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“One day incels will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system. Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.”
This was one of Elliot Rodger’s toxic calls to arms, part of the vast trail of hate speech he left behind following his deadly rampage at UCSB on Friday night. Since then, the term incel (involuntary celibacy) has been linked to some of the most entitled, misogynistic rhetoric on the internet.
Commenting on Rodger, thatincelblogger writes: "What happened is punishment for evil and violence of feminists and liberals” and rattles off a list of “atrocities such as women’s suffrage, immodest clothing, child support/alimony, no ban on adultery, ban on prostitution and a lack of female premarital chastity, all the things that drove this young man to be unable to find a girlfriend.” Long before this weekend, his incel-related blog so disturbed Reddit commenters that they devoted whole threads to a single one of his posts. A sense of entitlement also pervades incelblog:"I see why men get confused when it comes to women. Women suck at being decent, masculine-appreciative humans.”
In fact, the concept of involuntary celibacy has a much more complex and positive history, dating back to the 1990s when the term was first coined by a community of women and men who were searching for intimate relationships but for one reason or another could not find partners.
Seeking to better understand their situation, this group invited sociologists Dr. Denise Donnelly and Dr. Elisabeth Burgess to do a study, which eventually grew to interviews with 300 incel-identified subjects. Published in 2001, the result was the first scholarly paper on the phenomenon, turning the group’s name into a formal term for a situation that many people experienced but didn’t know how to talk about.
That group, which has gone through several iterations over the years is now located at an interim online space called You’re Not Alone. I discovered them in late 2009 when I was doing research on my documentary How To Lose Your Virginity, and the people I met were (and still are) a supportive and female-inclusive bunch, far removed from Rodger and his ilk. It’s currently about 40 percent female and 60 percent male and primarily heterosexual, although the group has had members who were gay and bisexual in the past.
Group member Jacob, 38, feels the term incel has become loaded, and he describes it as ”the state of desiring sex and relationships, and being unable to obtain either. Some are incel for medical reasons. Some suffer crippling anxieties. Some have unresolved issues from abuse, and some can't seem to pinpoint where they fail to connect with another person. Each case is unique.”
Fran, a 40-something Australian woman, credits the interactions on the boards with disrupting cycles of social awkwardness and the drop in confidence that comes with them. “The most useful threads are members’ success stories. Many members who were lifelong incels and perhaps virgins find relationships after participating on the board for a while. That sort of support is invaluable.”
There are many pathways that result in both women and men feeling socially out of step with peers. Religious households may keep teens from dating and learning to interact socially; or a singular focus on education takes people from high school to grad school, depositing them into adulthood without having had a single date, surrounded by people more experienced in intimate relationships. Jacob says years of physical and emotional abuse left him with crippling social anxiety and PTSD. “During the formative years,” he says, “I never learned how to properly interact with people…how to make friends, how to date.”
“In a society where sexuality is always in our faces, if you don’t have the tools or access, or aren’t comfortable establishing intimacy it’s going to isolate you from social environments,” explains Dr. Burgess. “You don’t want to talk to your family or friends for fear of being teased or ostracized, and that’s why these incel groups have become especially valuable.”
So, why did the misogynistic groups proliferate, leaving the more introspective and female-friendly groups like You’re Not Alone, and other sites like the sub-reddits Forever Alone and Forever Alone Women, feeling like outliers?
Society still defines sex by intercourse and ejaculation, andmasculinity by the tally of those sexual conquests. Men who buy into this mythology end up feeling both entitled to it, and frustrated at not getting their due. When they can’t fulfill their expected masculine roles, they blame women for not giving them what they think they deserve, instead of examining themselves and the mythology they were raised with.
While doing their research in 1998, Dr. Burgess said they were “startled” by the number of men who described their ideal relationship based on what kind of female body they wanted. I can only speculate that these men already had misogynistic and entitled ideas about the women they felt they were owed, and began to take advantage of the growing echo chamber and megaphone of the Internet, looking for kinship in spaces that reflected their attitudes back at them. Rodger continues to be defended by men who feel the root problem was a phantom misandrist conspiracy that kept him from getting laid. But even in these spaces, Rodger was not completely at home.
“He appeared to view many of his fellow incels with disgust,” explains Josh Glasstetter, Campaign Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center where he reported on Rodger’s incel connections. “In his mind, they were too passive and unwilling to challenge the celibacy supposedly being imposed upon them by women. He saw himself as part of a vanguard that would launch an incel revolution.”
Whether incel-identified or not, most men and women searching for intimacy and feeling off-track are simply trying to find a way back on. Although reticent about forming relationships, Fran remains optimistic about finding one saying “I feel I have learned more in three years about dating and relating (and maybe about myself) than I learned in the previous forty.”
Therese Shechter is a filmmaker and writer based in Brooklyn. You can read or submit your own stories about sexual debuts and deferrals at The V-Card Diaries.
She’s determined to go all the way.
Virginity auctions have inspired endless tabloid titillation as well as sky-high bids like those for American Natalie Dylan ($3.7 million) and Brazilian Caterina Migliorini ($750K). Neither of those winning bidders were accepted, however. Now Elizabeth Raine, a 27-year-old American medical student, is entering the market, and she’s determined to go all the way, with a flashy website and a pledge to give a chunk of the proceeds to charity.
I talked to Elizabeth Raine about the kind of guy who’d pay good money to be the “first penis in,” why you can’t prove a woman is a virgin, and how to negotiate boundaries when your first sexual experience is with a total stranger.
Nerve: Tell me the particulars of your auction.
Elizabeth Raine: The auction will occur through my website. The bidding opens on April 1st, and will last for approximately one month, after which I will meet with the winning bidder to complete the transaction, if you will. The act itself will occur outside of the U.S. in a country where prostitution is legal. I am being careful not to break any laws. Australia is the working plan, but other options do exist.
Where do you draw the line on what you’re open to and not open to on your 12-hour date with the winner?
I think I am open to most things, except for anal sex and third party participants. However, my limits will probably depend on how comfortable I am with the gentlemen, what he wants, and how much he is paying me.
Are there any deal breakers where you'd call it off?
I would call it off if I didn't feel safe, for one reason or another.
How will you be negotiating boundaries? Is there a formal contract outlining your terms?
Boundaries will be negotiated well beforehand with the gentleman. There isn’t a formal contract yet, but when the time comes one will be drawn up that protects both parties. While I have thought a lot about my terms, they are still flexible.
How long have you been planning this auction?
I began thinking about this well over a year ago, when I sent my first email inquiry to a brothel in Nevada. I am juggling this project with my duties as a medical student, so it’s not moving at the most rapid pace.
I read on your blog that you were inspired by Natalie Dylan.
When I first heard about her auction as it was happening, I probably had the same snap negative reaction as everyone else, but about a year ago I happened to come across her interview on Tyra. I was very impressed by how self-assured she was. She clearly knew herself very well and her limits, and she was a step ahead of everyone who was judging her, including me.
Tyra said something about her looking hot, and therefore not like a virgin.
What exactly does a virgin look like? There are so many virgin stereotypes, and they are barely ever right.
It's like, if you're hot it's your duty to let guys have sex with you.
I think it's sad because it plays into the idea that women just want to be desired by men.
Which brings me to the question of what “virginity” means to you. What are you auctioning?
I think losing virginity is having heterosexual intercourse for the first time. If you are referring to another type of intercourse it needs to be clarified, for instance “I lost my oral virginity.”
So what do you think the appeal or fascination is for a guy? What do you think they think they’re buying?
For some reason or another it is a sexual fantasy [to have a virgin]. In some cases, I think they want to take on the role of sexual teacher. In others, they just want to try something new. And then there are some men who are just attracted to the idea of an untouched woman.
I always assumed it was the desire for “first penis in” like planting your flag on uncharted territory or something.
Men are very competitive and territorial creatures.
I sometimes think that if men are stupid enough to pay for a social construct, let them.
I can't disagree with that.
I really hate the mythology virginity auctions perpetuate. As long as there hasn't been a penis inside a woman, she and her body have value. But once that happens, she has none. No one auctions off the second time they have intercourse.
Well that's not necessarily true, women with all levels of sexual experience are selling sex somewhere. I'm not saying that makes it right, but I do think it is more of a continuum than you think. Men preferring less 'promiscuous' women is not a phenomenon limited to virgins.
They are, but adding the #virginity seems to increase the value exponentially. I'm not sure Natalie would have gotten much interest if she had already had intercourse and was offering the second time to a lucky bidder. Do you?
I agree the value is inflated. Here is one more idea: The first time is a mystery. So, being in the position of the virgin, if you are going to lose it under these circumstances, it should pay well.
The odds are slim on this, but what if your gentlemen isn't actually interested in intercourse? Will you do it some other way? Or like Caterina Migliorini, do another auction?
I do think the odds are very slim, and I hope this possibility would become apparent in pre-meeting negotiations. But should it happen, I really don't know what I would do. I do not like the idea of a second auction at all, but I can't rule it out. My first move would probably be to contact some of my other bidders to see if they are still interested. If not, then I would probably just lose it on my own. Still a sexual adventure, just an unpaid one.
You’ve said you haven’t gone past First Base, as we used to say in junior high, and can provide evidence of your virginity. As an almost-doctor, I'm surprised you'd say that. I have yet to speak to a physician that says you can prove anything.
It’s important to clarify upfront is that it is absolutely a false and dangerous misconception that if a woman is a virgin it can be proven. Hymens tear, some hymens are small, some women are even born without them. But, having said that, cases exist in which a woman is in possession of a hymen that is apparent and does not tear until intercourse. I happen to be one of those cases.
It puts some dangerous messages out there every time a virginity auctioner states a gynecologist can give her the seal of approval, so to speak. I just got my umpteenth email from a frantic girl who is sure her future husband will know she's not a virgin because she won't bleed or feel tight.
Yes, and that is really unfair to women, especially in cultures that value virginity. That's why I think it is really important to spread the medical facts on hymens.
What was your family's first reaction when you told them?
My parents were very cool with it (my brother is another story), but I definitely cushioned the blow. I wrote my father a 5-page letter detailing my plans and explaining my reasoning. I wasn't there when he read the letter, but as far as I can tell he didn't blink. He said it was an interesting idea, encouraged me to be smart and patient with the process, and said he was with me no matter what the outcome. It was really remarkable and really moving.
And your brother?
Well, he is much more conservative than the rest of my family, so he had some very loud moral objections. There was an argument, but it is in the past now. He is not any part of this experience.
How much money do you think you'll get?
I have no idea. A small part of me is even worried no one will bid. But, having said that, I am aiming big.
So since you're aiming big: 35% is going to charity? And the rest is for you?
15% will go to my agent, and I will keep half.
You seem financially secure, and surely there are other ways to get the excitement you want in your life that won't involve having sex with some creeper in a hotel room. Not judging. Just curious.
I am financially secure and there are of course other opportunities for excitement and growth, but this was still too good of an opportunity to pass up. It is still money, whether or not I need it, and trust me when I tell you this is quite the experience. And I am not at all bothered by the idea of one night in a hotel room with a stranger.
How are you preparing for your first time having intercourse?
I suppose talking to friends mostly.
What advice have you received?
Just be yourself.
What kind of protection will you use?
Condoms and/or an STI screening, and also verification of the bidder's identity and I will probably require a deposit.
Why do you want to have intercourse?
Who is the first person you'll tell?
My roommate, who is also one of my best friends.
And finally, if you could do it for the first time with anyone, fictional or real, who would it be?
With the person who will pay the most, whoever he may be.
That’s good business! People usually say Ryan Gosling.
No, no, not him. Unless he pays.
Adult virgins aren't as rare as unicorns.
Let's face it: if you haven't had sex by college graduation, or (the horror!) by your 30th birthday, it's hard not to feel some serious social stigma. Pop culture repeatedly brands adult virgins as religious freaks or shut-in action figure collectors. Advertisers work hard to push the message that everyone cool is getting laid as well: "Hey, loser! Buy this body spray/bustier/pickup artist book, and you'll get play like everyone you know." It's easy to believe everyone is having sex but you – and that until you start getting busy, it’s best to lock yourself in the virginity closet and hope no one finds out your secret.
But here's the actual reality: there are a lot of people not having sex. How can I be so sure? In the course of making How to Lose Your Virginity, a documentary about virginity myths, and collecting over 400 stories for The V-Card Diaries, a website compiling the personal stories of adult virgins, I've talked to a lot of people who consider themselves older virgins. It’s time to end some of the myths out there about this diverse and interesting bunch of abstainers.
ADULT VIRGINS AREN’T AS RARE AS UNICORNS.
A recent study from the CDC reported that for people ages 20-24, 13 percent of men and 12 percent of women haven't had any sexual contact with another person. For adults 25-44, the study reports that 1.6 percent of women and 2.3 percent of men have not had any sexual activity. It may not sound like much, but it's actually 2-3 out of 100, or several adults on each NYC subway car. Think about that next time you're on the F Train.
VIRGINS ARE SEXUAL PEOPLE
Lorelei is a 27-year-old woman who lives in New York and owns "a variety of sex toys that would make a mother cry." She has a sizable dildo collection, and if hymen-breaking counts for anything, one of those babies was her first special someone.
Last year, she told me, "Some days I feel like the biggest saddest freak in the world, the girl who can’t handle human intimacy, because everyone else makes hopping into the sack look so easy, and then there’s some days where I feel really proud of myself, not because I’m ‘pure’ or anything, but because I simply haven’t allowed myself to be coerced by peer pressure or media or dates into doing something I’m not sure I want to do yet." When I checked in with her again last week, she said she still didn't buy the idea that someone had to have a certain amount of sexual experience by some arbitrary age. "Giving myself an amazing orgasm is probably a lot more gratifying and affirming than cruising bars for a one-night stand."
VIRGINS AREN’T ALL RELIGIOUS PRUDES
Judy is a classically trained violinist who believes virginity isn’t just a physical thing. "You can be just as impure without actually doing the physical act. I belong to God and my body belongs to God and my life belongs to Him," she told me when I interviewed her for my film. But Judy’s life isn’t just church sermons and prayer circles: she recently spent a year and a half on tour with Lady Gaga, one of the most sexually provocative celebrities out there. Judy, who has lots of tattoos and a partially shaved head, performed on the tour in a black lace minidress, alongside scantily clad, writhing men. When she performs she often loses herself in the experience. The irony isn’t lost on her.
“I don't keep to myself and study the Bible in my room and pray,” she says. “My human nature, my flesh, has struggled and said: I want to experience it. But God’s been teaching me a lot about myself. If there’s any place he wants me to be it would be here. It’s like ‘I’m exposing you to this, so let’s see where you, where you go with it.’” Now that the tour is over, she's still committed to waiting for the person she’s going to marry “whether it happens or not.” In the meantime, she’s been collaborating with a wide variety of artists and is making her own very cool music wearing very cool outfits.
MALE VIRGINS AREN’T LOSERS
If it’s tough for older female virgins coming out of the closet, for men it's nearly impossible. In a world where manliness is often defined by having lots of sex, who wants to be “the 40-year-old virgin" with all the cultural baggage that comes with it?
My friend Matt has always had a curiosity about the world, and seven years ago he embarked on a career as a sports journalist which has taken him all over Asia and the Middle East. A self-described 32-year-old virgin, he says that in the places he's lived "there's been plenty of sex to be had, and not at a high cost." But that’s never been his scene, and considering his work place is pretty much "a sausagefest," opportunities for romance have been few and far between. But he's still doing his best to get out there. "You need to risk rejection, and anyone who'd reject you, you don't want to be in a relationship with them anyways."
Matt’s not alone in the unexpected male virgin category. A V-Card Diaries contributor who calls himself Just A Guy didn’t expect to find himself still a virgin on his 30th birthday. With a high sex drive, he says he's “played it safe by turning to porn and masturbation" but now he's plagued with a fear of failure and his own inexperience. To look at this 29-year-old physician from California who loves sports and travel, you wouldn't pick him out as the guy who's never been on a date or even kissed anyone, but there you go. They don't all look like Steve Carrell in a Best Buy uniform.
BEING A VIRGIN MEANS MANY DIFFERENT THINGS
Whenever someone tells me they’re a virgin, I'm never actually sure what it is they mean. Lots of serious sex can happen without a penis going into a vagina, so it's confusing to hear people talking about virginal status when they're having oral sex, like one couple in my film, or BDSM play, like the woman in a recent NY Times blog or the members of BDSM networking site Fet Life’s Virgin Submissives group. Sex is a process, and even if you want to one day do the P in the V thing, everything you do up until then counts as well.
Meghan is trans and refers to herself as a 50-year-old virgin, despite the fact that she's had plenty of intercourse. But sex never felt quite right to her before her transition. ''I could never get comfortable [as a man]. I always wanted to feel what the woman was feeling." Now that she's preparing for her gender reassignment surgery, she emailed me to say that as she gets closer to the date, she's starting to feel like the teenage girl she never got to be. "I wonder if I’m going to become protective of my yoni and not rush into penis-in-vagina sex play. Maybe I can be forgiven for feeling frightened of the first time." The traditional definition of virginity definition is starting to feel a bit narrow to her anyway. She's been having "sexual experiences of all kinds with men and women and transpeople," and just wrote me that "if there is such a thing as an anal virgin, it is a thing I am no longer."