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Incel is a common abbreviation of "Involuntary celibacy". Involuntary celibacy is a life circumstance defined in academia by wanting to have a willing sexual partner but being unable to find one for an extended period of time.[1][2][3][4][5] The non-academic definition of the term is controversial, and various prominent non-academic sources conflict greatly on what incel colloquially means. It is defined by such sources as either a subculture, a life circumstance, the collection of online forums for self-identified incels, and/or simply a variant of sexual frustration.[6][7][8][9][10][11] Self-proclaimed incels are typically resentful and misogynistic. The term came to wider public notice with the banning of the r/incels subreddit, and a series of spree killings and notable suicides committed by men who had at some point publicly proclaimed themselves as celibate not-by-choice for a substantial amount of time in an online posting before their crimes.[12][13][14]

Coinage and early history[edit]

The term, "involuntary celibacy", was first used in print in The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients, Explain'd from History, Volume 3 in 1739 by Antoine Banier.[15] The term was later used verbatim in multiple pieces of literature prior to the internet era, most notably in the chapter called, "Creep", in the 1975 book called, "Blueprint for a Higher Civilization", by left-wing philosopher and avant-garde artist Henry Flynt. In it Flynt discusses his emotional reaction to what he described as his, "involuntary celibacy", as a young adult.[16][17]

A shortened version of term "involuntary celibacy", "INVCEL", was coined by a female college student named Alana from Toronto, Ontario in 1997. She created a website on a university domain as an academic project to discover the causes of involuntary celibacy.[18] Later, a listserv was created for the academic project so others could discuss their inability to form sexual and romantic relationships.[19][20] The website was titled "Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project".[21] The listserv was used by people of all genders to share posts about the topic. After the listserv was created, someone proposed changing the abbreviation to "Incel", which then stuck. Around 2003, she began to grow disaffected by what she perceived as negativity arising on the listserv and handed the community off to someone else, who moved the community to a more conventional forum called "Incel Support", which died in 2013 due to a server crash.[22]

A year after Alana created her academic project and listserv in 1998, the first conventional online forum (using conventional forum software) for incels was created in Germany termed "Parsimonyforum 3708".[23]

Academic recognition[edit]

Anglo-American academia[edit]

The term incel entered academia as a sociological term describing a life circumstance after a study of members of the self-described "incel" mailing list Alana had on her website. This study was primarily authored by the sociologists Denise Donnelly and Elizabeth Burgess, was published in The Journal of Sex Research, and subsequently cited in academia over a dozen times.[24] In this 2001 peer-reviewed paper studying an incel listserv and involuntary celibacy in general, an involuntary celibate was defined as someone who wishes to have sex but has not been able to find a willing partner in the past six months. Noting the choice of six months is arbitrary, the researchers concluded, "for this project, the important thing is whether or not the person defines themselves as an involuntary celibate."[25]

Later the term was used in a family encyclopedia[26], in University of California Press by author and sociologist Laura Carpenter[27], and in InterVarsity Press by Professor of Anthropology Jenell Williams[28].

In 2001 Elizabeth Abbott, Dean of Women at Trinity College at University of Toronto, wrote the book, "A History of Celibacy", which devoted a chapter to involuntary celibacy, and took it seriously as a life circumstance. The term "involuntary celibacy" was used verbatim, as well as "coerced celibacy".[29] In the chapter, Abbott included various groups of people as involuntarily celibate, including:

  • those in prison
  • those without access to birth control
  • those without the money to have a child
  • women whose families lacked money for the dowries required by their society
  • People who would lose their jobs if they were known to be sexually active (for example, apprentices and journeymen in certain trades in Medieval Europe, or certain Western domestic servant or educator positions prior to the past century)

The term is also in peer reviewed sociological journals to describe people in sexless marriages or other relationships who wish to be sexually active.[30][31]


Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin [32] was a professor of psychology at Humboldt State University and Montana State University who published two books about what he called love-shyness. in 1987 he argued for love-shyness to be treated as a medical condition and for society to take it more seriously. Before his death he used the terms "incel" and "love-shy" interchangeably as can be seen in a recovered clip from the abandoned "The Incel Project" documentary.[33]

Brian's work, although it sometimes contained pseudoscience (such as using Zodiac references as if they actually pertain to reality), was deemed valuable enough to be reviewed by contemporary psychologists in peer reviewed academic journals at least twice. In addition, Gilmartin's last book, The Shy Man Syndrome, had a foreword by E. Michael Gutman, President of the Florida Psychological Society 1988-1989.[34][35][36]

German studies[edit]

In 2000, Beate Küpper wrote a psychology dissertation called, "Are singles different from the others?: a comparison of singles and couples", exploring the causes of "involuntary singles" as opposed to "voluntary singles".[37] In 2002, she later published her work in a book under an academic publisher with the name, "Are singles different? A Comparison of Singles and Couples Series: Focal Points of Personality.[38]

In 2004, Tectum Verlag, a German academic book publisher published Olaf Wickenhöfer's study of "involuntary single[s]" called "Unwillingly Single: A study on the history of socialization and everyday cultural practice", citing Donnelly, Burgess, Gilmartin, and Küpper, as well as his own study.[39]

"Male Absolute Beginner: A Communication Science Approach to Explaining Partnerlessness", was published in 2014 by Robin Sprenger in the academic publication 'Springer VS' as social scientific literature on inceldom.[40]

Colloquial definition controversy[edit]

While the definition of the term is not contested in academia, there are multiple conflicting definitions of incel outside of academia in prominent sources. Wiktionary and VanDale dictionary defines "incel" as a life circumstance [41][42], Wikipedia and currently defines it as a subculture[43][44], and Collins Dictionary defines it as a variant of sexual frustration[45]. To date no major dictionary has officially entered the term into a paperback version.

Media usage[edit]

In media usage, the term more often than not refers to the online communities for people who self-identify as involuntarily celibate. But as the colloquial definition is conflicting, the term is not always used this way.

Online communities[edit]

In online communities the term "involuntary celibate" or "incel" is used alongside other terms, such as "love-shy" (social anxiety or excessive shyness preventing romantic success).[46][47] German citizens seem to prefer the term "Absolute Beginner" to refer to incels. German author Maja Roedenbeck Schaefer, for example, uses the English-language term Absolute Beginner to describe individuals who are celibate but not through personal choice.[48] Almost all German incel forums self-identify as Absolute Beginners.

Some online incel communities use a vast vocabulary of other terms to describe incels, such as "truecel", someone who has never had any form of physical intimacy, "mentalcel", someone whose involuntary celibacy is caused by a mental health issue, or "fakecel", someone who pretends to be incel.[49] These communities often contain descriptions of dating anxiety, bad luck, descriptions of extreme introversion, physical handicaps, and mental disorders.[50]

Modern, gender inclusive communities[edit][edit] an "old-timer" board, was founded in 2003 as a place for men and women perpetually rejected or extremely shy of potential partners to swap stories and causes of their situation.[51] A passage of the site's very old but still accessible FAQ reads, "It is possible for a person to be both incel and love-shy, and most are both, and most are both to some degree or another. For instance, a person could originally be incel, then suffer large numbers of turn downs, and eventually become love-shy and unable to approach.”[52] In 2011, an up-close documentary, "Shy Boys IRL," was made of the personal lives and opinions of multiple members from the forum. This documentary and its director, Sara Gardephe, were later used by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to help explain the sexual frustration in certain incel communities in its reporting of the April 2018 Toronto van attack. In a report to the CBC's The National, Gardephe described the various incel community attitudes toward society as "I think they just want to see the world burn a little bit [...] punishing us for not seeing their pain".[53]

Love not Anger[edit]

The original incel community founded by Alana is still around but is much smaller than it used to be. It is still using a mailing list instead of conventional forum software. They operate a gender-inclusive site called "LovenotAnger"[54] They are looking to continue their original community as a research project to study the underpinnings of loneliness. They are looking to have the same community as before but to move away from the word incel.[edit] evolved from a Facebook group and started as a way to recapture the gender-inclusive spirit of the original incel community, according to gaystarnews, the largest LGBTQ site.[55] The forum is known for "rate me" type posts[56] and, "looksmaxxing" tips. They are not trying to move away from the word incel. In 2019, the BBC made a documentary featuring, "Matt", from incelistan and two other incels who had nothing to do with incelistan called, "Inside the secret world of incels". Incelistan was portrayed as non-violent and gender inclusive in the doc.[57]

Pseudo-anonymous "blackpill" boards[edit]

Five relatively new, overlapping, anonymity-valuing, "blackpill" comment boards of self-proclaimed involuntarily celibate people include: (now shut down),, (formerly, and the former, r/ and r/braincels. Women are generally unwelcome on all these boards. On the sites external to Reddit women are banned on sight.

These boards have laissez-faire posting guidelines and due to their anonymous nature have limited mechanisms to prevent bad actors called "trolls" who have co-opted these boards to a certain extent.[58] Proclaimed beliefs that are common in these communities include being cursed, nihilism,[59] fatalism, and defeatism for unattractive people.[60] Those who post on these anonymous boards tend to claim that modern society is gynocentric,[61] where women have the power to choose or reject sexual partners, and that women using this power are predisposed to selecting men based on their perceived genetic fitness.[62]

r9k[edit], a board on 4chan, is considered the birth of the culture of blackpill boards. Most of what the media refers to as incel culture is in fact 4chan culture. The words Chad, Stacy, etc. originated from r9k and not the incel subreddits.[63] It was not created as an incel board but rather as a general place for original content on 4chan with an automated bot that rejects unoriginal content.[64] It turns out that when you ask a bunch of lonely weeaboos to post original content, they mostly post about wanting to have a girlfriend.

To this day, there is a lot of astroturfing on r9k. r9k users are known as robots, and is used either as a label of autism or a near synonym for hikikomori (Never mind how autistic people might feel about being compared to 4chan users).

Later, a user from the forum member named Marjan Siklic helped create the first incel presence on Reddit[65] which eventually adopted 4chan culture. The most well known incel subreddit was a near-clone of r9k[66]

r/incels[edit] is a banned subreddit that previous allowed anonymous people to post as involuntarily celibate men. It was not the first active incel subreddit, which appears to be r/Truecels. The initial activity of r/Incels seemed to an evasion of the quarantine of r/Truecels. On the r/Incels subreddit, men blamed women for their involuntary celibacy, sometimes anonymously advocated rape and violence, were were generally misogynistic and often racist.[67] Anonymous posters in the subreddit used 4chan lingo, described women as "femoids" or "Stacys," and described men who were able to have sex with these women as "Chads".[68]

On October 25, 2017, Reddit announced a new policy that banned "content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or group of people."[67] On November 7, 2017, the /r/incels subreddit was banned for violating this policy. At the time of the ban, the community had around 40,000 members.[69] It was banned after an r/incels poster impersonated a woman on a different subreddit and asked how police would identify the perpetrator of a rape.[edit]

The anonymous forum was created in December 2017 as a refuge for anonymous posters who could no longer use /r/incels. In February 2018, journalists at Babe, a subcategory of the news site The Tab, informed the web host and domain registrar of about rape apologism and advocacy of violence on Within two hours, the website was taken down by its web host.[70][edit] (formerly, and before that, was also created as a refuge for r/incels posters. It is a year old and still online, having moved from a .me to Icelandic domain (.is) due to the registrar Afilias claiming the mods did not make a strong enough attempt to delete posts and users that engage in hate speech and/or the promotion of violence [71]


Those r/incels users who did not move to external sites moved to one of the few Reddit sanctioned incel boards called r/Braincels. Braincels was quarantined from showing up on Reddit's homepage in late 2018 for misogyny and then banned entirely in late 2019 for violating new Reddit rules on harassment and bullying.[72]

Meaning of the blackpill[edit]

The blackpill is a philosophy about society first proposed by a blog commenter named Paragon on the Dalrock anti-feminist blog in 2011 and later adopted by OmegaVirginRevolt's blog. In his comment, Paragon defines the blackpill to mean (paraphrased) 'there's no personal solution to systemic dating problems for men and only societal hardship (such as mass poverty) can solve men's systemic dating issues'. In other words, blackpillers don't believe that a wealthy welfare state with dramatically less sexual stratification in terms of mate access than there already exists is possible. Paragon, having dating difficulties in Canada, moved from Canada to the Phillipines, a less prosperous country than Canada, and married there.

In paragons words:[73]: reconcile that there are no personal solutions to systemic problems – which can only resolve over evolutionary time.

And any solution will very much entail steep trade-offs, in that males can’t have their cake and eat it too – a prosperous population of deferred ecological pressures(like we currently enjoy), without an expectation that this prosperity will increase the mating latitude of females(dramatically perturbing the breeding population, to the point of near evolutionary instability).

One will always follow the other, as male consensus on these matters is practically impossible in terms of inter-sexual competition(as opposed to the broad accord females enjoy through an abundant wealth of sexual opportunities, courtesy of their reproductively limiting function).

The way blackpill is used on and braincels is slightly different from its original definition in that it explains women's pickiness in choosing men, rejecting the original definition of societal hardship/prosperity. The word is also used as a general expression of fatalism. Like the previous definition, it's usage on is typically centered in evolutionary psychology. The term blackpill as it's used on attempts to explain romantic partnership as stemming primarily from female evaluations of the looks, money, and status of men.

Incel Wiki[edit] (previously is an English language wiki devoted to incel topics started in 2018 to counteract what they saw as sensationalism, inaccuracy, and non-neutral writing on the Wikipedia incel article after the Minassian Van Attack[74]. They were subsequently cited by academia[75][76][77] and media as a repository of information about incels. An Uppsala university paper concluded that is predominately focused on evolutionary psychology as opposed to environmental explanations of human sexuality[78]. In an article on the, "dogpill", The New Statesman defined the dogpill as an incel viewpoint that women would rather have sex with dogs than incels based on the volume of forums posts about women's attraction to each[79].

German incel communities[edit]

Absolute Beginners (otherwise known as ABs) are a community of German incels that started in 1998. It has several independent sub-communities such as Abtreff, AB4 and unerfahren. Former communities include the forums Parsimonyforum 3708 (the oldest forum), AB-Plauderstübchen, and the websites,, and ABs are on occasion called eternal singles[80] or involuntary singletons, or incels.[81] The term originated in Germany in the late 1990s to refer to people who are involuntarily single or become involuntary virgins way into adulthood.[82]

The etymology of the term Absolute Beginner derives from a David Bowie song.[83] Absolute Beginners sometimes abbreviate their self-identification as AB.[84] Rheinische Post defines AB's as those above the age of 20 with no romantic experience whatsoever.[85] Sexologist Monika Büchner defines the Absolute Beginner as one who has never had sex by their 25th birthday.[86] The concept of AB is analogous to the English term love-shyness or incel.[87]

In 2012, director Wolfram Huke published a German language autobiographical documentary, Love Alien, wherein he documents a year of his life as an "Absolute Beginner" between his 29th and 30th birthdays. The film features his platonic connection with two female acquaintances: a female distant relative and a Croatian woman, both of whom he viewed as potential partners. The latter parts of the film show him discussing courtship strategies with a pschotherapist, several family members, and random women who tell him how he should present himself. The film ends with a trip to Camino de Santiago on his 30th birthday where he declares that in spite of his efforts, he is still single.[88][89][90]

Another documentary on the topic is "Jungfrau sucht die grosse Liebe" (virgins looking for love) features seven virgins who self-describe as AB's and their attempts at having their first romantic or sexual experience.[91]

Notable suicides and homicides[edit]

Several men have gained media attention through suicides and/or homicides and leaving notes describing involuntary celibacy. Such individuals include: George Sodini, Christopher Harper-Mercer, Elliot Rodger, Wilkes McDermid, and allegedly, Alek Minassian.

George Sodini[edit]

The perpetrator of the 2009 Collier Township shooting and suicide, George Sodini, killed multiple women before shooting himself at a gym outside Pittsburgh. He had an online blog detailing his perpetual rejection by women and inability to figure out why despite attempts to improve himself. In a July, 2009 blog post he wrote, "Last time I slept all night with a girlfriend it was 1982. Proof I am a total malfunction. Girls and women don't even give me a second look anywhere. There is something blantantly wrong with me that no goddam person will tell me what it is." His last post before the shooting discussed his net worth of over $250,000, the estranged mother of his child, that people didn't know the full extent of his frustration, and that women would only ever call him a "nice guy".[92] He had also sought dating help to no avail before the shooting.[93]

Elliot Rodger[edit]

The 2014 Isla Vista spree killing and suicide drew considerable attention to involuntary celibacy. The perpetrator, Elliot Rodger, self-identified as an incel and left behind a 137-page manifesto and YouTube videos discussing how he wanted to torture sexually active men and women who he thought wronged him.[94][95] He had been an active member of an anti-pick-up-artist community called PUAHate (short for "pickup artist hate") and referenced it several times in his manifesto.[96][97][14]

Wilkes McDermid[edit]

In 2015, popular London food critic Wilkes McDermid jumped off the City restaurant Coq d’Argent’s roof-terrace to his death. In his final blog post hours before his death, he wrote, “I have concluded that in the realm of dating and relationships the primary characteristics required for men are as follows: “Height: above 5ft 10ins; race - a huge bias towards caucasian and black; and wealth or other manifestation of power. From my observations and research it appears that you need two of the three criteria for success ... What this ... means [is] that it’s ‘game over’ for me.”. A friend of his told the Evening Standard that he had lots of friends but never had a girlfriend by age 39, the time of his death. [98][99][100]

Alek Minassian[edit]

The last major suspected incident of killings involving a self-described involuntary celibate is Alek Minassian and his April 2018 Toronto van attack and attempted suicide. The perpetrator of the April 2018 Toronto van attack posted on Facebook shortly before the attack, "The Incel Rebellion has already begun! ... All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!" After the attack, he requested a policeman shoot him in the head, which the officer declined to do.[101]


Date Location Country Description
August 4th, 2009 Collier Township, Pennsylvania United States 48-year-old George Sodini killed 3 people by shooting into a women's aerobics class at LA Fitness before shooting himself. George Sodini had left behind a lengthy online blog detailing his perpetual rejection from women, his inability to understand or do anything about it, and a previous attempt to so something at the gym that he "chickened out" of.[102]
May 23, 2014 Isla Vista, California United States 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 14 others before shooting himself near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara before killing himself. He left a lengthy manifesto and YouTube videos detailing his hatred for women and his involuntary celibacy.[95]
February 9, 2015 City of London United Kingdom 39-year-old, popular food critic, Wilkes McDermid jumped off the restaurant Coq d’Argent’s roof-terrace's to his death. Hours before his death, he left a blog post detailing standards for dating he felt he could not live up to. He died without ever having a girlfriend despite trying for decades.[103]
October 1, 2015 Roseburg, Oregon United States 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer shot and killed 9 people and injured 8 others at the Umpqua Community College campus before killing himself. He left a manifesto at the scene outlining his interest in other spree killings, anger at not having a girlfriend, and animosity towards the world. Before the attack, when someone on an online message board had speculated he was "saving himself for someone special," Harper-Mercer had replied, "Involuntarily so."[104][13][105]
April 23, 2018 North York City Centre, Toronto, Ontario Canada A van driver, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, killed 10 people and injured 14 others before attempting to kill himself. Minassian was arrested soon after the attack. Shortly before the attack, Minassian had posted on Facebook that "the Incel Rebellion has already begun" and applauded Elliot Rodger, the self-identified incel attacker in the 2014 Isla Vista killings.[106][107]


Involuntary celibacy is not at this moment officially recognized by a major psychological or psychiatric institution as a medical or psychological disability or disorder. But involuntarily celibates who have been studied were found to be likely to have had unusual life circumstances. The Journal of Sex Research notes that celibate men are more likely to have been conceived later in their parents life than the general population and are more likely to be lower class and unemployed. The involuntarily celibate men they studied tended to work in sex-segregated jobs, had more education than involuntarily celibate women, and followed particularly masculine life trajectories to a degree that it hindered their ability to meet women. Involuntarily celibate women were also found to follow life trajectories particularly close to feminine gender roles.[108] At the end of a study documented in the Journal of Sexology and the Sexuality and Society Reader, the researchers concluded that there had not yet been enough research done on involuntary celibacy and incels to fully understand them, writing, "Until the phenomena of involuntary celibacy has been fully investigated, and the results disseminated, it will remain a taboo topic, cloaked in mystery and ignorance, and an untold number of persons will continue to suffer in silence and isolation".[109]

External links[edit]


  1. Donnelly, Denise; Burgess, Elisabeth; Anderson, Sally; Davis, Regina; Dillard, Joy (2001). "Involuntary Celibacy: A life course analysis". The Journal of Sex Research 38: 159–169. 
  2. Shehan, Constance L., ed (February 29, 2016). "Celibacy". The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies. 1. John Wiley & Sons. p. 238. ISBN 9780470658451. 
  3. Carpenter, Laura M. (2010). "Gendered Sexuality Over the Life Course: A Conceptual Framework". Sociological Perspectives. University of California Press. 53 (2): 155–178. doi:10.1525/sop.2010.53.2.155. JSTOR 10.1525/sop.2010.53.2.155
  4. Harvey, John H.; Wenzel, Amy; Sprecher, Susan, eds. (2004). The Handbook of Sexuality in Close Relationships. Mahwah, New Jersey: Taylor & Francis. p. 900. ISBN 9781135624699. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  5. Strong, Bryan; Cohen, Theodore (2013). The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationships in a Changing Society. Belmont, California: Cengage Learning. p. 50. ISBN 1133597467. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
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  19. Schallhorn, Kaitlyn (2018-04-24). "'Incel' sexual frustration 'rebellion' at center of Toronto attack" (in en-US). Fox News. 
  20. Ling, Justin; Mahoney, Jill; McGuire, Patrick; Freeze, Colin (April 24, 2018). "The ‘incel’ community and the dark side of the internet". The Globe and Mail. 
  21. Ling, Justin; Mahoney, Jill; McGuire, Patrick; Freeze, Colin (2018-04-24). "The ‘incel’ community and the dark side of the internet". The Globe and Mail. 
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  25. Donnelly, Denise; Burgess, Elisabeth; Anderson, Sally; Davis, Regina; Dillard, Joy (2001). "Involuntary Celibacy: A life course analysis". The Journal of Sex Research 38: 159–169. 
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  53. "Incels and extremism: How an involuntary celibate's frustrations can evolve". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2018-04-25. 
  58. AFP (April 26, 2018). "Background: Toronto van massacre: what is an 'incel'?" (in en). BangkokPost. 
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