One could say that involuntary celibacy, or ‘incel,’ is a marginal phenomenon and that that is the reason why it’s scarcely mentioned, besides the comedy movie with Steve Carrel that I personally despise and which I don’t think I need to refer to by name. The truth is that almost no research has been done on the subject matter, so it’s hard to estimate how many of us there are. I can only assume the reasons why no research has been done, but I think the following has something to do with it: involuntary celibacy is usually treated as a consequence of mental disorder and is not seen as a state of being in its own respect (which is one reason why the incel article on Wikipedia was merged with the article on celibacy, incel not being a recognised medical condition in its own right worthy of an article)

I don’t think that’s fair. With the way things are, people will go to any length to maintain the notion that it’s impossible to not be able to get girls without something being wrong with you and that you have to fix it. Anything else is not in line with the trendy Just-World-fallacy of our neoliberal, capitalist society. That someone can be incel due to factors outside of his own control would shatter the notion that a person’s actions bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person. It’s age old since almost every religion and ideology has some version of heaven and hell. Society’s entire belief system is based on that thought, but it is incorrect. People just don’t want to see it.

Taking this belief away would force successful people to see that they’re just lucky with the system favouring them while hard work often had little, if anything, to do with their successes. We see this with relationships: people tell us to “work” for a relationship while simultaneously telling everybody “it just happened” or “it just clicked” when asked how they got a relationship. That seems like an oxymoron to me, more so given that I can think of several incels who changed absolutely nothing about themselves and stumbled into a relationship at a later age.

The truth is that the system semi-randomly distributes success to people. In acknowledging this, successful people would accept that they’re part of a machine they have little sway over and which they, out of self-interest, propel further while refusing to let others share in their success, something which they’d rather not believe given that it’d make them (or should make them!) feel guilty. Most people don’t like to believe they’re cogs in a machine, heavily determined by external, uncontrollable structures and agents such as social class, caste, religion, gender, race, ethnicity, culture etc.

They prefer to believe they have agency in the sociological sense of the word, meaning that they have actual choices and that these choices matter in the greater scheme of things. People also like to assume that this applies to everyone. But tell me, what’s the sociological agency in the dating life (or lack thereof) of an autistic person? It’s hardly productive to tell him to suck it up and stop being autistic,  or is it? In order to reduce guilt (subconscious or not) about maintaining a system that propagates inequality and suffering, it’s better to devalue the victims by shaming them for “not trying hard enough” or somehow being “defective” and in need of fixing.” Just like the wealthy like to accuse the poor of being to blame for their own poverty, people accuse incels of being to blame for their dateless situation. As far as I’m concerned some people are just shit out of luck, and not necessarily for lack of trying. The result is a feeling of shame among incels, such shame that they’d rather deny their incel status and lie about their relationship history. This is unproductive and, also, shame is not something a person should live with.

That concludes my cultural criticisms for today, so now we can go on and get an estimate of how many involuntarily celibate people there are and conclude if this is a problem worthy of more attention by both the scientific community and society as whole. One article states that about 5% of men and 2% of women past age 25 have never had sexual intercourse (the majority of them involuntarily so, outside religious abstinents). Another article says 13.9% of men and 8.9% of women aged 25-45 have never had sex. The middle ground between these articles means 9.5% of men and 5.5% of women (so 7.5% on average) older than 25 are still virgins and therefore, most likely, involuntarily celibate. That is a lot, more so when translated into absolute numbers: if we take the 18+ age brackets [1] of the United States (which I assume can act as a model for the rest of the Western world) we have 10-11 involuntarily celibate men alone, never mind women. Brian Gilmartin, in his book Shyness in Love: Causes, Consequences and Treatment says 1.5% of men are so pathologically shy or socially inept (40% of his test subjects had Asperger’s Syndrome) that they cannot connect meaningfully with prospective partners (though the book has its flaws, it also has merits). If you assume this figure is closer to the truth, it still means about 2.25 million men in the United States out of roughly 150 million are and will remain celibate, many of them throughout their entire lives.

We can conclude that incels are not necessarily losers, freaks, creeps and whichever other pejorative terms our critics, online and offline, have reserved for us. Involuntary celibacy is a distinct social problem, or so it seems. It should be looked into, even if only because of the fact that due depression, and other mental problems resulting from this issue, incels are less productive members of society. It should be noted that incel is a factor in “spree killings” as they happen every once in while: almost all of these men were inexperienced with women. In his diary, George Sodini specifically mentioned not having had sex for two decades as a reason for his actions, namely killing three random women in an aerobics class before committing suicide. Most incel men will never resort to such madness, but without help and acceptance, rather than ignorant shaming, they’ll never become the people they could be either. They shall suffer in silence instead, understandably (given that older virgins are treated as a joke) afraid of being shamed and becoming a laughing stock if they ‘come out of the closet’. Terrible things like this will continue to be committed by those who fall through the holes in the system.

7.5% is a lot and if it was 0.5% instead the victim blaming would probably be the correct response, since it’d be a maladapted minority if it was that small. But it’s not that small. I seriously doubt personal responsibility can account for so many people being perpetually dateless, sexless and fundamentally alone. I’d sooner think the dating world is flawed.

[1] For the sake of argument and to save myself a mathematics-induced headache, I assumed the numbers could be extrapolated to other age brackets as well.