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Incel is an academic sociological term that is short for involuntary celibacy, a common life circumstance. Inceldom was first academically recognized, in a peer-reviewed journal, as a sociological phenomenon, by the Donnelly Study. Many further peer-reviewed academic papers have been written treating inceldom as a real life circumstance rather than a subculture. Notable sociologists who took inceldom seriously as a real life cirumstance, in peer-reviewed academic literature, include, but are not limited to: Denise Donnelly, Elizabeth Burgess, Laura Carpenter, and Theodor F Cohen. The original study, which has since been cited as a reputable definition source many times by academia, defined incels as all adults who fail to find a sexual partner for six months or more without choosing so. However, in the incelosphere, there is disagreement about the exact definition.

Incel is not a movement or a community, but a gender-neutral life circumstance. Incels are a demographic that is highly diverse politically, racially, religiously and socioeconomically. Philosophies like the blackpill, political parties like Incel Party and the ALF, or subcultures like 4chan culture do not represent all incels. Among American millennials, 15-30% are incels, roughly 51% do not have a steady partner, roughly 30% are often or always lonely, and roughly 22% have no friends.

Current prominent incel forums are: Incels.co, love-shy.com, Incelswithouthate, and Foreveralone. No criminals have been users of forums designated for inceldom. 4chan and PUAhate are/were not self-described incel forums.

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