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Understanding the Dangers of the Incel Movement and Its Harmful Views of Women

The incel community is recognized as a particularly violent network of men that is largely unknown to the general public. Research points to a significant link between violence against women, pornography, and incel misogyny.

In a new report produced for Culture Reframed, “Pornography in the Incleosphere,” Walter DeKeseredy explores incels, which social media platforms they use, the connection between their community and pornography, and solutions to prevent the incelosphere from causing further harm.

Here, we share highlights from his research, noting the growing concerns surrounding the incelosphere and the dangers it poses to young people.

What Are Incels?

The term “incel” originated in the 1990s, referring to people who identified as “involuntary celibate.” Today, it is a movement that consists of men asserting their inability to have sex with women even though they desire it. While it claims no ties to violence or misogyny, this ideology encompasses a deep-seated hatred towards women. It also aligns with extreme right-wing beliefs such as advocating for unregulated gun ownership, homophobia, racism, and anti-women reproductive health policies.

Social Media & Incels

According to a study done by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, incels predominantly use online forums that strictly limit membership to heterosexual males, excluding women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and non-incels. The most popular incel forum has over 17,000 members and 2.6 million monthly visitors. This forum fosters and perpetuates the extremist views held by the incel community. For example, a recent study found that its members post about rape every 29 minutes.

While these forums may be private, the communities are also present on Facebook, Reddit, and 4chan. Within these online communities, thousands of YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, and TikTok links are shared. The content of these links often includes misogynistic, racist, and anti-LGBTQ+ language.

The movement’s activity on these social media outlets and popular sites poses dangerous threats to young people who spend significant time on the same digital platforms. The threats are similar to those posed by hypersexualized content and pornography that also infiltrates these digital spaces.

Pornography in the Incelosphere

As stated in another white paper from Culture Reframed, Understanding the Harms of Pornography: The Contributions of Social Scientific Knowledge, the link between pornography and direct violence against women is challenging to establish definitively, as not all pornography users engage in abusive behavior towards women.

What porn and incel culture definitely do have in common is that both degrade women and portray them as objects who deserve and enjoy sexual abuse. Incel culture also presents sex as a means to express hatred towards women and encourages dehumanizing terms to describe women on incel message boards.

There are several unanswered questions about the connection between pornography and the incelosphere, including the type of pornography incels engage with, its influence on their perception of women and their interaction within the incel community, and its role compared to the broader society’s use of pornography. This is one of the reasons it is so important to educate young people about the harms of pornography and the dangers of certain online activities.

How to Protect Young People from the Incelosphere

The first step to protecting young people from the Incelosphere is recognizing incel misogyny as a form of violent extremism. The second is finding ways to counteract it. As stated in the white paper, addressing these topics in education, engaging men in discussions about sexism, and deplatforming digital sources of misogyny are some of the ways to address these issues.

Studies show that most adolescents consider parents and caregivers a helpful source of information regarding sex education. Research also shows that parents, caregivers, educators, and medical professionals serve as key protective factors that, when having these conversations, will significantly reduce risky behaviors in tweens and teens.

Culture Reframed’s courses offer a science-backed framework to teach parents and educators how to have courageous conversations with kids about explicit content. Learn more about our Porn-Critical Sex Ed Curriculum and Courses for Parents here.

To learn more about this important topic, read the full white paper here: Pornography in the Incleosphere.