculation. In TikTok videos, Instagram posts and dedicated Subreddits, supporters of semen retention (also referred to as coitus reservatus, seminal conservation and sexual continence) claim that not cumming has huge health benefits. In fact, research shows semen retention was by far the most popular men’s health topic on social media, but most posts contained misinformation and weren’t created by medical experts. So, we’re looking at the actual evidence.
What is semen retention?
Semen retention is when you “retain” semen by not ejaculating. For some people, this involves not having sex or masturbating at all. For others, it involves engaging in sexual activity but stopping before ejaculating or having a dry orgasm (when you climax but your penis doesn't release semen). This is also known as edging, but when some people practice edging, they do eventually ejaculate.
What is the history of semen retention?
Semen retention has ancient roots in a range of Eastern cultures and religions, from Taoism to Tantra. However, the way it’s understood and practised has changed.
“Semen retention — and sex — are really only very small parts of Tantra,” says sex therapist Isiah McKimmie. “While Tantra and Tantric sex have become well known in the West recently, the way that Tantra is practised now is very different to how it was traditionally practised. So rather than just focusing on semen retention, Tantra was focused on much more than that. As a spiritual practice, Tantra involves daily meditation, breath work, energy practices and devotion.”
Is semen retention the same as NoFap?
What are the benefits of semen retention?
The reasons for practising semen retention vary and include physical, emotional and spiritual factors. A big factor is the belief that it gives you more energy and vitality, which stems from the idea that semen contains valuable nutrients and ‘life force’ that can be absorbed back into the body and used for other bodily functions. Some people believe losing semen means losing this energy and vitality.
“A reduction in energy levels is a concept that has been present in Eastern teachings, but again, this concept is part of a much broader understanding of energy that we have in the West,” McKimmie says. “Modern science has found no evidence that supports this claim.”
Psychosexual therapist Christopher Brett-Renes says a bit of post-ejaculation exhaustion is normal.
“For most people, when they orgasm, they have a moment or two of feeling relaxed as their brains swim in feel-good neurotransmitters,” he says. “Some people crash after they orgasm and need to have a short nap, and for a very small amount of people, they experience postorgasmic illness syndrome. The feelings of relaxation are normal, and no data has demonstrated that the average male person's ejaculation damages their long-term health or affects their life expectancy.”
Another common claim is that not ejaculating boosts testosterone, and one small, low-quality study is often cited as evidence. It found men’s testosterone spiked after abstaining from ejaculation for a week, however, another small study on 34 men indicated that testosterone is actually elevated by masturbation. There are no good quality studies on whether ejaculating impacts testosterone, and your hormone levels are unlikely to be a concern unless you’re experiencing testosterone deficiency. Avoiding ejaculation won’t help with this, but chatting to your doctor will.
Most proponents of semen retention also say it gives them more confidence and self-control, less anxiety and depression, increased motivation, better memory, concentration and improved cognitive function. Again, there is no evidence to support these claims. But there’s plenty of evidence for the benefits of orgasming.
“Reaching orgasm has been associated with numerous health benefits such as relieving stress, releasing tension and pain, improving sleep, and even increasing concentration and focus,” Brett-Renes says.
The downsides of semen retention
The negative impacts of semen retention depend on the reasons why you’re doing it. While the practice probably won’t impact your physical health, if you’re doing it out of guilt or shame around ejaculation, it could impact your mental health.
“Beliefs around semen affect your own sexuality and sexual identity, as well as your romantic relationship, and in my experience, it can have quite a significant impact on both the individual and the couple, with the person experiencing distressing levels of guilt and shame,” Brett Renes says.
Seeing semen loss as a threat to wellbeing and vitality is evident in specific cultures, particularly with Dhat Syndrome in South Asia. Dhat Syndrome is a psychiatric condition involving excessive distress over losing semen through ejaculation. If this is something you experience, it can help to chat with your doctor.