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.

Incel and What to Do About It

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! 

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12 Comments on “Involuntarily Celibacy and What to Do About It

  1. Great post, Paul!

    A couple of thoughts –

    First, the issue may lie in your spouse’s ‘deep history’, and could involve things like unacknowledged abuse, or rape. It’s stuff that should be discussed with a counselor…but many people, both men and women, really can’t face the uglier aspects of their past, and cripples deserve a lot of compassion and care.

    Second, if the problem isn’t going to go away, embrace it. Let the challenge better you, not in making you harder, but in making you more understanding and compassionate. Illness is kind of like this. For me, every morning is like getting off the mat after yet another knockdown courtesy Iron Mike, and nothing I do will change that. But having to face the need for a conscious effort to will my limbs into motion – literally – to get to my feet, and to push each leg forward to walk…there is a liberation in this intentionality, a victory in this volition. I know myself very well indeed, and know that my limits are a lot further off than I thought they were, back when I was healthy.

    • @Andrew – The root cause is usually something more than selfishness. The issue is to push hard enough to get the other spouse to face and deal with that.
      I’m with you on the second one, but not everyone can do that.

      • “Second, if the problem isn’t going to go away, embrace it.”

        Embrace involuntary celibacy? How about I not embrace it and simply put down an ultimatum. Either I have a real marriage or I end the fraud and let her go?

        Marriage is covenant AND consummation. It is not either or. It has to be both to be marriage. Martin Luther and many other theologians believe abandonment of the marriage bed is grounds for divorce. I’m not sure this is right but I will say there is as much biblical evidence for this as there is that porn addiction is grounds for divorce.

  2. This really made me sad. My wife is pregnant and I understand it’s hard to think about sex and I know I shouldn’t be complaining but I didn’t want another kid yet. I even wanted to wait with the first kid but she had to get her will. We haven’t had aex in 39 days and reading this my hopes of having sex the coming 1.5 years are few. It may happen once more before everything goes down. And I know people say that the pure joy of having another kid will help me but no it won’t. I am not happy or enthusiastic about having another kid. I can only see the negative things. The stress over finances and constantly taking care of the kids and the disconnection from each other. I will love my child but I know I will feel a lot of negativity. With the first child it took almost a year until that negativity started to let go. It just makes me so sad. And I don’t know what to do with my sexual frustration. I have no way to find release. People talk about channeling your sexuality in something productive. Like what? I wake up 6 a.m I make breakfast for my wife and kid. I feed my kid. I take my kid to kindergarten. I go to work and work 8 hours. I get my kid from kindergarten. Get home. We(mostly I) feed her. We play , I bath her , feed her and they go to sleep. I start to clean and cook. When I’m finished I usually need to do some work because my work is so demanding and leads to a lot of stress. If i am fast with all I need to do I may go to sleep at 00:00 or 01:00 am but often it’s 01:30-02:00. And then It’s the same. And in a couple of months it’s that plus one more kid and nowhere to “channel” my frustration. Someone please shoot me.

    • Aching, I hear ya, bud, I do…and I am a woman! I don’t think it is so much the babies that are giving you the “just shoot me” attitude. It is your wife.

      It isn’t even so much that she had to have her way about having the babies. If I can read between the lines here, I think it has more to do with her princess attitude.

      Your marriage is waaay off balance with her getting the sweet end of the lollipop all the time. You seem to be doing the bulk of the work and your frustrations are either not voiced or not heard because, let’s face it, the world’s view is any man who speaks up to his wife about where she falls short is a “jerk.” (No, he is not. Many women are namby pamby spoiled princesses these days!) And pregnancy is used as an excuse. “How dare you upset me when I am carrying your child!”

      Counseling….STAT. Pregnant or not. Hormones or not. Sleep deprived or not.

      • Wow i mean just wow! You don’t know how much this means that a women agrees. It’s so true what you say. As soon as a man tries to point out that a women and especially a pregnant woman can be wrong your suddenly a selfish jerk. So thank you very much for understanding.
        And yes you are right it’s not the kids. It’s not even all the chores, I love serving her and if I can make her day better I will but sometimes as you say she doesn’t seem to give back. I’m not saying I am worthy of her love. I have many faults and serious things I am working on. we have a lot to fix in our marriage and I worry sometimes that we won’t make it to the end. But I still wish she could like see my point of view in things but she is so used to get whatever she wants. I see that in her relationship with her dad. He is a great man and I admire him because of his love for his children but I has clearly spoiled my wife while she grew up. She is used to get whatever she points at and she knows just what to say and how to say it to convince someone to get her what she wants. She is my used to anyone saying no and I am sadly very bad at saying no. I have been a people pleaser my whole life and it’s really hard when she who has a strong will decides what she wants. It affects everything. I have very little to say about things. That is not all hee fault I need to be better at making decisions but i wish she could take my side sometimes without getting angry or sad. She sounds like a manipulative person but she’s not she just knows what she wants and it’s something that I love and admire with her but sometimes it goes to far. The kids thing really hurt me because I feel that I needed her during this time. I love my kid but we wouldn’t die by waiting one more year. We could take that time to connect, to better our finances and be more prepared but she didn’t want to listen. She didn’t rape me of course but it wasn’t easy to try to have protected sex when she complained about condoms hurting her and her displeasing look. I caved as I sadly always do. I just wanted us to be stronger together. I sometimes feel I lose her because she is happy. she has what she always dreamt of. Kids and a husband. I don’t know if I am making to much problem but I seem to feel more distant from her that she from me because she never mentions it. She seems happy with how things are. I mean she gets her emotional tank filled from the kids. I love my kids too and there is nothing that eases a burden heart as the hug from a child, especially your own child but I still need her. I need her hugs and her kisses. I need to feel that she still cares. That she still wants me it for my service to her but because She loves me. Today was the first time she showed a little more affection. she kissed me like she never does and she told me: ” You never kiss me anymore” and I was like “What?! Everytime I want to kiss you, you don’t want to. Their is always an excuse. Bad breath, something in your mouth or my mouth and etc.” And of course she didn’t want to talk about it and started to focus on our daughter(she got jealous because we kissed). And I understand kids are a distraction but if she would have told me that I would start thinking and asking what can I do to change. And I am thinking about how I can get better at kissing her but I have felt rejected so often that I prefer to wait until she makes a move because I feel so ashamed when I get rejected. But she doesn’t seem to care so much. I don’t know maybe I feel to much and I should just be happy that a women even loves me. If she leaves me she will find someone but I think she is my only chance to be with someone so I would probably live in my parents house and die of fatness.

  3. I totally agree with your approach Paul. You won’t make headway if you aren’t calm but insistent. I would recommend a date night where you find time during dinner to ask about what she sees as your future. Make it positive and connect with her. This can start an open dialogue and get you both in a “where do we want to be in a year” frame of mind. When you get home and are not around others is a great time for you to bring up your current unhappiness.
    Tip – try sitting side by side for this part. I tend to feel like my husband is being combative when he faces me and asks direct questions. It’s much easier to work through things holding hands and sitting shoulder to shoulder. Or better yet spooning. I feel safe.

  4. My unsolicited advice to anyone who reads this timley advice is to take your lessening of sexual frequency very seriously from the onset Deal with the issues early on because its gets seriously more complicated as you both age I wish I could remember a year we had sex 10 times Its to the point now where Im apprehensive about even suggesting (begged for) sex for fear that I couldnt perform even if she agreed. Thank you for your blogs and TMB Wish Id BEEN serious enough about my marriage to have soight the excellent resources years ago Im asking God to help me restore my marriage and sex life in prayer Thanks again

  5. “This is also a good time to ask her if she knows why she is unwilling to have sex much or all of the time.”

    Not being interested in sex can be caused by any number of reasons.

    If you are expecting a wife to work on something, it’s probably best if she knows what is causing the issue so she can work on fixing it. She may need time to search her heart as to why she’s not so interested. Who knows, her issues might be with you.

    If she has never enjoyed sex, having her work on frequency alone may actually make the problem worse. If she needs to find enjoyment in sex, she will need your help, not your pressure. Don’t be alarmed or take it personally if you hear she doesn’t get much pleasure out of sex. Sexual pleasure isn’t automatic for a lot of women. It’s a learning experience.

    Chris, over at The Forgiven Wife, has a post regarding a wife doing Duty Sex while she is working on her issues.
    Don’t be surprised if you are on the receiving end of duty sex while trying to increase frequency (if it’s just a frequency problem). It’s a great way to push past stubborn resistance for the woman.

    Bottom line, it’s always wise to figure out the why first.
    There is always a why, and it’s usually not plain old selfishness.

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