Last Updated on 27th September 2023

Incel stands for involuntary celibate. The incel ideology can be complex, with many different subcultures, but it is generally a group of men who feel they are forced to be celibate due to women denying them sex that they feel is owed to them.

Incel stands for involuntary celibate. The incel ideology can be complex, with many different subcultures, but it is generally a group of men who feel they are forced to be celibate due to women denying them sex that they feel is owed to them.

What is an Incel?

“A member of an online community of young men who consider themselves unable to attract women sexually, typically associated with views that are hostile towards women and men who are sexually active.”

Oxford Languages Dictionary

The ‘incel’ terminology and movement started from a very different place than where it is now. It originates from a website that was set up by a woman in the 1990s as a supportive place for people who found it difficult to gain sexual experience. Since then, incel communities have become a place filled with hatred and misogyny, which often champion violence towards women, including in the forms of rape and murder.

There have been at least 8 mass violence attacks attributed to incels or individuals expressing ‘incel’-like views. This includes the shooting in August 2021 when 22-year-old Jake Davison killed five people in Plymouth. Before the shooting, he expressed misogynistic views online against his mother and upset at not having a girlfriend.

Young boys who feel isolated, rejected, and ostracised are particularly vulnerable. They may feel they aren’t a part of ‘normal’ society and the incel community online offers a place to be accepted into a group, with older members of the community often preying on this vulnerability.

Incel groups online frequently use memes, slang, and jokes that will appeal to younger audiences, as well as creating a kind of secret language between themselves, emphasising the ‘us’ against ‘them’ sense of community.

Today’s world is a challenging place for young people. For teenage boys, they may be feeling all kinds of emotions, including anger and low confidence, due to hormonal changes or outside factors such as the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns, difficulties making friends, or struggling in school. 

For some, their induction into the world of ‘inceldom’ may begin innocently enough. They could stumble into it through searching for relationship advice or information about what to do when you’re lonely.

It is worth noting that incel groups are often associated with racist views, with Black men being a particular target due to a belief that they are more successful with women. There are many more offshoot groups of incels, with a variety of slightly different belief sets, including groups that are made up of men from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups who highlight their race as a reason why they are incels.

Illustration of a worried looking man and an angry looking man

Incels in Schools

As the prevalence of incels rises, schools around the U.K. have begun tackling the issue through several measures. In England, new curriculum is being introduced that will see school lessons given on the topics of healthy relationships and respect for women. According to The Guardian, a government source has said Gavin Williamson, former Education Secretary, said he “expects teachers to be comfortable to tackle the risks from incel culture through the relationships, sex, and health education (RSHE) curriculum within schools.”

In Scotland, teachers and childcare staff will be receiving training on how to identify signs of incel sympathies in students. Any students who show signs of the ideology will be offered peer support.

illustration of people sitting isolated at desks on a computer

Incel Terminology

There is a lot of terminology, including acronyms, associated with the incel community. Here’s a few of the most common terms:

Alpha – a confident man who tends to be a leader within social groups, work, and/or with women.

Beta – a submissive, weak man and the opposite of an alpha.

Chad – an attractive man who is sexually successful with women.

Stacy – a sexually desirable women.

Red Pill – a reference to the film The Matrix. This describes ‘waking up’ to a ‘reality’, usually revolving around the world being stacked against them because women are in charge or because only attractive men can get ahead.

Black Pill – this refers to accepting the belief that women choose sexual partners solely on predetermined genetic features (their looks) and that there’s nothing a man can do to change this.

Are There Signs to Look Out For?

Knowing whether a young person has become involved with the incel community is not straightforward. The following is not an exhaustive list and there could be other signs or none at all.

Look out for:

  • Negative self-esteem and being insecure, especially in regards their own looks or ability to find a girlfriend. Becoming an incel often begins from believing themselves to be unattractive. They might negatively compare themselves to other boys and men, especially regarding height and weight.
  • Speaking negatively about girls they know or famous women. This includes talking about how they look, how they dress, or who they choose as romantic partners. This may particularly be in judgement of how many partners they have or why they would date a particular person instead of them or someone like them.
  • Spending a lot of time online on certain websites. They might be cagey about which sites they’re visiting or who they’re talking to. Remember not to overreact or assume that time online equals being part of these communities.
Illustration of an angry looking man in the foreground and a worried looking man in the background

Top Tips

  • If a child or young person is seeking out communities online to cope with how they are feeling, this should not be discouraged. However, ensuring they are using the right websites should be encouraged. Check that they are using websites that promote positive behaviour and interactions.
  • If a young person is spending a lot of time online, encourage them to take regular breaks and spend some time away from digital devices. Find our resources on Healthy Screentime Habits here.
  • Engage in conversations about healthy relationships and treating girls and women respectfully, using open ended questions and non-judgemental language.
  • Talk to the young person in your care about the issues that often cause a young person to engage with the incel community, such as whether they feel supported socially, if they’re feeling lonely, and about their self-esteem. It may be helpful to approach these topics in an environment where they feel comfortable and relaxed, for example whilst on a walk or at their favourite place to eat.
  • If you suspect a young person in your care has shown interest in the incel community, remember to first act with support to avoid isolating them further and risk pushing them into that community more.
  • Self-harm and suicidal thoughts can be a risk for people who are struggling to feel included in society, as well as sometimes being encouraged on incel websites. Read our resources about how to talk to a young person about suicide and self harm.

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