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Involuntary Celibacy

The sexual frustration of "incels."

Matthew Henry/Unsplash
Source: Matthew Henry/Unsplash

Young men who struggle with finding romantic partners are finding solace in their shared experience with each other. They even have coined a term, "incel," to describe their situation as being "involuntary celibate."

From Reddit to other online message boards, there is much sexual frustration and angst among this group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates 27.2% of men and 28.6% of women are sexless in the 15-24 age bracket. Despite this being equally prevalent in both sexes, it is men who express the dissatisfaction, possibly due to skewed Western societal views that equate sex with masculinity, success, and relational happiness.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop at frustration as it can lead to misogynistic views against women and even lead to violence. References to being romantically spurned by women and seeing themselves as "incels" is a commonality among recent deadly mass school shooters involving young men. 22-year-old Elliot Rodger's rampage at UC Santa Barbara in 2014 and the 2016 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon by 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer both have eerily similar backgrounds. Rodger killed six people and described his actions as vengeance against attractive women for denying him sex and affection. And Harper-Mercer was more direct in his online posts as a self-described "involuntary celibate" before he open fired and killed nine people. Online, there is even a fringe group of incels who celebrate Elliot's murderous actions.

On forums like Reddit’s r/ForeverAlone, and, incels share stories to commiserate and gather to learn more about their individual and collective challenges. As a psychotherapist who works with men who fit this description, it's hard to say what are the causes of "involuntary celibacy."

Some of it could be due to cultural factors such as ethnicity making it more difficult for some ethnic individuals to date as they are in a majority culture that rejects them. Some of it could be related to lack of social development or social skills so they are uncomfortable with chit-chat and carrying a conversation. Some could be developmental such as those with Asperger's with inherently comes with difficulties in learning social cues and especially the subtleties and intricacies of romance (i.e., think how much body language, tone of voice, language expressed, etc. can all be manifested in flirting). Others may have none of these issues but are just extremely anxious when talking to girls either from early experiences and/or from the fear of rejection leading them to isolate and continue to withdraw from real relationships.

If you or someone you know may feel this is their situation, I do believe there's hope in community. I'm not so sure an "incel community" is what is needed as opposed to relationships with people who have stronger social and dating skills. It's sad to feel you aren't equipped to be in a romantic relationship because we all have traits that are desirable and wanted in a relationship, but we do need to take extra risks and sometimes disappointment to get what we want.

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More from Sam Louie MA, LMHC, CSAT
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