February 16, 2024 - 7:00pm

Involuntarily celibate women, or femcels, are a divisive topic — partially because nobody quite knows how to define them. They are frequently mislabelled as radical feminists, inaccurately associated with online subcultures like “coquettes”, or dismissively branded as “picky” or having “unrealistically high standards” by their male equivalents, incels. 

They’re also understudied: in contrast to the considerable attention given to male incels, the unique experiences of femcels have been significantly neglected in academic research. 

Recognising this gap, a new study from Adam Lankford and Hannah Rae Evans has carried out an analysis of approximately 24,000 posts on the femcel discussion forum ThePinkPill.co during its first year of operation, from May 2021 to May 2022. The report covers three primary types of sexual frustration experienced by femcels: unfulfilled desires to have sex, unavailable partners, and unsatisfying sexual activities. In other words: like incels, femcels want sex and intimacy — they’re just not finding it. 

However, the study also raises critical questions that may validate some of the existing beliefs about femcels. Namely, whether they’re involuntarily celibate, celibate by choice, or celibate at all. 

The study doesn’t quantify the prevalence of the different forms of sexual frustration experienced by the posters. Unsatisfying sexual experiences, while not desirable, are still markedly different from a complete inability to find a sexual partner. Because they don’t include these metrics, it’s unclear how many users on ThePinkPill.co simply don’t like the sex that’s available to them. 

The authors also find that a significant percentage of posts (39%) related to sexual topics centred on a fear of sexual misconduct by men. Femcels, they write, were fearful that men’s sexuality was ultimately predatory: though they had “to work harder than other women to attract men […] they faced threats of being harassed or attacked for their efforts”.

Lankford and Evans still establish a direct link between femcels’ sexual frustration and their fear of sexual assault. Based on the analysis of ThePinkPill.co, it’s unclear whether femcels’ avoidance of sexual activity is primarily due to an intrinsic fear of sexual assault or if such fears serve as a secondary rationale for their involuntary celibacy. The study also notes that there is reason to believe that femcels, at least the ones studied, are overwhelmingly though not completely “misandrist”, and subscribe to second-wave, radical feminist ideas. But the question remains: what’s the causality? 

There’s an argument to be made that the choice between bad or degrading sex and no sex isn’t a choice at all, and that the same dichotomy may be true of incels. (Is an incel really an incel if he can pay for sex?) Incels would argue that maybe this isn’t an ideal choice, but it’s better than having to buy it — thus, femcels aren’t real.

Beyond the population over at ThePinkPill.co, which itself was an outgrowth of one of the original femcel communities, /r/trufemcel, the subreddit  /r/foreveralonewomen doesn’t use the terminology “femcel”, but describes itself as a forum for women with “no or very limited experience with dating, sex, and relationships,” and has a strict moderation policy that prohibits posters who may have prior romantic experience. 

This forum seems, at least superficially, to be more specifically focused on women who are incapable of receiving sexual attention at all. Posters often complain of feelings of invisibility, or that they face disbelief about their situation from people who erroneously believe “all women are beautiful.” The type of despair that appears relatively frequently on /r/foreveralonewomen is much rarer on ThePinkPill.co, at least according to Evans and Lankford. One group of women feels completely inadequate; another feels like the oppressive conditions of the world have rendered them inadequate.

Lankford and Evans’s study is helpful, though there are many more conversations about femcels to be had. There are likely many types of femcels — just as there is a diverse ecosystem of incels — with different motivations and different reasons for their celibacy. While people who vent their frustrations online tend to represent the fringe better than they do ordinary people, further research may give us important clues into the state of the dating landscape. 

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit defaultfriend.substack.com.