incel …( plural incels) … (neologism) "Involuntary celibate" (person)
1. (broadly) Someone who is not sexually active despite desiring to be. … (specifically) A member of a mostly online subculture of people (typically misogynistic, white straight men) who define themselves by being unable to find a sexual relationship despite desiring one.
Here is a journalism question for you: Are “incels” a valid subject for news coverage in the mainstream press? I would say “yes” and I think most newsroom managers would agree.
However, I would also make the case that the so-called “incels” are actually the bleeding edge of an even larger story — which is the rising tide of loneliness in American culture, right now, especially among many young would-be adults between the ages of, oh, 24 and 40.
Is this a valid subject for news coverage in the mainstream press? I would say “yes” and I think most newsroom managers would agree.
Now, let’s go one step further, as we did in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to tune that in.
This week’s broadcast dug into some themes (yes, I misspelled '“incel” while recording live) looming over my national “On Religion” column this week, which The Knoxville News Sentinel has already put online with this headline: “ 'The Bachelorette' preaches on God, sex and marriage.”
Why are so many young adults so lonely? Well, sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, would point to data in the biennial General Social Survey, conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, showing that rising numbers of young adults are either (a) struggling to get married or (b) choosing not to get married. Thus, they are part of what some researchers are calling a “sex recession” among the young.
That discussion ended up in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly. See this earlier GetReligion post by Doug LeBlanc (co-founder of this blog long ago) with this headline: “W. Bradford Wilcox and Lyman Stone explore America's lonely sexual wilderness.” That Atlantic article included this quote:
Controlling for basic demographics and other social characteristics, married young adults are about 75 percent more likely to report that they are very happy, compared with their peers who are not married, according to our analysis of the GSS. … As it turns out, the share of young adults who are married has fallen from 59 percent in 1972 to 28 percent in 2018.
You see, while there are obviously exceptions, most young married people have rather stable sex lives that bring them quite a bit of happiness and fulfillment. Here’s another quote from that Atlantic article, complete with some interesting URLs:
Human beings find meaning, direction, and purpose in and through our social relationships with others. We’re happiest when our ties with others are deep and strong. And the research tells us that the ebb and flow of happiness in America is clearly linked to the quality and character of our social ties — including our friendships, community ties, and marriage. It’s also linked, specifically, to the frequency with which we have sex. In the antiseptic language of two economists who study happiness, “sexual activity enters strongly positively in happiness equations.”
Now, read that second Atlantic quote and then read the first one.
Wilcox and Stone have, to be blunt, created a social-sciences equation that goes something like this: Marriage tends to provide more sex than singleness; sex helps promote happiness and lack of sex can fuel loneliness; thus, postponing marriage (or finding it impossible to get married) tends to produce tensions, loneliness and, in some cases, anger or rage.
So what’s behind the delayed marriage trends? All kinds of things, from the impact of the Internet economy on the job market (lots and lots of low-paying service jobs and fewer “jobs in the middle” that provide benefits and enough money to support a marriage) to the fact that many young adults have stunning levels of college loan debts. Toss in what function as addictions to smartphones and video games and things can get ugly. (Check out this collection of online links found with some logical search terms.)
When I interviewed Wilcox for my column, he stressed that:
… Many young adults "are messing up the sequence of events" that offer them their best chance to have stable, happy marriages, said Wilcox, reached by telephone.
For starters, it's important to "be patient and move slowly" when seeking a relationship that will last. At the same time, researchers have found that people who have fewer sexual partners, or who delay sex until marriage, have the highest odds of building stronger, healthier marriages that "will go the distance," he said. Here is another piece of advice built on painful numbers in GSS surveys: "If young people want to avoid divorce, it's wise for them to put marriage vows ahead of the whole baby-carriage stage of life."
This brings us to “The Bachelorette” and its recent clash between a Bible Belt woman who, it appears, is comfortable with sex before marriage and a Bible Belt beau who tried to convince her to slow down and, well, not jump in the sack with some of the show’s other competitors for her marriage proposal.
The woman, quite literally, flipped off the young man after these words: “I have had sex and, like, Jesus still loves me."
Let’s go back to Wilcox one more time:
"What's striking about what we see here is how naive so many young people are about life and love and marriage," said Wilcox, referring to "The Bachelorette" clash. "They don't seem to understand how important it is to develop self-control as they try to move seriously into emotional, physical and spiritual relationships. ...
"So many young people don't realize that what the pop culture is selling them is not conducive to a good relationship, based on what we know from the social sciences."
Now, add that into some of the other trends discussed earlier linked to Millennials, sex, marriage, singleness, loneliness and even anger.
Are there news stories in there, for editors with the courage to cover them?
Oh, and are there sermons in there, for pastors with the courage to preach them?