Involuntary celibacy

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Involuntary celibacy or involuntary sexual abstinence[1][2][3] is a term used to refer to various forms of sexual abstinence by people who are celibate for involuntary reasons as opposed to doing so voluntarily.[4][5] The term has been used as a neologism in recent years, especially among small mostly-male subcultures, but it has also been a focus of research by sociologist Denise Donnelly. References to the sometimes-involuntary nature of celibacy were previously made by people such as Theodore Parker and Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth, as it applied to unmarried persons and Christianity.[6][7][original research?]

Definition and reasons[edit]

Denise Donnelly defines involuntary celibacy as instances where someone has not engaged in sexual activity with anyone for a certain amount of time, despite the individual desiring sexual activity with other people.[8] Reasons for involuntary celibacy can differ from person to person or community to community. Involuntary celibacy can occur within marriages and has been frequently under-reported due to stigmas attached to sexually inactive marriages.[9]

Reasons for involuntary celibacy can often include reasons such as the individual's personal or mental health, a limited access to sexual partners, or because of institutional restrictions in the instance of people in restrictive nursing homes or prisons.[10][11][12] Other reasons for involuntary celibacy can include societal pressure, as in the case of strict cultural taboos or moral standards that the individual feels pressured to follow, as in the case of some religious factions that mandate that gay or lesbian people should remain celibate as opposed to engaging in sexual activity with other gay or lesbian people.[12][12][9][13]

Denise Donnelly's studies[edit]

According to sociologist Denise Donnelly, there is no set length for when someone considers themselves to be involuntarily celibate, and the time period without sexual activity can average anywhere from a few months to several years or the individual's entire lifespan up to that point in time.[8]

Factors believed to contribute to involuntary celibacy are elements such as depression, shyness, lack of social skills, poor body image, living arrangements, and occupations that are segregated by sex.[14][8] In a 2001 study of 82 individuals (60 men and 22 women) who self-identified as being involuntarily celibate, Denise Donnelly commented that she believed that "the relationship between these barriers and involuntary celibacy is reciprocal, rather than unidirectional" and that while the contributing factors could impact the individuals' sex lives, they could in some instances be a result of being celibate.[8][15] She also stated that these traits were not necessarily the norm and that an incel could have be seen as otherwise normal by social standards.[8] A further study conducted by Donnelly and associates between June 1999 to June 2000 of 192 individuals showed that many of the self-identifying involuntarily celibate were living in the United States, were under the age of 34, and had either attended or completed their college education.[16]

Modern usage[edit]

Modern involuntary sexual abstinence has coined the neologism involuntary celibacy and has grown into a small subculture associated mostly with men,[17] misogyny, and pickup artistry which has been criticized for objectifying women as "brainless automatons".[18] The term distinguishes between "incel", men actively attempting to engage with women, but are constantly rejected, and "love shyness", men too shy to engage.[19]

Historical usage[edit]

Eunuchs, Catholic nuns, and priests have been referred to as involuntarily celibrate,[20] as some groups believed that the chastity required of the Catholic nuns and priests was involuntary (due to the religious restrictions) and that societal upheavals would enable the men and women to seek their own freedoms via marriage and child rearing.[21][22] Likewise, Bret Hinsch has referred to some types of celibracy in China during the Ming Dynasty as involuntary, saying that men with a low social and economic status that could not afford to marry or keep a spouse could claim that they were celibate voluntarily despite the choice of celibacy being involuntary; as celibacy was held as an ideal during this time, the men could use their state to gain a certain level of respectability that their low status would not ordinarily give them.[23]


  1. ^ Henry G. Spooner (1916). The American Journal of Urology and Sexology. Grafton Press. pp. 249–. 
  2. ^ Denis L Meadows (1973). The dynamics of growth in a finite world: A technical report on the global simulation model World 3. Thayer School of Engineering, Darmouth College. 
  3. ^ Joost Abraham Maurits Meerloo (1946). Aftermath of Peace: Psychological Essays. International Universities Press. 
  4. ^ Abbott, Elizabeth (2001). A History of Celibacy. Da Capo Press. pp. 20, 294, 303, 309–312. ISBN 9780306810411. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  5. ^ SEX AND SOCIETY (Abstinence- Gender Identity, Volume 1). Marshall Cavendish. 2010. p. 309. ISBN 9780761479062. 
  6. ^ Brooks Frothingham, Octavius (1874). Theodore Parker: A Biography. G.P. Putnam's Sons/J. R. Osgood and Company. pp. 362, 369. 
  7. ^ Olson, Carl (2007). Celibacy and Religious Traditions. Oxford University Press. p. 127. ISBN 9780198041818. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Donnelly, Denise; Burgess, Elisabeth ; Anderson, Sally ; Davis, Regina ; Dillard, Joy (2001). "Involuntary Celibacy: A Life Course Analysis". The Journal of Sex Research 38 (2): 159–169. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Hawes, Joseph M. (2002). The Family in America: An Encyclopedia, Volume 2. ABC-CLIO. pp. 131–132. ISBN 9781576072325. 
  10. ^ Lehmiller, Justin J. (2014). The Psychology of Human Sexuality. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 232. ISBN 1118351215. 
  11. ^ Dirk van Zyl Smit, Sonja Snacken (2009). Principles of European Prison Law and Policy: Penology and Human Rights. Oxford University Press. p. xliii. ISBN 9780191018824. 
  12. ^ a b c Abbott, Elizabeth (2001). A History of Celibacy. Da Capo Press. pp. 303–304. ISBN 0306810417. 
  13. ^ Vines, Matthew (2014). God and the Gay Christian. Convergent Books. ISBN 9781601425171. 
  14. ^ Bouchez, Colette. "Sexless in The City". Web MD. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  15. ^ Laura M. Carpenter, John D. DeLamater (2012). Sex for Life: From Virginity to Viagra, How Sexuality Changes Throughout Our Lives. NYU Press. pp. 13, 16. ISBN 9780814723821. 
  16. ^ Burgess, Elizabeth; Donnelly, Denise ; Dillard, Joy ; Davis, Regina (2001). "SURFING FOR SEX: STUDYING INVOLUNTARY CELIBACY USING THE INTERNET.". Sexuality and Culture 5 (3): 5–30. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  17. ^ Lowry, Andrew (31 January 2015). "Men's rights activists have missed the point of feminism entirely". Retrieved 2015-06-03. 
  18. ^ Rebecca Vipond Brink (23 July 2014). "Newsflash: Divorce Doesn't Always Work Out Well For Women". The Frisky. Retrieved 2014-12-12. 
  19. ^ Gardephe, Sara (Director) (2011). Shy Boys:IRL (Documentary). Brooklyn, New York: Gardephe, Sara. 
  20. ^ Kahan, Benjamin (2013). Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life. Duke University Press Books. p. 34. ISBN 9780822355687. 
  21. ^ Ozment, Steven (1983). When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe. Harvard University Press. p. 49. ISBN 0674951204. 
  22. ^ Blum, Carol (2002). Strength in Numbers: Population, Reproduction, and Power in Eighteenth-Century France. JHU Press. p. 157. ISBN 9780801868108. 
  23. ^ Hinsch, Bret (2013). Masculinities in Chinese History. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 126. ISBN 1442222336. 

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