Involuntary celibacy (colloquially incel)[by whom?] is chronic near-total or total absence in a person's sexuality of intimate relationships or sexual intercourse for reasons other than voluntary celibacy, asexuality, antisexualism, or sexual abstinence. It is the psycho-social opposite of having a sex life.
Involuntary celibacy is distinct from other forms of celibacy. Involuntarily celibate individuals are just as sexually driven as a typical individual, but their day to day experiences, despite effort on their part, fail to produce any significant sexual partnerships. Incel persons therefore lack intimate physical connection for very long periods of their adult lives — not merely, for example, a 12- or 24-month gap — while also perpetually failing to secure opportunities for sexual engagement in the first place. Thus, bettering their own sexuality through accumulation of ever-greater 'sexual experience' becomes difficult or even impossible.
Most incel people are not physically unattractive, and they exhibit the same social behaviours as their peers who have sex lives. A few of the involuntarily celibate population might exhibit discernible personality disorders that preclude current and future sexual opportunities, but 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.
Definition and psychological consequences
Involuntarily celibate people tend to suffer from intense loneliness, frustration, and depression as a result of the very prolonged periods of lack of sexual and/or intimate body contact. In most Westernized and sex-positive societies, additional social standards pressure people to have experienced sexual interaction in some form by their 20s or 30s. If the person lacks any such experience while all of his or her peers have it, serious psychological consequences can result.  No quantified records have addressed the issue of involuntarily celibate people participating as clients for escort services or prostitutes as a means of 'breaking' the pattern. The lack of information is likely due to the unlikelihood of any researcher being 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 incel people are more likely to binge drink as a substitute for sexual relations.
Behaviours associated with this prolonged lack of physically intimate events can include self-absorption and an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual activities, caused at its root by a backlog of sexual arousal which can adversely effect social interactions. The prolonged lack of partnered sexual release can also make it more difficult for affected individuals to channel sexual energy into other pursuits. Meanwhile, internal consequences that can have external manifestations in an incel person tend to follow the standard sexual frustration pattern of tension, irritability, belligerence, trouble sleeping, mood swings, perpetual agitation, stress, and anxiety.
Depth and prevalence
There is very little sexological study regarding involuntary celibacy. Prior to a self-directed study on modern involuntary celibacy initiated in 1998 by researchers from Georgia State University, there were zero publicly searchable research-based sources on the phenomenon. Even the 1998 study was only started once a member of an online discussion group for involuntary celibates inquired about current research on the subject. The study, Involuntary celibacy: A life course analysis, was published in 2001 in the Journal of Sex Research, produced by the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. A news article reporting on the study indicated that involuntary celibacy can lead to anger and depression. Involuntary celibacy: A life course analysis has also been included in an anthology of scholarly literature. A more recent study has been made into involuntary celibacy inside marriage and long-term cohabiting relationships and was published in 2008 in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
The single chapter devoted to involuntary celibacy in historian Elizabeth Abbott's book The History of Celibacy bears little similarity to current use of the term. The examples cited include  those living amidst skewed sex ratios caused by the death of many men in a war or preferential abandonment or abortion of females (the latter is particularly severe in China and India), prisoners, those without access to the money needed to deal with a child, those denied the right to marry by social norms like widows in certain Hindu communities or younger sisters in societies that call for the oldest to be married first, women whose families lack money for the dowries required by their society, people who would lose their jobs if they were known to be sexually active like apprentices and journeymen in certain trades in Medieval Europe, or certain Western domestic servant or educator positions prior to the previous centuries, and men castrated against their will.
Possible contributing factors
Possible reasons listed below are controversial among vocal involuntary celibates themselves[where?].
- Lack of suitable social circumstances conducive to sex
- Cognitive biases and/or negative explanatory styles such as learned helplessness or fundamental attribution error, including self-sabotaging passive-aggressive patterns and self esteem issues
- Psychological disabilities such as social phobias, social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder or Autism spectrum disorders.
- The long-term effects of rape, incest and child sexual abuse may play a role in shrinking the pool of suitable, sexually available partners; some victims become sexually unavailable due to psychological trauma.
- Living in rural and suburban areas with constrained sexual, romantic, and marriage patterns
- Heterosexual men who disqualify appealing women as "relationship 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.
- Attachment theory
- Nice guy
- Sexual frustration
- Unrequited love
- Orgastic potency
- "Involuntary celibacy: A life course analysis" D. Donnelly, E. Burgess, S. Anderson, R. Curry, J. Dillard, Journal of Sex Research 38(2), S. 159–169. (2001)
- "What Made Christine Chubbuck Want To Commit Suicide?", The Lakeland Ledger, August 22, 1974
- Doheny, Kathleen. "10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex". Webmd.com. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
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- Russell, Bertrand. 1970. Of Marriage & Morals. Liverlight Publishing Corporation. New York. pp. 286–291
- For many, sexless lifestyle is not a choice, Georgia State University News Release, July 24, 2001 (accessed December 14, 2006)
- Study shows that involuntary celibacy can lead to anger and depression American Association of Single People, November 12, 2001 (accessed December 14, 2006)
- Sex Matters AbeBooks.com, (accessed December 14, 2006)[dead link]
- Donnelly, D., and Burgess, E. (2008). The decision to remain in an involuntarily celibate relationship. Journal of Marriage and Family 70(2):519-535.
- Elizabeth Abbot (2001). "Coerced Celibacy: Involuntary Celibacy". A History of Celibacy. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 303–337. ISBN 0-306-81041-7.
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- Etcoff Nancy. 1996. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. Anchor Books. New York. (p. 88)