Involuntarily Celibacy and What to Do About It
The term “Incel”, meaning involuntarily celibate, has changed a lot since a woman invented it two decades ago. One such example is Elliot Rodger, who described himself as an incel and said he was killing women who refused to have sex with him and men who were getting sex.
Originally incel was used to describe a single person who wanted to have sex but was unable to manage it. Most attributed their failure to social awkwardness or not understanding how relationships and sex are supposed to work. Groups formed by incels were about mutual support and trying to learn how to navigate intimate relationships.
A few years ago, men and women in sexless marriages started to use the term. It is this group I want to address today.
The generally accepted definition of a sexless marriage is a couple living together who have sex less than ten times a year. Estimates put 15% to 20% of married couples in this category. In some of those, neither partner is upset about the lack of sex, and there is no incel. Sexless marriages become more common with age, but it’s thought more than 10% of couples under the age of 40 are in sexless marriages.
If you’re incel, you’re not happy about it. In fact, you are probably rather pissed about it! Unfortunately, that anger tends to cause more problems than anything else. Last week in What I Want vs What I Think I Deserve, I talked about accepting your sexuality as right and good and knowing what should be happening in your marriage bed. If you haven’t worked through this, please do that before you deal with your wife. If you don’t think you “deserve’ sex, why should she think you do? The bottom line is that if you’re a halfway decent guy your wife should be having sex with you regularly. If you’re not abusive, drunk, stoned, or deep in ongoing sexual sin, your marriage should include sex. That said, if you’re rude, cold, or just ignore her she should still be having sex with you, but you are part or all of the reason she’s not into sex with you. If this is the case, you need to deal with that before you say anything to her.
If you don’t think you’re the primary reason your wife is saying no to sex most or all of the time, you have two choices. You can 1) live with it, 2) or confront it. I can assure you it won’t get better if you don’t do anything. On the contrary, it will get worse. Not only that, but the longer you ignore it the less chance you have of seeing it change when you finally decide to confront it.
Confrontation needs to be done lovingly. Not wishy-washy, not apologetically, but not in anger. It also needs to be done at a sane time. If you have a child under one, or she’s pregnant, it’s not a good time. If she’s dealing with a major illness, it’s not a good time. If someone close to her is dying or died recently, it’s not a good time. Even if the lack of sex started before whatever makes now a bad time, wait for a better time.
I’m of the opinion that less is more when bringing this up. Beating her with the Bible isn’t going to help. Telling her the lack of sex may drive you to porn or adultery is really not going to help. Make this about what is right. Tell her a marriage should include sex and a lack of sex destroys marriages. Tell her you’re no longer willing to sit in silence as a lack of sex kills your marriage. This would also be a good time to ask her if she knows why she is unwilling to have sex much or all of the time. If she gives you a clear reason accept is as truth even if you’re sure it’s bogus. Work to change what she says is the problem. If it changes and there’s no change in sex, or if she won’t do her part to change it, go back to “this is not right”. If early attempts don’t show any change, start pushing for getting third party help.
If you have put up with the lack of sex because of your own fears, confusion, or shame, tell your wife that. Explain you have been conflicted because you believed lies about your sexuality and how sex should be in a marriage.
End by telling her, as lovingly as possible, the situation is not acceptable to you and you will no longer put up with it. Tell her it needs to change or the marriage is going to change. If she asks what that means you can tell her you don’t know, you just know you’re reaching the end of your ability to cope with the situation and if it continues you know something is going to happen.
If she refuses to talk about this, or cuts you off before you finish, or bring up something unrelated, write it out for her. She needs to hear you’re not going to continue on the same path. She needs to understand she has a choice about the future, but if she chooses to continue with the status quo she will lose that choice and you will choose.
Part of doing this is having some idea what would be an acceptable sex life. I don’t think a detailed plan is helpful, but you need to know where your line is. This would include a minimum frequency, what counts as sex, and how often you need to feel she’s doing more than just accommodating you. Do realise this is going to be a significant change for her and even if she commits to it, it will take time and she will fail on occasion. Gauge her progress by how the last month looks compared to the month before that.
You may wonder what happens if she refuses to try, or tries and then gives up. That’s up to you. If she is saying no all the time or all but a few times a year, you may have grounds for divorce – but that doesn’t mean you should divorce or that it’s God’s first choice for you. If you think you can live in a sexless marriage without sinning, I think that’s the best choice. If you don’t think you can do that, it’s probably time to give her one last chance with an ultimatum.
Do realise this is a radical action. If you do this and mean it there is no going back to what you have now. The future might be better and it might be worse, but it will be different. This is saying “I’m all in, deal the cards.” If what you have right now is all but worthless, you have more to gain than to lose. If things continue to go downhill you may wake up one day with nothing left to put on the table.
The reason I’m addressing this and suggesting a proactive stance is I see a lot of men who put up with it for years and years, hurting more and more. Then they finally hit their limit and either do something stupid or give their wife a “change in the next week or I’m gone” ultimatum. Those things never have good outcomes, and it’s not fair to a woman who probably doesn’t understand the depth of pain and frustration the lack of sex is causing her husband.
Final Thought: While I wrote this for husbands, there are plenty of wives who are celibate or near celibate against their will. Everything I said here is valid with the genders reversed! It also applies if he is unwilling to do what she needs to have an orgasm when she wants one!