"Big Mouth" tackles the shame and dangers of No Nut November

There's a reason the challenge has increasingly found a home among the internet far-right

Published November 9, 2021 6:30PM (EST)

Big Mouth episode "No Nut November" (Netflix)
Big Mouth episode "No Nut November" (Netflix)

The horny tweens of Bridgeton Middle School are back in Season 5 of "Big Mouth," and things immediately get off to bumpy start when Jay convinces friends Nick, Andrew and Jessi to join him in the #NoNutNovember challenge.

"It's a challenge for your mind and your d**k," he explains. "You don't come for the entire month. Everybody's doing it. Chris Pratt, Anthony Mackie, the dad from 'Father of the Bride,' Guy Fieri. I mean, everybody! We should do it too!"

Jay himself is convinced to participate by a video of actor Kumail Nanjiani – guest starring as an animated and jacked version of himself – endorsing the challenge, as Jay continues to struggle to move on from his doomed relationship with Lola.

"I was a slave to my seed!" a shirtless Nanjiani declares as he works out in the video Jay shows to his friends. "But ever since I've stopped nutting, my life's been Mark Wahlberg good!

"One month of no sex, no masturbation, no wet dreams, no nutting in any form . . . So cork that c**k, stay rock-soft, and I'll see you for Decimate Your D**k December!"

Since the kids of "Big Mouth" are, well, kids, for them, the challenge mostly pertains to masturbation and wet dreams, and the first to lose owes the others granola bars. This is also a nod to the "Seinfeld" episode "The Contest," in which Jerry and his friends bet to see who can hold out on masturbating the longest, which "Big Mouth" acknowledges by spoofing the music and iconic diner from the hit sitcom.

The demonization of nutting

While Nanjiani's endorsement of No Nut November is fictional, the trend itself remains real. It refers to a social media challenge in which participants swear off orgasms, and primarily masturbating, for the entire month, supposedly to alleviate dependency on sex, porn consumption and masturbation. 

But what is its appeal? Even the Bridgeton students are leery of denying themselves this pleasure at first.

RELATED: "Big Mouth" Season 3 masterfully decodes the "politics of childhood"

"It sounds awful. I mean why would anybody not jerk off for a month? You gotta get the poison out, am I right?" Andrew asks, reluctant to participate until his ego comes into play.

Missy refuses outright, declaring, "I'd like to say that No Nut November demonizes masturbation, which is a perfectly healthy activity."

"Demonizes" seems to be the key word here to understanding why this trend has gained in popularity.

A cursory search for the trend on social platforms like Reddit and Twitter reveals it's increasingly been co-opted by far-right users. This shouldn't be surprising, considering the impetus for the challenge is at least somewhat derived from incel thinking: that men's dependency on sex, porn and masturbation is dangerous, and they can regain their power through disavowing these vices. And to be clear, one can certainly become dependent on porn and masturbating to porn to the point that this interrupts their daily life and relationships, and they might benefit from therapy.

There's nothing wrong with abstinence in and of itself, but when the idea of self-control is transmuted into equating sex and masturbation with immorality, that can lead to misplaced anger and blame. Thus, in addition to abstaining from, well, "nutting," No Nut November can also lead to increased vitriol among participants against sex workers, whom they blame for ensnaring them in states of masturbatory dependency, per reporting from Rolling Stone

In some right-wing circles, failing No Nut November makes one a "beta masturbator," using language and shame to define a specific type of toxic masculinity. You're a "real" man if you can beat the challenge. 

The "Big Mouth" version of Nanjiani even uses catchphrases like "the gospel of No Nut November" and "protect your precious seed," to reveal how this simple act of abstinence has taken on the qualities of some higher purpose other than personal self-improvement.

The dangers of not nutting

"Big Mouth" doesn't explicitly tackle the right-wing politics that No Nut November has increasingly become ensconced in. But it does address the ways stigma and shame around ordinary, healthy sexual behaviors like masturbation can manifest in unhealthy ways, especially for young people who are still learning about their bodies and desires.

Neither Jay nor any of his friends are able to last the month of November, shockingly enough. Jay's vulnerability and depleted sense of self from not masturbating lead to him almost getting back together with Lola, the classmate with whom he shared a toxic relationship, and who's been at war with him ever since the end of Season 4. 

Andrew, who arguably struggles the most among his friends with dependency on masturbation, experiments with something called "edging," which entails allowing himself to masturbate but not orgasm. Consequently, Andrew's new obsession with edging leads to him engaging in this while watching a movie about the horrors of child abuse within the Catholic Church with Nick and Jessi, and ejaculating on Nick's couch in front of his friends and Nick's family. 

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Jessi and Nick don't fare particularly well, either. Jessi winds up so hot and bothered from the challenge that she steals and later masturbates with Nick's brother's t-shirt, while Nick has a wet dream about him and Jessi as characters in the aforementioned Catholic Church movie having a forbidden romance. 

Ultimately, the No Nut November challenge winds up bringing out the worst in the kids of Bridgeton Middle School, manifesting in behaviors that are certainly less healthy than just masturbating. 

"Big Mouth" has often gone the route of chaotic, exaggerated ridiculousness, but believe it or not, No Nut November is actually just as ridiculous as the adult cartoon portrays it. And in a changing, increasingly digitized world where today's kids are going to get most of their knowledge about sex, sexuality and their bodies from the internet and social media, they're the prime targets of challenges like No Nut November. 

Kids' shame about their natural bodies and inclinations lies at the heart of nearly all "Big Mouth" storylines, this season as much as any other, as the kids go from shame about masturbation to shame about body hair, "back-ne" and the size and shape of their genitals during the swim unit in PE.

This shame has always been a part of growing up, but it certainly isn't any easier when online challenges like No Nut November convince kids to be ashamed of and repress their natural feelings and desires. And as "Big Mouth" aptly demonstrates, it's this shame and repression that can lead to even more unhealthy behaviors — like blaming your sexual desires on and punishing sex workers, or, in Andrew's case, awkward incidents on your friend's couch.

"Big Mouth" Season 5 is now streaming on Netflix.


By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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