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What Is Involuntary Celibacy?

By Pablo Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Involuntary celibacy, sometimes called “incel,” refers to state in which a person who is willing and physically able to engage in sexual relations is unable to find a partner. The term applies to people who have not yet engaged in sex, those who have had sex at least once but are unable to find another partner, and those in a relationship with a partner who is unwilling to have sex. There is little research in this area. Involuntary celibates, also sometimes referred to as incels, have turned to self-help Internet groups for advice and discussion.

Researchers into involuntary celibacy have defined the term broadly. It encompasses virginal celibates, singles who have had sex but go for long periods of time in between sexual encounters, singles in a relationship lacking sexual intimacy, and “marcels,” married celibates whose spouses choose not to engage in sex. The term refers to all sexual orientations, including transsexual. Excluded from the category of incels are those who are celibate for religious or cultural reasons. People who have undergone a lengthy illness or suffer from injuries prohibiting sex are also not included.

Two possible causes attributed to involuntary celibacy are shyness and extended delays before becoming sexually active or between sexual partners. The information gathered from research questionnaires supplied to incels identified some common traits. Many survey respondents reported being shy and socially awkward. There was also evidence of long delays in first becoming sexually active. Highly unpleasant first sexual experiences or poor physical self-image were frequent answers given by incels about their situation.

It is theorized that cultural expectations about the appropriate timing and amount of sexual activity for a “normal” person may also contribute to or aggravate involuntary celibacy. Western culture in particular has more or less fixed notions about when a person should become sexually active, which can be anywhere between teenage years and mid-twenties. Couples in a relationship are expected to have sex with some regularity, and there are books and magazines that specify the average frequency for sex. Many incels may feel out of sync with everyone else, which makes them further avoid possibly intimate relationships.

Incels reported having difficulty finding professionals knowledgeable about the issue, and many use online self-help and advice groups. They share tips and strategies about things such as overcoming shyness and how to start conversations. There are also diet and exercise tips for improving body image. Incels can post success stories and explain how they achieved and sustained an intimate relationship. There are also discussion boards devoted to the particular problems of marcels.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1001790 — On Jun 26, 2019

It is possible to have a satisfying life without sexual activity or if these people are so desperate simply pay a prostitute or even expand the sexual preferences to increase their chances.

Written by a true 30 year old virgin, with no boy/girl activity EVER in his life but still happy living a good life

By anon337796 — On Jun 08, 2013

I have found the article mostly correct in assessing the problems INCEL face. I have been in this situation from the late eighties up to now, and during that time I really have tried to find a partner, but most women I have met have ended up just being friends. I became physically handicapped because of an evolving muscular dystrophy in 2011. I have done my best to accept what happened to me, but deep inside, it hurts, and I don't know what course of action to take, although I still have a hint of hope.

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