Involuntary Celibacy / Incel

Involuntary Celibacy / Incel

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"Involuntary Celibacy", often shortened as Incel, is a concept of internet humor typically iterated in image macros poking fun at male-oriented hobbies that may be deemed unattractive by the other sex, such as LARPing, cosplaying and video game collecting among others. While some instances appear to be used as a form of self-parody, others can be seen as examples of virgin-shaming.


In 1993, an undergraduate at Carleton University in Ottawa named Alana launched the website "Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project." The all-text website served as an outlet for sexual frustration. The website aimed for inclusivity among the community, providing support. In a 2016 interview with Elle,[24] Alana said, "I don't care if your reason is that you always fall in love with horses--and horses aren't legal to fall in love with."


On August 12th, 2005, the American television network G4TV[6] released a satirical commercial for the online role-playing game World of Warcraft in which a woman introduces the game to her boyfriend in order to prevent him from pressuring her to have sex.

In March of 2008, a demotivational poster was posted to the Internet humor site Ebaumsworld [7] by user Ballentine with the World of Warcraft logo accompanied by the caption "World of Warcraft / keeping abstinence alive since 2004."

demotivational poster of the World of Warcraft logo and the caption keeping abstinence alive

On July 9th, 2008, the single topic blog Unmotivational Posters[1] posted another World of Warcraft demotivational poster with the caption "Abstinence programs / $15 per month is a small price to pay to keep your son's virginity" (shown left). On March 1st, 2009, Urban Dictionary[14] user someone148615 submitted a definition for "W.O.W.", an acronym for World of Warcraft, which defined the term as "an abstinence program." On June 30th, the W.O.W abstinence program image was submitted to Very Demotivational[5] by an unknown user. On November 23rd, 2010, the Internet humor site Memebase[10] published a post titled "That’s the Only Peek-at You’ll Ever Get", which featured a photo of a man hugging a Pikachu Pokemon stuffed animal with the caption "Virginity / I choose you" (shown right).

demotivational poster about World of Warcraft protecting its players virginity man hugging a Pikachu stuffed toy and caption saying virginity I choose you

On January 12th, 2012, a post titled "Virginity level ∞" reached the front page of the /r/funny[15] subreddit with an image macro of a man dressed in cardboard armor captioned with "This is how I protect my virginity" (shown left). The post sparked a debate in the comments over the ethics of virgin-shaming. On February 23rd, 2012, the Memebase site Very Demotivational[2] posted a photo of a teenager dressed in various Nintendo game accessories with the caption "Virginity / He's ready to protect his at all costs" (shown right).

person in cardboard armor and caption about protecting virginity person wearing various Nintendo accessories and caption about protecting virginity


On August 2nd, 2013, Redditor [16] BrokeCFO launched the /r/Incels subreddit. Accoridng to the community, the subreddit is a place for "people who lack romantic relationships and sex, but mostly geared towards those lacking a girlfriend or seeking marriage." As of June 4th, 2017, the subreddit had more than 42,000 subscribers.[17]


The subreddit was criticized by other subreddits for supporting sexism, misogyny and men's rights activism, similar to /r/redpill, which caused some to call for it to be banned.[18] On December 20th, 2016, YouTuber Buzzed LizzardZero uploaded a video in which he mockingly reads various posts submitted to the subreddit (shown below).

On May 19th, 2017, Redditor caspertruth666 launched /r/IncelTears,[19] garnering more than 25,000 subscribers in six months. In the description, the moderators describe the subreddit:

IncelTears is a place for sane folks to submit screenshots (NOT direct links) of the crazy stuff posted by self-described Incels (involuntary celibates) wherein they make fools of themselves in their clueless quest to get laid and take women down a peg.

"This isn't a place to shame virgins, male or female, for being virgins. This is not a place to hate on people just because they can't get laid. This is a place to highlight those crazy, idiotic, misogynistic, jaw-dropping, or just plain incorrect crazy things

"Incels say, and for us to point, laugh, deconstruct, and maybe even educate.
Occasional discussion and meta posts are welcome, but are not the focus of the subreddit."

On November 8th, 2017, /r/Incels was banned for a violation to Reddit's content policy, specifically, their sitewide rules regarding violent content. Shortly after the banning, news of /r/Incels reached the front page of /r/SubredditDrama,[20] /r/insanepeoplefacebook,[21] /r/inceltears,[22] /r/r/AgainstHateSubreddits[23] and more.

Following the ban, various Redditors began posting screenshots of the some the most offensive posts from /r/Incels (examples below).

post by incel wishing he were Saddam Hussein's son post by incel amused by woman's niece dying

2014 Isla Vista Killings

2014 Isla Vista Killings were a killing spree that took place near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara on the night of May 23rd, 2014, which claimed the lives of six students and wounded 13 others. The perpetrator was identified as Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old student at Santa Barbara City College, who was later found dead in his vehicle. Rodger, a memeber of the Incel Community, has since become an icon of the movement.

2018 Toronto Van Attack

2018 Toronto Van Attack refers to a vehicle-ramming attack that occurred in late April 2018 in Toronto, Canada, in which suspect Alek Minassian drove a moving van into a crowd of pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring 15.

Prior to the removal of his Facebook page[25], a post was found in which Minassian says he wishes to "speak to Sgt 4chan," announces "The Incel Rebellion has already begun, praises Elliot Rodger and calls for the "overthrow of all the Chads and Stacys.[2]

Alek Minassian facebook post prior to Tornoto van attack

New York Magazine Article

On May 28th, 2019, New York[26] published an article entitled "How Many Bones Would You Break to Get Laid?" In the piece, writer Alice Hines speaks with members of the incel community who have received plastic surgery and the surgeon whom the article identifies as the most famous among incels, Dr. Barry Eppley, an Indiana-based cosmetic surgeon (cover below).

the Cut cover page for piece about incels getting plastic surgery

The article focuses primarily on a man known only by his forum alias Truth4lie, who has spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars reconstructing his physical features. Hines explores Truth4lie and other incels' obsession with European features; the underlying psychological issues whose symptoms they exhibit, such as body dysmorphia; and the echo chamber of internet forums that reinforce their insecurities and push them to surgery. Hines writes:

Friends and family said [Truth4lie] had body-dysmorphic disorder, a condition the International OCD Foundation says affects about one in every 50 people. Psychiatric manuals describe it as an obsession with perceived flaws in one’s appearance that others don’t see or notice. But Truth4lie’s imperfections were perfectly noticeable to other forum users: weak jawline, feminine nose, small frame, thinning hair. To Truth4lie, their assessments explained why he hadn’t fit in in high school, why his ex didn’t love him, why women he looked at on the street didn’t make eye contact.

Eppley, for his part in the article, remains surprised by his celebrity within the incel community. However, maintains his position as a cosmetic surgeon is not to question the patient's intentions. "It's easy to look back on something and say we shouldn’t have operated," he says. "My job is not to be a psychiatrist sitting in a chair. You’re serving a need, and you don’t know the depths of that need."

People reacted positively to the article, remarking on the empathy the author showed for her subjects, as well as the shock at the grisly details of their surgeries. Twitter[27] user @gvsmith tweeted, "Alice Hines's story on incel plastic surgery is probably the most sympathetic (yet ultimately devastating) account of the incel phenomenon you'll ever read. Smart, surprising reporting." Within 24 hours, the tweet received more than 300 retweets and 945 likes (shown below, left).

Others were disturbed by the subject matter. Twitter[28] user @nojoy tweeted, "The guys in the Cut's incel plastic surgery piece are fractally monstrous." The tweet received more than 100 retweets and 735 likes in 24 hours (shown below, center).

Some found the article's sympathies as misplaced. Twitter[29] user @the_moviebob tweeted, "Yeah, no. I've decided that shallow looks-obsessed bros being psychologically victimized into cosmetic surgery hell and abject self-loathing by the same "market-forces" they willed into being to foist onto women for centuries is both hilarious and justice." Within 24 hours, the tweet received more than 480 retweets and 2,000 likes (shown below, right).

tweet about the Cut's article following an incel getting plastic surgery excerpt from the Cut's incel plastic surgery piece about solving the woman thing Yeah, no. l've decided that shallow looks- obsessed bros being psychologically victimized into cosmetic surgery hell and abject self-loathing by the same "market- forces" they willed into being to foist onto women for centuries is both hilarious and justice: EW.)ORK New York Magazine Ф@NYMag New this issue: A Chad is a guy that angry, celibate men online This Is a Chad ant to look like. Some will tear apart their face to try 6:59 PM - 28 May 2019

Notable Examples

Examples of the meme have continued to spread on Memebase[11], Tumblr[12] and FunnyJunk[13] with photos of gamers and cosplayers that are captioned to appear as if they're defending their virginity.


Search Interest

External References

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