Denise A. Donnelly was an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University and the school's Senior Faculty Associate for the Advancement of Women. Her work includes the study of what she describes as involuntary celibacy. Donnelly led an annual abroad program to Northern Ireland.
Donnelly received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Florida in 1990. She did an NIMH post-doctoral fellowship in Family Violence Training at the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in 1993. She joined the GSU faculty in 1993. Her research includes interpersonal violence, culturally competent violence prevention programming, involuntary celibacy, and civil rights in Northern Ireland.
Donnelly is a former visiting faculty member at Queen's University Belfast. She offers a yearly freshman "learning community" on Race, Religion, and Conflict, and teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes. She has taught Sexual and Intimate Violence, Gender, and Family Diversity and is involved in the university's senate. She also works with groups addressing violence against women.
Donnelly and her fellow researchers found that involuntary celibacy (incel) is a chronic near-total or total absence from sexual activity due to involuntary reasons. She found that most individuals identifying as incel exhibit the same social behaviors as their peers who have sex lives. A few of the involuntarily celibate population might exhibit discernible personality disorders that preclude current and future sexual opportunities, but the small amount of research done on this subject indicates that the incel population are on the whole socially normal, otherwise healthy individuals whose frustration is merely a product of their lack of sex, and not vice versa.
There is extremely little sexological study regarding involuntary celibacy. A study on modern involuntary celibacy by Donnelly titled Involuntary celibacy: A life course analysis, was published in 2001 and had been initiated in 1998, after a member of an online discussion group for involuntary celibates inquired about current research on the subject. In an analysis by Donnelly et al. of members of an on-line discussion group for incelibates three subsets were identified: 34 unmarried virgins, 25 single non-virgins and 23 non-virgins with partners. Her research indicated that they tended to miss key milestones in their sexual trajectory (e.g. dating, kissing, sexual activity) and found themselves on a radically different sexual development path than their peers. Other factors, as identified in Donnelly’s 2001 life course analysis include shyness; inability to relate to others; poor body image; difficult living arrangements (e.g. with parents, roommates, or in an isolated area); inconvenient work arrangements; lack of transportation; disinterest in having sex in the absence of love or a relationship; commitment to a marriage or relationship with a partner who is not interested in having sex with them; reduced physical ability to have sex as a result of illness, injury or handicap, or because of difficulty in developing and maintaining erections as a result of erectile dysfunction or impotence. Donnelly published a study on involuntary celibacy within marriage in 2008.
Donnelly wrote that 35% of the 82 celibates expressed dissatisfaction, frustration, or anger about their lack of sexual relationships. If the person lacks any such experience while all of his or her peers have it, psychological consequences can result.
He research with Elisabeth Burgess found that people who want to have sex but are not are frustrated and unhappy. The study was of 82 people found on the internet. The study group included virgins, singles (non-virgins who wanted an intimate relationship) and partnered celibates. Study participants reported depression, low self-esteem, poor body image and emotional paralysis at the thought of initiating a relationship.
Donnelly's research in 1990 found that couples with both common interests and several children are most sexually active. She also found that younger couples are more sexually active than older couples and that couples who have violent relationships have more sex than other couples.
- Stombler, M., Baunach, D., Burgess, E., Donnelly, D. and Simonds, W. (Eds.) (2009) 3rd Edition, forthcoming). Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader. New York: Allyn and Bacon.
- Donnelly, D., and Burgess, E. (2008). The decision to remain in an involuntarily celibate relationship. Journal of Marriage and Family 70(2):519-535.
- Donnelly, D., Cook, K., Van Ausdale, D. and Foley, L. (2005). White privilege, color blindness, and services to battered women. Violence Against Women, 11 (1): 6-37.