Involuntary celibacy (colloquially ‘incel’) is chronic near-total or total absence in a person’s sexuality of intimate relationships or sexual intercourse that is occurring for reasons other than voluntary celibacy, asexuality, antisexualism, or sexual abstinence. It is the psycho-social opposite of having a sex life. Incel people, despite being open to sexual intimacy and potential romance with another person 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.
Involuntary celibacy is distinct from other forms of celibacy in two major ways: First, it explicitly does not depend on choices of the celibate, and remains stable even if the person succeeds in improving his or her looks and social skills to try to attract sexual partners. Second, involuntarily celibate individuals lack intimate physical connection for very long spans of time—years or even decades at a time—while also lacking opportunities for sexual advancement in the first place, thereby making betterment of their own sexuality through accumulation of ‘sexual experience’ impossible.
Involuntary celibacy cannot generally be explained through external personal factors—most incels, based on inquests by researchers into the population, are not physically unattractive, and most resemble in an interpersonal sense their peers who are sexually active. 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, otherwise healthy individuals whose frustration is merely a product of their lack of sex, and not vice versa.
Incel experience differs from more typically inconsistent intimacy opportunities in that chances for sexual activity other than masturbation—physical intimacy, cuddling, kissing, and romantic connection—are perpetually rare or nonexistent. The situation is one where partnered sexual activity almost never happens ‘naturally,’ i.e. as a result of any courtship process or friend with benefits situation. Involuntarily celibate people may suffer from unusually intense loneliness, frustration, and depression. In most Westernized, sex-positive societies, there is the additional social pressure for people in 20s or 30s age ranges to have experienced sexual interaction in some form. If the person neither has nor gains any such experience while all of his or her peers do, serious psychological consequences can result. The question of an involuntarily celibate person turning to escort services or to become the client of a prostitute as a means of ‘breaking’ the incel pattern has not been addressed by any recorded inquest in to the phenomenon, most likely due to the extreme unlikelihood of any researcher being sexologically able to discern who among such clients would otherwise be incel, and who would not.
In the case of news reporter Christine Chubbuck’s suicide on live television, Chubbuck’s involuntary celibacy is considered to be the driving force behind both her depression and suicide. While sexual abstinence diminishes the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD) it may necessitate relinquishment of potential health benefits of sex. Some researchers conclude that male incels are more likely to binge drink as a substitute for sexual relations.
Limitations and disappointment, the indefinite postponement of sexual and romantic gratification, delay even of dating (much less marriage), and in particular the total lack of sexual experiences at key transition points during adolescence and young adulthood (things like one’s kiss, ‘first base,’ petting, and one’s ‘first time’), which are all the types of lacks that seem to be the psychological cornerstones of the involuntarily celibate condition, are often ennobled on situation comedies, in feature films, and in related media; for example, a sympathetic view of an incel male was made clear in ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin.’
But this does not tell the complete story of involuntary celibacy, which in everyday life can in fact be actively destructive to a person’s emotional and interpersonal well-being, rather than just a periodic nuisance or inconvenience, as is usually the case with relatively short-term ‘dry spells.’ Behaviors associated with involuntary celibacy can include self-absorption and an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual activities, which is a backlog of sexual arousal that can have an adverse effect on social interactions. Meanwhile, internal consequences that can have external manifestations in an incel person tend to follow the standard sexual frustration pattern of being tense, irritable, belligerent and to have trouble sleeping; mood swings; perpetual agitation; stress; and anxiety.