Involuntary celibacy (Incel)

Mar 27, 2017

Cathy: So we’ve had a lot of responses to the video Reid Mihalko and I did about Incel, which is involuntary celibacy. And one of the things that someone wrote in is that, a gentleman who has had this problem. He has not been able to connect with someone sexually for a long time. He feels that women have all the power and that he has no choice. They have all the choice and that because they all have the power and are not necessarily fair about that he feels very disempowered.

And I was wondering if you would share – you have a coaching – you have a practice where you see people. If someone came in and presented that to you, how would you respond?

Liz: So I think the first thing I would want to do is really reflect and honor the pain that that person is feeling. That it is – that’s a really painful space to be in, to feel like there is this type of connection and pleasure and enjoyment and relationship that you don’t even get access to. And to feel so powerless and to feel so helpless in that, that’s a lot of pain and that’s a valid pain. Regardless of what is going on, that hurts. That hurts a lot.

And I think that until that person feels like that pain has been heard and validated …

Cathy: It’s really hard to move forward.

Liz: … it’s very hard to move forward, yeah.

Cathy: Yeah. And just so we don’t forget, this is Dr. Liz from Sex-Positive Psych.

Liz: This Cathy Vartuli from The Intimacy Dojo.

Cathy: Yeah.

Liz: So I think – again, step one is like validating that that pain is real regardless of what is happening in the world and whether – how much is the interpretation versus reality, like regardless of any of that it really hurts when you feel like no one wants you. It really hurts when you feel like you’re out of control.

Cathy: And our culture is kind of sexual status and who is valuable sexually or not.

Liz: Yeah. We have a lot of really toxic messages in our culture about who is valuable sexually. For me, I’ve had a lot of sexual partners so I was a slut. I’m not as valuable sexually as a virgin, right? And the hierarchy of who has sexual value and what it means and where …

Cathy: Your age, the number on the scale, how attractive conventionally, like how much you look like what society says you should look like, what color your skin is.

Liz: Right. There’s a whole lot of factors that are really toxic and born overly problematic systems that led to this felt and perceived system of ranking and judgment that can be really harmful to a lot of people. And I think that honoring that that system exists is another important step in saying that there are a lot of people who buy into that belief that unless you look a certain way, have a certain number of sexual partners, are a certain age that you’re not valuable sexually. And that’s not true.

Cathy: Or you’re not even seen as sexual. I know one of the reasons I’m very shy, one of the reasons I talk about sexuality as a bigger person is that a lot of people don’t even see bigger people as being sexual.

Liz: Yeah. Well – and the same is true of people with disabilities especially physical disabilities. I have a good friend, Robin Wilson Beattie of sexAbled who has a chronic disability and runs into a lot of doctors who don’t assume that she ever has sex. She has run into doctors who have told her that it would be irresponsible of her to have a child.

Cathy: And she has a child. She is an amazing.

Liz: Yeah. She is an amazing mom. And there is this very strange thing where culture, if they would have want to watch you doing porn, you shouldn’t have sex or be a sexual person. And that’s not fair and that’s not OK. And that’s not true. Like everyone deserves pleasure and everyone deserves a satisfying sex life.

So once we validated all that hurt and that pain, what I would want to look at is whenever I am working with someone who feels like they have no choice or no power, I like to zoom way out and look at what things they do have choices about.

So for instance, in the dating world, who are you choosing to view as worthy of dating you, right? Are you only attracted to people who are on that same scale that you’re bemoaning as it applies to you? Are you …

Cathy: It is easy when we see – if we feel like our status has been constantly demeaned, we want to regain that status and in our mind, that maybe only by sleeping with someone that meets the conventional norm.

Liz: Sure. And there are a lot of people who turn folks down because of how they look that might have otherwise had a really great connection.

Cathy: Yeah.

Liz: And so, I would again zoom way back like what are the choices that you do have? If you’re someone who is not having any sexual contact, there are a lot of really fantastic sex workers who are great at what they do. There are people who do one directional sexual touch who do sexological bodywork or a partner therapy who do things like Bondassage or secret intimate work. There a lot of people who it is their job to help you rediscover your body and rediscover your sexuality and rediscover how to connect with someone.

Cathy: Yeah.

Liz: And there’s no shame and pain for that.

Cathy: Yeah.

Liz: It’s a professional service. I feel like there’s this huge stigma against sex work that is really harmful not just to sex workers but to those who could benefit from sex work.

Cathy: Right. And it’s hard when you feel like there’s no way to get any men.

Liz: Right.

Cathy: It’s very easy to feel – the brain goes, “Oh my god! I might die.” People do not need sex to live but it certainly is a delightful thing to have in our lives. We do need touch to thrive.

Liz: We do need touch, yeah. We need touch and we need connection. And that’s because we’re social animals. If we don’t get touch or connection, we do start suffering. And I think some of what I see in a lot of these situations and it’s not just for people who identify as Incel, it’s for a lot of people who feel like they’re in a powerless situation is that they’ve gotten to this space of learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is what happens when you have something negative happened to you a bunch of times and your attempt to escape don’t succeed so you give. Yeah, you give up on being able to escape or being able to change things.

Cathy: It’s a freeze response. So your fight/flight freeze. If you can’t fight and you flee then you just freeze. And it’s hard to break that pattern unless if you have coach or therapist that can walk you through it. But doing this – repeating the same pattern is often just going to reinforce that same pattern.

Liz: Yeah. And I think that it’s really easy for us to look at whether we have control over very big things and lose focus on the small things that we do have control. What are the things that you do have control over every day? What are the things that you could do to help you feel better about this? What do you have control over? You can never force any person to like you. I get turned down a lot. It’s not uncommon. And we can’t force someone to like us.

And we also need to find a space to be OK with any one person not liking us and not turn that into no one will ever like me.

Cathy: And owning our own self like just have some – we have someone else rejects me, if I’m having a low day it lands really heavy and it’s really easy to be like, “I’m a horrible person.” And stop being there for myself.

Liz: Right.

Cathy: Versus OK, that person said no. I’m going to be here for me no matter what. And that’s a different way of receiving it and I think the energy of interaction is very different. And if there’s always an approach of defensiveness which is very good – I mean very well-earned often or dejectedness, it doesn’t increase our chances of having that connection.


Liz: Yeah. The reality is if someone would walk up to you and ask you if you want to interact sexually, and the way that they came to you was in a space of desperation or in a space of you could tell that really dislike themselves, you would probably be far less likely to say yes.

Cathy: Yeah, shame is very toxic and people want to pull away from shame.

Liz: Yeah. And when you walk up to someone, the way that you present yourself tells them what they should think about you. If you walk up to someone with the attitude of “no is going to like, I’m really unattractive, no one is ever going to want to have sex with me” you’re going to teach them to treat you that way, right? And I’m not saying walk up to people and pretend that you think you’re the hottest thing that ever happened and pretend you’re someone you’re not.

But what is it about you that makes you worthy of love? Everyone is worthy of love. What is it in particular for you? What makes you special? What makes you unique? What makes you an amazing potential lover? What is it that you have to offer? And focus on that on yourself so that when you approach someone, that’s what they’re getting from you.

Cathy: And if you’re not sure if you’re an amazing lover or any of those things, develop skills to communicate and have powerful relationship. Take classes on how to touch your partner so that you can have that confidence. Like I’m very shy but I know that I know how to touch people pretty well so it does give me and it helps me approach people a little differently than if I was like I’m not sure.

Liz: Yeah. And if you don’t feel like you know how to be a good lover, then that’s work you can do on your own or again with like a sex worker or people who do sexological bodywork or who do other kinds of training. There are a lot of people who can help you sharp your skills so that when you walk up to someone, you have that internal confidence and you’re less focus on all the reasons they’re going to reject you.

Cathy: Yeah. And if you don’t live like in California, there’s a lot more access to that then in some places. But there’s a lot of online video and online courses that you could do or plan your next trip and get those needs and the education so that when you approach someone, it’s not with the same level of timidity or overwhelm.

Liz: Yeah. If you don’t like yourself, it’s going to be hard for other people to like you. And you have to find that space of loving yourself and feeling worthy in order for others to be able to see that in you.

Cathy: Yeah. We hope this helped with a lot of compassion. This is shared with a lot of compassion.

Liz: Yeah. It is so hard. I remember especially in high school, there were a lot of folks who I really wanted to spend time with or hook up with and I didn’t feel like I was worthy of them. And so, I never even asked. I never ever approached them. I never even tried.

And the folks who I did talk to because I was coming from the space of feeling like not good enough, they didn’t treat me very well. They weren’t as interested. And I think that I lost a lot of opportunities because I wasn’t good with me. And until I was good with me, I just didn’t have the same kind of life.

Cathy: Yeah. So if you can be your own advocate and be there for yourself, that’s a big step forward. We hope this helped. We’d love to know what you think.

Liz: Yeah. Leave us a comment.

Cathy: Yup.

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