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While it may seem like just one more online fad, the concept of semen retention (essentially avoiding ejaculation) is nothing new.
The ancient Chinese philosophy known as Taoism taught that sexual self-control was a way of maintaining and increasing one’s life force and that ejaculation actually depletes it. Many of the practices men employ to achieve semen retention, such as edging and retrograde ejaculation, come directly from Taoist teachings (Wile 1992).
What is semen retention?
Put simply, semen retention is the practice of not ejaculating. It’s not the same as abstinence, though. Many men who practice semen retention are still able to have orgasms, they just don’t ejaculate.
Semen retention may also be confused with the NoFap movement, which aims to help those with porn and sex addictions. Although NoFap and abstinence encouragement communities may overlap with people interested in semen retention, this practice is different.
Why do people try semen retention? Where does the idea come from?
If you browse through the popular subReddit r/Semenretention you’ll come across claims that semen retention leads to things like better memory, a bigger penis, and super strength. These Reddit posters read that the energy normally lost from sexual activity––specifically, the loss of semen––can be directed into other parts of life.
The modern semen retention movement has its roots in ancient Taoist practices of self-control. In this tradition, semen is equated to the male life force. Losing semen is thought to lead to mental and physical laziness (Wile 1992).
Self-control can be empowering, and many religious traditions and philosophies encourage self-control in different ways.
Judaism has fasts throughout the year, Hinduism encourages awareness and control over the senses, and some denominations of Christianity forbid sex before marriage. All of these practices aim to direct energy away from immediate gratification and towards spiritual, mental, and physical growth (Bland 2008).
Does semen retention have benefits?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest any benefits of semen retention. In fact, some studies suggest that ejaculating could have positive effects, like decreasing the risk of prostate cancer (Rider 2016).
Despite the lack of evidence, men on the subreddit r/Semenretention claim tangible health benefits including reduced anxiety, increased energy, and even skin gaining a glow. Posters on r/Semenretention also cite a number of dubious experts and scientific sources who support such sexual health claims.
Even as the practice has strayed from its Taoist roots, the community surrounding semen retention more closely resembles a religious one than a group of sexual science devotees. Again, there is no evidence to back up any of the purported benefits.
Abstaining, on the other hand, may increase testosterone levels and semen volume, leading to more pleasurable orgasms (Exton 2001).
Is semen retention the same thing as abstinence?
Semen retention is practiced in many different ways and for a variety of reasons. Some who wish to increase their “male energy” (one benefit claimed by Reddit posters) may choose to be completely abstinent and refrain from sexual activity altogether.
Others choose to masturbate and have sex while still practicing semen retention. Those who engage in sexual activity while trying to retain semen mostly use two methods: edging and retrograde ejaculation.
Edging involves coming right up to the point of orgasm and stopping. Edging is also practiced as a way to treat premature ejaculation and to encourage sexual control (Martin, 2017).
Retrograde ejaculation occurs when you have an orgasm, but instead of semen releasing through the penis, it’s diverted back up into the bladder. Retrograde ejaculation, also referred to as a dry orgasm, is a medical condition caused by certain medications (Parnham, 2016). This is different from those who intentionally employ techniques to retain semen.
Are there any risks?
Semen retention does come with some risks. Not ejaculating can lead to a condition called epididymal hypertension, more commonly known as blue balls.
During an erection, blood builds up in the penis and testicles. This blood normally dissipates after ejaculation or when arousal comes to an end. If an erection persists without relief it can become painful and the balls can become enlarged, sometimes turning blue (Chalet 2000).
How is it done?
Semen retention can be achieved through abstinence, edging, or retrograde ejaculation. Here’s a bit more detail on each:
- Abstinence is simply refraining from all sexual activity with or without a partner.
- Edging is having sex, but not reaching orgasm. Practicing edging takes a lot of self-control. While masturbating or having sex, learn to listen to your body and what it feels like before you orgasm. Before you reach the point of no return, stop sexual activity. It may help to squeeze the tip of the penis to prevent an orgasm.
- Retrograde ejaculation may be the most satisfying of the options for retaining semen, but it still takes a lot of self-control. Similar to edging, you’ll have to pay careful attention to your body in order to achieve retrograde ejaculation. When it feels like you’re about to have an orgasm, press on the perineum, the area between the scrotum and anus, in order to prevent semen from exiting. This will divert semen into the bladder.
These techniques may take practice before you can get them right. It may help to experiment while masturbating before trying semen retention methods with a partner. Make sure to discuss your goal with any sexual partners to ensure they understand and are comfortable with what you’re trying to achieve.
Semen retention isn’t the magic bullet to better health as some online forums make it out to be. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and healthy sex life are more likely to provide the physical and emotional benefits you need to live a happier life.
- Bland, E.D. (2008). An Appraisal of Psychological & Religious Perspectives of Self-control. Journal of Religion & Health, 47, 4–16. doi: 10.1007/s10943-007-9135-0. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19104997/
- Chalett, J. M., & Nerenberg, L. T. (2000). “Blue balls”: A diagnostic consideration in testiculoscrotal pain in young adults: A case report and discussion. Pediatrics, 106(4), 843. doi: 10.1542/peds.106.4.843. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11015532/
- Exton, M., Krüger, T., Bursch, N. et al. (2001). Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World Journal of Urology, 19, 377–382. doi: 10.1007/s003450100222. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11760788/
- Imhoff, R., & Zimmer, F. (2020). Men’s Reasons to Abstain from Masturbation May Not Reflect the Conviction of “reboot” Websites. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(5), 1429–1430. doi: 10.1007/s10508-020-01722-x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32356083/
- Martin, C., Nolen, H., Podolnick, J., & Wang, R. (2017). Current and emerging therapies in premature ejaculation: Where we are coming from, where we are going. International Journal of Urology: Official Journal of the Japanese Urological Association, 24(1), 40–50. doi:10.1111/iju.13202. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27704632/
- Osadchiy, V., Vanmali, B., Shahinyan, R., Mills, J. N., & Eleswarapu, S. V. (2020). Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands: Abstinence from Pornography, Masturbation, and Orgasm on the Internet. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(5), 1427–1428. doi: 10.1007/s10508-020-01728-5. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32367482/
- Parnham, A., & Serefoglu, E. C. (2016). Retrograde ejaculation, painful ejaculation and hematospermia. Translational Andrology and Urology, 5(4), 592–601. doi:10.21037/tau.2016.06.05. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27652230/.
- Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up. European Urology, 70(6), 974–982. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27033442/
- Wile, D. (1992). Art of the Bedchamber, 40. Albany: State University of New York Press. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/books/edition/Art_of_the_Bedchamber/nD5MF289JQMC?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=semen
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.