Involuntary celibacy is the absence in human sexuality of intimate relationships or sexual intercourse for reasons other than voluntary celibacy, asexuality, antisexualism, or sexual abstinence. The term (which is sometimes shortened to incel) describes those who, despite being open to sexual intimacy and potential romance with someone and also making active, repeated efforts towards such an end, cannot cause any such end(s) to occur with any significant degree of regularity—or even at all.
As a concept, involuntary celibacy distinguishes itself from other various celibacy types by two major overall characteristics: First, it is a pattern-like, semi-perpetual condition that cannot seem to improve despite concerted effort of the affected individual towards improving sex appeal and social skills to try to attract sexual partners. Second, involuntarily celibate individuals are at a complete or near-complete lack for intimate physical connection for very long spans of time—years and even sometimes decades, not merely weeks or months—and are also at a complete or near-complete lack of opportunities for sexual advancement in the first place, thereby making betterment of their own sexuality through accumulation of "sexual experience" impossible.
Many types of celibacy, including voluntary or semi-voluntary celibacy, exist throughout the spectrum of human sexuality; such instances of lack of sex are very common in the human experience. Involuntary celibacy is seen (chiefly by those who are affected by it) as a separate psychosocial issue to be taken seriously in its own right both because of the sheer extended lengths of time involved in incel "dry spells", and also because such extended lack can have actual discernible negative consequences on a person's sexual development. However, despite corollaries such as sleep-pattern clinics that study insomnia, sex research clinics do not seem to have much interest in studying incel.
What makes involuntary celibacy an especially difficult condition for its sufferers to deal with is the fact that most of the time the circumstance cannot be explained through external personal factors—most incels, based on inquests by researchers into the population, are not especially physically unattractive, and most resemble in an interpersonal sense their peers who are not involuntarily celibate. Although a few of the involuntarily celibate population may have discernible personality disorders that preclude current and future sexual opportunities, the small amount of research done on this subject indicates that the incel population are on the whole socially normal, healthy individuals whose frustration is merely a product of their lack of sex, and not vice versa. This makes an individual's involuntarily celibate situation extremely difficult to resolve through the standard psychological methods of pinpointing and "fixing" internal and external life circumstances.
Internet support groups for the involuntarily celibate population do exist, but because the causes of involuntary celibacy are so diverse and difficult to identify (as well as the fact that there may not be any particular individual "reason" at all), there are no universally accepted personal behavior or circumstantial alterations for overcoming the condition, like there usually are for other types of sexual dysfunction. Also, because involuntary celibacy tends to be perpetual, even the act of actively seeking out a prostitute solely for the purpose of "breaking" the condition and gaining a sexual experience, cannot be considered on its own to be enough to ensure that the individual will not continue to be incel for the long-term.
Possible contributing factors
Despite there being many theoretically plausible sources of involuntary celibacy, none can be demonstrably proven across any given sample of involuntary celibates, especially given the fact that many if not most of these theoretical reasons are hotly disputed by the vocally involuntary celibate themselves (see below).
Sociologically objectively-possible items are:
- An objective lack of suitable social circumstances conducive to sex, i.e., "hanging with the wrong crowd" for this end; if this is the case, widening one's scope from the physical world to the online world, pursuing social activities in new areas of the physical world, or some combination of these, is the usual solution.
- An objective lack of suitable partners- for example an area of the world with a mostly heterosexual population but a low male-to-female ratio.
- Inability to perform sexual intercourse due to sexual dysfunction, like erectile dysfunction (E.D.); most incels lay claim to no such issues.
- Cognitive biases and/or negative explanatory styles such as learned helplessness or fundamental attribution error.
Actively disputed possible items are:
- Self-sabotaging passive-aggressive patterns: involuntary celibates usually counter that any passive-aggressiveness in them is the result of involuntary celibacy rather than the cause.
- Self esteem issues affecting one's feeling of normal entitlement; again, most involuntary celibates argue that their self-esteem and self-confidence are just fine.
- Codependency issues that undermine one's ability to be sexually assertive; involuntary celibates argue that their sexual assertiveness is just fine—in direct and stark contrast to those with love-shyness.
- The presence of proven psychological disabilities such as social phobias, social anxiety, and similar, which may play a role in preventing courtship; again, according to the limited research done, the vast majority of incels do not have pronounced conditions such as these.
- The presence of physical disabilities: self-confident involuntary celibates with physical disabilities may counter that their social experiences teach them that they are seen by others as sexually attractive, but that nevertheless, sex does not result.
- Lack of sexual attractiveness, social skills, or charisma—most involuntary celibates counter that in their specific circumstances' case, all three of these categories are normal or near-normal-- that they either mirror, or are not too far-removed from, those in the world who do successfully obtain sex on a regular or semi-regular basis. Most incels also claim they can appeal to any number of outside sources for verification in these areas; i.e., that they are not in denial.
- Cockblocking, which is the constant interference with courtship by third parties. The nature of incel as an unceasing or near-unceasing perpetual phenomenon typically means that cockblocking cannot be legitimately cited as a reason for the incel.
In Western society especially, heterosexual men are traditionally expected to assume the assertive role in sexually pursuing females, which includes risking rejection. Courtship is competitive among single, eligible men, who typically employ verbal and non-verbal strategies and tactics to seduce women. Proficiency at these tactics is frequently equated with a person's overall confidence, and women in such societies popularly value this trait in men, together with the assertiveness it often produces.
Unmarried individual adults living in rural or suburban areas are often unable to find a suitable partner due to social and marriage patterns. Meanwhile, heterosexual men seen as "low-status" in a given society may become involuntarily celibate due to polygamy and serial monogamy by their "high-status" peers, leaving a shortage of attractive, eligible, fertile women. Also, physically attractive women may remain perpetually single and ultimately experience involuntary celibacy because of their tendencies not to take the assertive role in pursuing the opposite sex. Finally, many heterosexual men may disqualify these especially beautiful women as "[good] material" based on the stereotype that beautiful women are less likely to be faithful as girlfriends or wives, or to become good mothers and would be the most likely to seek divorce. A man may not even pursue a beautiful woman to begin with due to insecurity, his fear of rejection, and an assumption that she is already in a monogamous, long-term relationship. When such patterns become fixed and perpetual in a person's consciousness, involuntary celibacy is the usual result.
Very attractive men and women may not even be noticed and be ignored completely by members of the opposite sex by individuals in monogamous relationships. A study that was conducted at Florida State University concludes that an unconscious attentional bias serves to help men and women remain faithful to their spouses and significant others.
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