Incel Terrorism

America is getting back to “normal,” but what does that mean? Mass shootings, for one thing. No school shootings—though that’s mainly because there’s no school. But the other day, a self-proclaimed incel with an AR-15 went and shot up some folks he didn’t know (one in critical condition) in a Glendale, Arizona entertainment center.

If this is getting back to normal, I’ll take abnormal please.

Incels are “involuntary celibates.”  The term was actually coined by a woman(!) named Alana in the late 1990s who was trying to help fellow virgins and lonely singles find love, but it was coopted to foster hate, blame and misogyny by bitter refugees from the “men’s rights” and pick-up artist cultures.

Most of these “incels” blame women who they say unfairly reject them, while some, like the Arizona shooter—20-year-old Armando Hernandez, Jr.—also blame couples whose affection for each other ignites incendiary feelings of jealousy.

Actually, I think a lot of mass shooters—and spitters—are secret incels. They usually don’t identify as incels or even look at the online propaganda, but they are plagued by lonely, depressed, unsatisfying love lives, and they aggressively pin the blame for their personal grievances on others. Some find inspiration in the Blamer-in-Chief.

Though technically speaking, they are “involuntary celibates” with lousy-to-nonexistent sex lives, they don’t particularly want anyone to know. They’d be too embarrassed.

But some recent suspects have been proudly declaring themselves to be incels, like it’s a movement or a cult, which it pretty much is, complete with a twisted belief system akin to religious extremist groups. The incel “movement” even has a mass murder/suicide messiah in Elliot Rodger, son of Hunger Games director Peter Rodger, who shot, stabbed and killed six people and wounded 14 others in Santa Barbara, leaving behind a series of videos and writings constituting an incel “manifesto.” Then there’s Rodger’s even more lethal apostle, Alek Minassian, who murdered 10 people and injured 16 others by running them over with a van, committing the worst mass homicide in Toronto’s history, after posting on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”

This is why Canada is designating incel violence as a terrorist act, or an “Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremist (IMVE) movement,” stirred into action by the horrific February, 2020 killing of a female sex worker—24-year-old Ashley Noelle Arzaga—with a machete in an erotic massage parlor, as well as the injuring of two others, by a 17-year-old self-declared incel.

Without a doubt, these incel murderers are terrorists, and the designation helps increase public awareness of the growing incel problem in our midst.

However, I’m afraid that calling them “terrorists” or “IMVE” will only turn on actual incels, at least the more violent ones. It gives them a mission, makes them feel important, even powerful. It will not reduce incel crime.

The only thing that will reduce incel crime is to make systemic changes in our incel-riddled society, to reverse the course of the American Way of War for Profit that brings us barbequed dead for Memorial Day and even more dead in the Coronapocalypse, and to follow the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure, sharing resources, female empowerment, male well-being and general sex-positive values.

That means treating people’s need for sex and love as legitimate as their need for food and shelter. Even though love and sex are not as critical as food and shelter on an everyday basis, they are essential to human well-being.

That doesn’t mean anyone should be forced to have sex with anyone else. Thus reactionary patriarchal calls for “enforced monogamy” from the likes of Jordan Peterson should be more forcefully denounced and shunned, not just treated like a conservative curiosity.

That means honoring consensual sex and sex work. Bonobos and many other nonhuman animals engage in “sex work” when they trade “sex for meat” or bananas, or whatever is of value, showing us that the “sex trade” is natural and can be good for the community.

That doesn’t mean forcing sex workers to have sex with incels. Sex workers deserve as much freedom of sexual choice and safety as anyone else. It just means respecting sex workers as people. The fact that this latest incel killer, a teenager, wasn’t just calling all women “whores,” as most incels do, but actually murdered a sex worker, underlines this urgent societal imperative.

That does mean treating “johns,” aka sex work customers, with dignity. Paying for consensual sex shouldn’t be any more stigmatized than paying for lunch or a trip to Disneyland (not during the Coronapocalypse, obviously). Incels gripe that paying for sex marks them as “inferior men” because our society treats it as inferior.

Masturbation should also be normalized as a healthy way to release sexual tension. Sexual solitaire is only game most incels are playing, albeit with great socially-sanctioned guilt, shame and self-loathing. If only they could just relax and enjoy it! Maybe we could save a few lives.

Government organizations like the New York Department of Health (NYDOH) recently listed self-pleasure as an appropriate form of safe sex for single people who are physically distancing and self-isolating in the Coronapocalypse. That’s a great step in the right direction. But as “America goes back to normal,” let’s not go back to our normal way of denigrating self-love. Masturbation has been a much-avoided topic in sex education and, as we wind up the merry Masturbation Month of May, let us continue to treat jacking and jilling off as forms of erotic expression as legitimate as partner sex—sometimes even superior.

This also means valuing LGBTQ sex as much as the straight kind. Many incels express homosexual, bisexual and transgender feelings, even as they despise those desires in themselves and others. One key to the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure is that pretty much all bonobos are bi or pansexual. That’s not to say that all humans need to be bi or pan, but if we could fully accept sexual fluidity in others, we’d go a long way toward making peace in our communities and giving the incel insurgency one less weapon for their arsenal of hate.

It also means respecting people who seek sex therapy and other forms of treatment for the kind of sexual anxiety, rage and depression that leads them to incel culture. And it means providing government subsidies to make that treatment free or at least, more affordable.

It means stop elevating brute force as the “finest” expression of masculinity—from perpetrating deadly useless Perma-Wars to executing a man with a police officer’s knee on his neck. With masculine role models like these, why do we wonder how incels get vicious?

Last but certainly not least, following the Bonobo Way means sharing the financial wealth (bonobos love to share), and the sexual wealth will follow.

Seriously, these awful incels are onto something when they gripe about “unfairness.” Things really are unfair. Of course, incel “solutions” (enslaving or killing women) really suck. But a little socialism would help to free people from making sexual choices based solely on economic need.

When society belittles human sexual needs and denigrates sex workers who try to earn an honest living providing for those needs—on top of urging people to accumulate wealth at the expense of others and blame others for their grievances—incel terrorism will thrive.

Reverse all of that, and it will wither on its own insidious vine.

Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. For information and speaking engagements, call 626-461-5950. Email her at