Semen Retention: Benefits & How To Orgasm Without Ejaculation

mbg Contributor By Suzannah Weiss
mbg Contributor
Suzannah Weiss is a certified sex educator and freelance writer focused on gender and sexuality. She has degrees in cognitive neuroscience, modern culture and media, and gender and sexuality studies from Brown University. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and elsewhere.
Expert review by Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST
Clinical Sexologist & Psychotherapist
Kristie Overstreet, Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, CST, is a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist with 12 years of clinical experience. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a certified sex therapist, certified addiction professional, and president of the Therapy Department, a private practice in Orange County that provides counseling services throughout the United States.
Let's Talk About Semen Retention, Tantra's Best-Kept Secret For Male Pleasure

Image by STUDIO FIRMA / Stocksy

For those with penises, orgasm is usually equated with ejaculation. But they're actually separate events, and some people intentionally train themselves to orgasm without ejaculating—a process sometimes known as semen retention. 

What is semen retention?

Semen retention is the sexual practice of avoiding ejaculation. Some people do this by abstaining from all sexual activity, but in some traditions (including tantric sex), practicing semen retention means learning to have an orgasm without ejaculating, also known as a dry orgasm. "It's a fun, not widely known fact that while occurring simultaneously most of the time, orgasm and ejaculation are separate biological phenomena, and one can occur without the other," says sexologist Jill McDevitt, M.Ed., Ph.D. 

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Semen retention benefits.

The main reason people choose to practice semen retention is so that they can maintain an erection after orgasm, which leaves the opportunity to have multiple orgasms and continue pleasuring a partner, says McDevitt. Typically, the penis undergoes a refractory period after ejaculation in which it can't get hard again, but this doesn't happen after dry orgasms. 

If you're trying to conceive, it's possible that practicing semen retention for a brief period of time could increase your fertility the next time you have sex. "Short periods of abstinence from ejaculation can lead to higher sperm levels present during a patient's next ejaculation," says internist Christopher Carrubba, M.D.

Some other potential benefits to consider:

  • More sexual stamina (the ability to have sex for longer periods of time because you're not ejaculating so quickly) 
  • The potential for multiple orgasms (because you can have many non-ejaculatory orgasms in a row without a refractory period)
  • More self-control and body awareness (because of the practice involved in learning to orgasm without ejaculation)
  • Better sperm quality (more sperm, with higher motility, in your next ejaculation)
  • Increased testosterone, potentially (more on that below) 
  • Stronger life force energy (some spiritual practices, like tantra, believe semen retention has energetic benefits)

Some people claim not masturbating improves their health in other ways, including more confidence, motivation, and cognitive skills, but there's no research to back these claims up. There are a few studies that suggest abstaining from sex or masturbation for a week or two is linked with increased testosterone, but it's difficult to say that it's specifically the retention of semen that would cause those effects. Testosterone levels are also associated with some physical qualities like muscle mass and having a deeper voice, but no known research links semen retention with these effects. 

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How to orgasm without ejaculation:

1. Try having back-to-back orgasms. 

Dry orgasms sometimes happen naturally if the person has ejaculated a number of times recently so the body hasn't had enough time to produce more semen yet, says McDevitt. So, one way to increase your chances of orgasming without ejaculation is to try after you've already ejaculated. You may even try attempting lots of back-to-back orgasms until you run out of semen, says McDevitt. 

2. Work on controlling your ejaculatory response.

Another, more involved way to orgasm without ejaculating is to train yourself to control your ejaculation response. This approach may include working with a sex therapist or coach, fine-tuning your pelvic floor through Kegel exercises, and practicing mindful awareness, says McDevitt. 

You can also better control your ejaculatory response by gaining awareness of your PC muscles, says Nantz. One way to do this is to practice stopping and starting the flow of urine when you're peeing. Then, you can squeeze these same muscles when you feel ejaculation coming on to prevent it. 

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3. Practice edging.

Edging is the sexual practice of coming right to the point of orgasm, then stopping stimulation, waiting, and then starting again. Somatic sex coach Kat Nantz recommends slowing down during masturbation or sex to become more aware of what it feels like when you're about to ejaculate so that you can eventually stop when you feel it coming on. Try stopping just as you're about to ejaculate and waiting 20 seconds before continuing. Deep, slow breathing can help with this process, says Nantz—try holding your breath in for five seconds before letting it back out. Or, alternatively, you can try rapid breathing to move the sensation throughout your whole body so that it's not so focused on the genitals. (Here's our full guide to edging.)

Once you're good at it, you can use edging to reach the point where you're about to ejaculate, halt ejaculation, but continue to have the experience of the orgasm without ejaculating. You may benefit from combining your edging practice with practicing with energy orgasms.

How semen retention affects testosterone.

There are some rumors that semen retention in the form of complete sexual abstinence can increase your testosterone levels. One study, for example, found that men's serum testosterone levels reached 146% of their original levels after seven days of abstinence. Another found elevated testosterone levels after a three-week abstinence period.

But both Carrubba and Giuseppe Aragona, a family medicine doctor at Prescription Doctor, are skeptical about the idea that semen retention could meaningfully affect testosterone levels: "They're small studies, so it always makes you question the validity," says Carrubba. "There's a small amount of evidence suggesting that it could help testosterone levels—and nothing saying that it doesn't. If you're interested in it and think it could help, then go for it. Just make sure that you're still practicing safe sex."

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Risks and side effects of semen retention.

Semen retention itself doesn't carry any known risks, says Aragona, but if it happens involuntarily, it could potentially point toward a number of health issues, including stress, an enlarged prostate, diabetes, or high blood pressure. If it's happening to you without any conscious attempt on your part, it's best to talk to a doctor to rule out any underlying medical issues. And of course, if you're trying to conceive, not ejaculating will get in the way of that.

Some people attempt to use semen retention as a form of birth control or STI prevention, but sexual health experts advise against this usage. Ejaculation is hard to control, and pre-ejaculate can still lead to pregnancy and STIs, Aragona says. "It would not be wise to practice sex without additional forms of contraception, as it can be difficult to predict for certain a male will have a dry orgasm, and while there is no visible seminal fluid, there still may be traces," he says. 

NoFap versus semen retention.

The term "semen retention" is sometimes used to simply mean abstaining from sex and masturbation. NoFap is an organization oriented around helping people watch less porn or stop watching porn completely, and some people now associate the term with not masturbating. There are online communities that believe this practice can help with various physical ailments, but there's no scientific evidence backing that up.

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The science and research behind semen retention.

Research on how abstaining from ejaculation affects the body has focused on complete abstinence from sexual activity. (To date, there doesn't appear to be any research on the effects of dry orgasms.) Those studies have found that short periods without ejaculation may improve sperm motility, and abstaining from sex two hours before an athletic competition could enhance athletes' performance.

Spiritual basis for semen retention.

In tantric sex, semen retention is believed to facilitate full-body orgasms, says relationship coach Stephen James Burford. "By using breath, sound, and movement, orgasms can be spread around your body," he says. Some also believe that ejaculation releases emotions, and by not releasing them this way, you can get more in touch with them. 

"The belief is that ejaculation releases life energy," Nantz explains. "The idea behind withholding ejaculation is that your life energy is then circulated back through your body and energizes you." 

Should I practice semen retention?

Experts are mixed on whether semen retention is worth the effort. "I think it's hazardous for most men to set themselves a performance goal such as this," says sex therapist and sexual medicine specialist Stephen Snyder, M.D. "They tend to get too obsessed with the technical aspect, and they forget to connect with their partner."

However, some people swear by the practice. The key is just not to take it too seriously. "When learning to orgasm without ejaculating, it's important to lead with curiosity," says Nantz. "It's a process of exploration to see what works with your body, and it's a skill that takes time to cultivate, so have fun while trying."

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