One quick search for semen retention on Reddit and you’ll find over 100,000 members looking to dry out (and no, not from booze). It doesn’t stop there: a study published in 2022 found semen retention had over 1.2 billion impressions on TikTok and over one million posts on Instagram (1).
The idea around semen retention isn’t new. Originally an ancient practice motivated by the belief ejaculating weakens your overall health, it’s now evolved into a “movement” around improving your quality of life, says urologist Justin Dubin, M.D., who specializes in men’s health.
So how does semen retention work, and why are so many people interested in it? We logged off social media and asked Dr. Dubin the truth behind these semen retentionist claims.
What is Sperm Retention?
In short, it’s a practice where you don’t ejaculate, orgasm, or engage in sexual activity.
“Semen retention is the male practice of avoiding ejaculation by either abstaining from sexual activity, discontinuing sexual activity prior to ejaculation, or the practice of achieving orgasm without ejaculation,” says Dubin.
Semen retentionist believe that if you ejaculate, you lose your essence of manliness or an inner strength. “So by abstaining from ejaculation, you provide a greater sense of purpose in yourself, although that’s subjective based on what you personally feel,” Dubin says.
And while many men who abstain report health benefits including better semen quality, improved testosterone levels, better skin and hair, improved sleep, and less stress and anxiety, the problem is, there’s no data to support this, Dubin says.
If you’re wondering if semen retention is the same as No Fap, they are slightly similar. But the difference lies in intent.
“No Fap advocates for abstinence (from pornography, masturbation, and sexual activity) as a means of treating pornography addiction and pornography-induced sexual dysfunction. It is a very anti-porn movement which claims it can improve your focus and energy as well as the other potential benefits,” Dubin says. “The objective of semen retention is to improve your overall health and masculinity.”
Are There Benefits to Semen Retention?
There is no data to back the anecdotal benefits of semen retention, Dubin says. These claims are self-reported by semen retention advocates, Dubin notes—guys who aren’t scientists or doctors.
Still, for the sake of dispelling myths, let’s take a look at some of these claims.
One purported benefit is that semen retention improves sperm quality and sperm motility and to enhance fertility.
Not true. In fact, it’s the opposite. Abstaining can potentially harm fertility, Dubin says.
“If you’re trying to conceive, you should ejaculate every day or every other day,” Dubin says. “More frequent ejaculations improve sperm quality, motility, and DNA fragmentation,” which is a type of damage to your sperm’s DNA.
One study published in 2020 found participants with high sperm DNA damage who ejaculated for four consecutive days reduced sperm DNA fragmentation. High levels of sperm DNA fragmentation are linked to risks, including a higher chance of miscarriage (2).
“You gotta clean the pipes once in a while,” Dubin says.
If you practice semen retention and find your sleep improves, it’s probably in your head.
Some science backs sex and masturbation as effective ways to improve your sleep.
When you orgasm, you release oxytocin and prolactin, two hormones that relax you. Higher oxytocin levels have been linked to falling asleep faster and staying asleep. And because sex may lower your cortisol levels, people with less stress report more sleep at night than their high-stressed counterparts.
One study found people reported improved sleep after sex and better sleep quality after masturbating to orgasm (3).
Improved mental health
“Sex and masturbation should be done at a level you are comfortable with and if you don’t want to have sex or masturbate that is ok,” says Dubin.
He adds that what can cause stress and guilt is abstaining from something that you enjoy in the hope that you can improve yourself, when we know the claims are not supported.
And one study published in 2019 found men who had sex two or more times a month along with frequent kissing, petting or fondling reported having greater enjoyment in life (4).
Again, there’s no studies that show semen retention boosts your mood. In fact, orgasms trigger the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
Increased energy levels
Higher testosterone levels are linked with increased energy, but read on, friend. Not to spoil it for you, but retaining sperm doesn’t boost T.
Does Semen Retention Increase Testosterone?
If taken to court, semen retentionist could cite one study from 2002 that found men who didn’t masturbate for seven days saw a whacking 145 percent increase in testosterone from their baseline levels by the end of the week (5).
But as urologist Joshua Calvert, M.D., previously told The Edge, “There are no credible articles to suggest that semen retention boosts testosterone.” And on day eight of the study, after the men’s testosterone levels spiked, no regular fluctuation was observed.
In fact, in a more recent study masturbating may have led to increased testosterone levels, but much more research is required (6).
Are There Negative Effects to Semen Retention?
Overall, in general, no, there is no serious risk, says Dubin.
But with no health benefits, why bother?
Benefits of Ejaculating
Potentially, although more research is required, ejaculation may improve sleep, increase fertility, and promote better mental health. [Dubin says ejaculation “may potentially, but not necessarily” offer these benefits. And more research is required.]
Improve heart health
One study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found people who had sex once a month or less were at a higher risk for heart disease than people who had sex two or more times a week (7).
And because sex is essentially exercise—and exercise can increase nitric oxide production—you may have better blood flow around your whole body, including to your penis.
Reduce prostate cancer risk
One study published in 2016 found participants who ejaculated 21 times a month or more across their lifetime lowered their risk of prostate cancer by around 31 percent when compared to people who ejaculated four to seven times per month (8).
Don’t stress yourself out trying to hit a certain number, but recognize the TL;DR: more ejaculations = a potential to lower your prostate cancer risk.
Stronger immune system
After you have sex and orgasm, some research suggests that there are higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody found in mucous membranes throughout your body that helps you fight off sickness.
How Often Should You Ejaculate?
“You should do what you enjoy and what makes you comfortable as long as it’s not interfering with your relationships, work, or other aspects of your life,” said Dubin.
The caveat is with fertility, where you should aim for sex every day or every other day to maximize your chances of conceiving, Dubin said.
The Bottom Line