The Redistribution of Sex

May 02, 2018 · 599 comments
Concerned Citizen (NYC)
I’m deeply offended by this article. The writer talks about sex redistribution in a vacuum, as if sex does not involve affirmative consent by two parties. Whether the writer, or the creepy incels, are sex deprived and resentful of women because of their profound unattractiveness, nothing will change their standing in their desirability pecking order. Women decide who they want to sleep with and their bodies are not a commodity to be distributed to men. The author should leave his thought experiments for questions that do not involve treating human beings like objects.
Richard (Tucson, Arizona)
The point of the provocative Libertarian position vis-a-vis sex redistribution is to challenge the notion of what is fundamentally the sole right of the individual to control. Libertarians want all "property" to be private and so pick another sphere, individual control of one's own body, and suggest socializing it, to force people to concede that some things are indeed private. Then the argument is not one of principle but instead of where to draw the line, and Libertarians wish to draw a much larger sphere of private control. Fine. Let's have that disagreement and make the case for why property is not the same as controlling whom one has sex with. There is plenty to distinquish the two and to show right to property is less absolute than right to control one's own body. Conceding some things are private doesn't inevitably lead to having to agree all property is inherently private.
Nick67 (Grande Prairie)
Indeed, this is a provocative essay. There are a LOT of issues around the effects of the sexual revolution and its winners and losers that we simply don't discuss. For better and worse, the drive to ditch political correctness is indicative that there are many things that we no longer discuss, or can't discuss, but want to. I personally wonder if the robots get good enough, will we revert to a Greco/Roman culture where women weren't valued at all? In a big poll over in Europe, over 16% of millennial men are ALREADY saying 'bring on the robots' http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5156943/27-millennials-sa... It is worth debating whether feminism is going to successfully create a culture where men say 'Thanks, but no thanks.' There are a lot of comments along the line of 'suck it up and deal with it.' I don't know that we are going to like the end result of pushing that belligerence to the breaking point, though
Justin (Seattle)
Maybe the problem is that everyone wants to have sex with the same few people. And we would try to make you all happy but, quite frankly, we're tired...
Katie (Colorado )
What on earth did I just read? Ross understands that people are not things, does he not?
A.L. Grossi (RI)
As simple as Darwinian evolution concepts. Those who don't adapt, perish. The days of female submission and unbridled male entitlement are over. These incels have an option, change their attitude and get with the times, or remain intimately familiar only with their hands or whatever toys they can buy and/or get into terrorist lists and government surveillance one their chief role model is out of the White House. Apparently women don't find them attractive. As some philosopher whose name escape me once said, "beauty is in the interaction." And incels are revolting, regardless of what they look like. Btw. I'm a man who lost his virginity at 26 and has had only three sexual partners in my 48 years. What took me so long? I had to work on myself first.
Jim (Los Angeles)
I'm offended by the categorization of Iraq war skeptics as "weirdos". I suppose in Ross' mind it's weird to protest the killing of tens of thousands of civilians?
amayrani orizaba mx (Orizaba México )
How does monogamy help a man whom no woman wants to marry??
Nobody (Nowhere)
I think the problem is primarily a lack of education. Clueless frustrated straight guys are not owed sex, but we might, as an act of charity, try to give them a clue... There is a disreputable industry that caters to them, where so called Pick Up Artists dispense spectacularly bad and misogynist advice. But there are few credible mechanisms by which a slightly oblivious young man might learn to be kind, thoughtful and chivalrous (or whatever the post-modern PC equivalent might be) not to mention hygenic and well dressed, in order to increase their romantic appeal. The closest we have come is queer-eye for the straight guy, but that only provided guys with a quick make-over of their wardrobe and apartment. From what I can tell, from lurking briefly on the INCEL forums, these young men need more extensive make-overs of their whole world view.
sixmile (New York, N.Y.)
I wondered how long it would take to reach the threshold of 'let's get to that old time religion.' the columnist traveled around the world to get to the house next door.
rlschles (USA)
This is surely one of the strangest opinion pieces from one of the unlikeliest of sources to ever appear in the Times. There is no Right to Sex. To assert one is to permit the imposition of one individual's will over another's without regard. It leads inexorably to subjugation and ultimately to slavery and Nazism. Nothing could be more regressive.
Mrs H (NY)
Could it be that many sexless men are pursuing women who are simply out of their league? Attitude is everything. A resentful narcissist rarely make a good lover.
Mercury S (San Francisco)
1. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww. 2. Sometimes an idea is “outside of the mainstream” because it’s horrible on so many levels that it’s almost not worth explaining why it’s bad. Legalizing pet torture: Hey, a lot of weird, white men do it, maybe we should stop stigmatizing it. 3. Sex robots are not going to fix incels. They can afford prostitution services. They can buy a fleshlight and have unlimited access to pornography. Their patholgoy is complex, but misogyny and aggrieved entitlement underlie it.
Adele (Montreal)
Douthat writes: "Why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" Disingenuous. Say what you really mean: the redistribution of WOMEN. This whole revolting topic implies the existence of one class of people to serve another one and we all know which sex class will be used for sex. Vile.
Barbarika (Wisconsin)
This is a ludicrous article masquerading as a philosophical piece. While libertarian leaning myself, redistribution of money has nothing in common with redistribution of sex with living humans. The right treatment of incels and the internet avenues available to them is to treat them like ISIS members, and destroy with extreme prejudice all resources they use to propagate this criminal ideology.
DickeyFuller (DC)
Just like overweight middle-aged people who have not kept their skills current and then complain about their low income, the overweight, unskilled guys are mad because they can't get a date. I suggest they lose weight, get a haircut, and get a job. Maybe move out of their parents' house and stay off the internet. Then they'll be more attractive to a potential mate.
Meg (Irvine, CA)
In the future, I would prefer that articles on this topic, be written by someone who's had sex before.
Things Carried (New York)
Thank you, New York Times comments section. You've shown that the appropriate response to a thoughtful article about confronting the realities of male sexual desires, and trying to find a progressive and respectful outlet for those desires, is to simply say: "They're a bunch of creepy losers! Stop giving them any attention!" Then we can laugh and forget about them again. Until the next attack. And the next one. And the next one...
Nancy Rockford (Illinois)
Now we're trying to help out these incels? Last time I checked they were pretty much terrorists. Helping them out is probably illegal, not to mention immoral. Shut down their chat rooms and out them and shame them. That's the only "help" they should be getting.
dbw75 (Los angeles)
Did I really just read this article? Did I really read this article correctly? That a man that an incel has a right to have sex with someone? What century is Ross the author of this ridiculous scenario living in? I'm a man I'm in my 50s and I can tell you from experience and just observing the world around me being in relationships nobody has a right to have sex with anyone else. It's a privilege thsy two people enjoy by Mutual consent. This is a very bizarre article I just cannot believe that these thoughts actually go on in somebody's head like Ross's here
Marybeth John (Bellevue WA)
Does Ross Douthat really believe that personal freedom for women to drive their own sexual choices is the cause for the mental instability of socially immature men who react violently when denied sexual gratification?
Robert (Venice)
Objectively speaking - this has to be weirdest column about the weirdest people with the weirdest ideas that I have ever read in the NYT. Congrats Ross.
Dex (San Francisco)
"to consider groups with whom The London Review’s left-leaning and feminist readers would have more natural sympathy — the overweight and disabled, minority groups treated as unattractive by the majority, trans women unable to find partners and other victims" Quite possibly the worst omission of the Oxford comma that I have ever seen.
Anthony Davis (Seoul South Korea)
I’m not clear how different in thinking a raging “incel” is from someone motivated by a reward of virgins after he dies. If a return to conservative values on chastity and sexless devotion were the solution to the frustrations over unfulfilled self entitlement of the modern world, then the 9/11 terrorists would be considered exemplary. Personally, I think “incels” would be better off trying to develop an understanding of others than expecting sex.
Humblebee (Denver)
Rather than the dour (or dyspeptic) argument I expected from Douthat, I found instead a confused attempt to "do postmodernism". It is unclear that Douthat actually has a point to make, other than some vague hand-waving that today's mores would find Incel claims of victimhood to be creepy. Douthat stumbles from half-finished trope to incoherent swipes at liberalism. A reviewer may have wondered if Douthat was finding it hard to find a willing sex partner, or was just confused about whether an economist is an appropriate expert on whether any specific woman or womankind in general owes sexual gratification to any specific man or men in general. In sum, Douthat's lurching article makes no coherent argument, limns no discernible problem, and offers no plausible perspective. In case he was arguing in a labyrinthine manner that Incels are owed so much as a wink, the answer is no. No woman owes sexual services to anyone, and Incels have no claim to a woman's time, attention, or favour.
Lachlan (Australia )
I am sorry it's all about Darwin's theory the survival of the fittest.
CamilleKimball (Southwest)
Missed April Fool's by a month and a day otherwise I'd be certain this column was a joke. Headline for you, Ross, the "beautiful and the rich and the socially adept" have always been privileged. It is not some heartbreaking outcome of a societal shift that began in the 1960s. You seem to have touching sympathies for, ostensibly, men (the incels you find so interesting) who've been left "lonely and frustrated" without sparing a thought for what generations of women once went through. Being forced by societal custom into marriages and sex with men who brought economic or political advantage to their families had to have been a misery far beyond stupid celibacy. What began in the 1960s was the freeing up of women from sexual slavery. You now propose to return them to it. It's particularly galling to see this cheery proposal to provide terrible men with sex for their "needs" while women are still fighting to get basic health care rights met. Comes a guy who's willing to buy and distribute sex robots for men while withholding prenatal care and birth control and gyn care from women. Worst of all is that instead of spending your precious column space and formidable "thought experiment" prowess on saving women from the murderous rampages and lesser vengeances of these creeps who have truly earned their celibacy, you turn it over to them and they are already spreading your comments throughout the internet, gleeful that you have moved the "Overton window" for them for free.
GB (philadelphia, PA)
These incels should stop listening to other incels on what women want. Many of these guys have a very poor idea of what makes men attractive to women. They assume that women are as superficial as they are - that we judge men exclusively on characteristics beyond men's control, especially physical appearance, height, hair amount, wealth. Actually, it's men who judge other men this way. But one's behavior and personality really matters to most women. The most powerful attribute a man can have -with women- is charm. You can be broke, short, bald, and fat but if you can make a woman laugh, you will find yourself with a partner.
Pam (Skan)
Can't help but notice the lack of a corresponding call for a woman's right to demand redistribution of men's sexual services.
levosins (Royal oak, Mi)
I find it really disturbing that The Times has an article basically normalizing these misogynistic terrorists. Why won't we condemn violence against women? Why can't we accept that women's bodies are their own and no one else has a "right" to them???
Mary (undefined)
Raise better sons or do not breed them. Nearly every troublesome group or problem in the world always circles back to that.
ME (Toronto)
I cannot believe this was published. By the NYT. It has been 10 days. Let that sink in. This is not the conversation that needs to be had. Talk about twisting the knife. We know the sickness that fueled this man. Women live with this every day of their lives. "Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." Margaret Atwood
UJS (The Free State)
This seems to be less about sex (aka love), and more about a power play (aka rape). As a man, I reject the notion that we have a “need” for this.
LElstran (Brooklyn)
Neither property nor money has agency. Your dollars bills don't consent to be handled. Your lawn doesn't beg to be mowed. Why are you writing about a libertarian who equates sex with women to property and money as radical thinker? The idea that women are property is not radical or fringe or new. The idea that we aren't property is the one that hasn't quite broken through to mainstream. The commodification of women is not a thought experiment. It the true for most women around the world. It's only in recent generations, in small circles, less true for some.
Diogenes (Belmont MA)
Ross Douthat strikes me as the most thoughtful and learned of the Times's opinionists. But I think his prediction is wrong. Sex is not a basic instinct like appetite. Plenty of people do fine without it. Sex without affection and love is similar to a bowel movement, a release of tension. A similar activity is masturbation. The Incels are mostly immature young men whose psychological development has been arrested. They would benefit from counseling or psychotherapy before they act out in destructive ways. Life is complicated but not uninteresting.
Dieter (Carson City, NV )
Too much explicit modern porno has led to a lack of imagination in masturbation and effectively programmed these Inceles with unattainable standards of sexual attractiveness. If the something like the old National Geographic or Sears catalog images are enough to stir your loins, you're more likely to find satisfaction in real relationships with regular people. These frustrated fellows should try to find happiness visualizing Jan Brady for a while and come to grips with the reality that Marsha is simply out of their league... Sent from my iPad
Rosemary (West Side, NY, NY)
Generally, if men or women want to have sex, they should do what one does to attract a partner: buff up their looks or set their sites on partners of similar appeal. Brush up their conversational skills. Work on being sensitive or likable or interesting or successful. Even birds know they have to do a little work to attract a partner. One doesn't have to be movie-star-beautiful to have sex; one simply has to find their own appeal and project it. This notion that every man should be able to have sex with any woman who appeals to him is grossly objectifying and woman-hating. And the suggestion that a sex bot can "replace" a woman is equally offensive. A sex bot is a sex alternative, as is masturbation. Valid, but not the same. There is no "right to sex" if there is no partner who wants to say YES. It's a black and white proposition, fellas. No Means No. There are so many women who don't have sex because they haven't found men to say yes...but they don't create hate-filled blogs and shoot or run down the men who disappoint them. These men have to stop thinking with their privates.
KWW (Bayside NY)
I'm a happily married man. Nevertheless, if I don't treat my wife with love, admiration, friendship, if I don't make her laugh, if I don't listen to her problems if I don't cherish her my opportunity for sex will be minimal as well it should. Nevertheless, if yI do all these things the chance for sex will be minimal if she senses I am not being genuine. Think of it this way. If you had a daughter would you be happy if she had sex with a man who did not cherish her, who did not make her feel special. Guys stop watching porn. If you feel sexual urges, there is nothing wrong with masturbation. Do you think married men do not masturbate? It is a healthy way to reduce stress. As a matter of fact if you just start dating it might be a good idea to masturbate before the date. You want to show the lady you are with that you have shared interests and you care about her. The absolute worse way to have sex with a woman is to think, act, show you are entitled to it.
blueberryintomatosoup (Houston, TX)
The incel thing is not about sex. Incels want the trophy wife, arm candy, beautiful model falling all over the rock star experience, and they think they have been unfairly denied that experience by feminists, principally, but not exclusively. They want the whole experience, which includes sex. A normal, real life woman with a brain and a heart, and any thoughts outside of pleasing her man will just not do. As I commented on another platform, incels are the radicalization of the mail-order purchasing men who can only get the beautiful, adoring, submissive wife they feel they deserve by buying her.
S (Detroit)
This is an embarrassment to the New York Times Editorial Board, nothing but apologism for violent patriarchy. The incident this piece was sparked by was a terrorist attack. People were murdered. A similar op-ed being published in response to a terrorist attack by anyone other than a white man is literally unimaginable, it would never happen. This piece is framed as a provocative "intellectual" take on a controversial issue, but Douthat stubbornly refuses to address the real underlying issue here. This isn't just about sex, it's about power. The cause of the incel rebellion is not just sad lonely "good guys" who can't get laid, its young violent, mostly white, men, who have been taught by our white supremacist patriarchal culture they are entitled to anything they want. This is about the violent rage of young men who feel wronged because they don't have the power they think they should have. Sex robots aren't going to solve this problem, and provocative faux intellectualism won't either.
Occupy Government (Oakland)
We have a population that shies away from discussions of sex, of gender roles and orientation, of trans people and queers in general. We have a political party that wants to outlaw contraception -- but not Viagra, thanks -- but we still can't have an adult conversation about what it means. As long as men drive the bus, women will get thrown under it. And the rest of us will be hitch-hiking.
Michael Judge (Washington DC)
I can’t even wade through this swamp. Not the subject of the article, the way you wrote the thing. Syntax produces clarity, not authorial self-regard.
dsjump (lawtonok)
Sexbots should not be considered perfected until they can be programmed not to tell their stories.
Nate (London)
Great thought piece.
ES (IL)
A look at the Toronto terrorist will tell you it’s not his looks holding him back. Perhaps try harder at not being an aggressively terrible rape-crazed mysogynist? There’s very little free market for that. Let me say it again: women and women’s choices are NOT the problem.
JoeG (Houston)
I've joked that I regret I won't live long enough to be able to find the perfect robotic wife. I really don't want one. If I said men are jerks they think they are entitled women like Victoria Secret models that would do everything a porno actress does I would do whenever they want women and most men would agree. If I were to say women have although different but equally ridiculous and unobtainable standards I would be accused of misogyny. If you're sitting around saying all the good ones are taken. Why not you? You deserve better than "a slob on a couch". I agree and good luck finding one.
Donovan (NYC)
This goes with my earlier comment. Roxy Music "In Every Dream Home a Heart Ache" from UK TV show "The Old Grey Whistle Test" in 1973: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbhro7wQE-k
Fred (Baltimore)
No one has any right to another person, ever. To entertain a thought otherwise is to condone slavery.
Another Human (Atlanta)
Everyone has a right to sex... Just as soon as they can find a consenting partner who wants to have sex with them. The concept of redistributing sex is nonsensical to me. It requires two willing participants or it shouldn't happen, period. However, the rise of sex bots will fundamentally change things. Given enough time, sexual release could be freely available with none of the effort required to find a human partner. It might also be of higher quality / frequency. This could be pretty awesome in some ways, but it could make real relationships seem even less worthwhile. And once we have AI capable of romance, look out... Who wouldn't buy themselves a super hot sex bot with a perfect personality who gives them everything they want and asks nothing in return?
Grace (NC)
As a woman, I find it deeply unhelpful that the incel claims are given more than the brief review that should be sufficient to find them utterly ridiculous. Unless you include self-help as a fulfillment of their claimed need to sex, then sex isn't a commodity like cash, it requires the participation of another person. Women are under no obligation to service these self-centered troglodytes. Perhaps if they took a few steps back from their own senses of entitlement an actually considered women as people with whom they might form relationships that include respect, then they might occasionally get some sex. And sex workers shouldn't be obliged to provide the missing receptacles, they should be able to choose which clients to accept. Shorter version: why should murdering dozens of people evoke sympathy for these creeps?
Jay Why (NYC)
This kind of economics thinking gives new meaning to the term "trickle down. "
Pdxtran (Minneapolis)
Get back to me when an involuntarily celibate woman massacres a group of random men with a gun or car. It is sad when a person does not have a sexual partner, but the same people who seem to think that men with disagreeable personalities have a right to sex often believe that no one has a right to food, clothing, shelter, health care..
Frank (Brooklyn)
with all due respect for Mr.Douthart, what exactly was this article about? was it meant to be serious or satirical? a right to sex? overweight people not being desirable? professors out of touch with reality? there are so many more important things for him to turn his analytic intelligence to,as conservative as it is.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The notion of a right to sex, meaning not the right to engage in sex but of having it provided on request is purely ridiculous. Unless sex is engaged by willing participants it means depriving people of their rights. Society using it’s power to compel some people to provide their bodies for use by others. Instead of ending misery, misery is just passed on to others. It is a fact that many people can and do love others who are attractive to them for what they perceive about them besides their looks. Some people have serious limitations to what they can do but still find ways to satisfy their needs but others who have no apparent limitations are unable to connect with willing partners and don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Men who are afraid of approaching women because they have been so often rejected are not involuntary celibates, they are inept, lacking communication skills. They need help to overcome their inadequacies but if the try they can do it.
Cobble Hill (Brooklyn, NY)
A couple more thoughts. Some people consider Mary Shelley the original neo-con for Frankenstein. Remember, her mother, who died in childbirth was Mary Wollstonecraft. Her dad was William Godwin. Malthus wrote his famous essay, I believe, in response to Godwin's utopianism. So per people like Angus Maddison, we now know that Malthus up until that point was largely right. Now, of course, he is mocked. (We'll see what happens going forward re: people like Robert Gordon.) I guess what I am saying here is that Left and Right don't have a monopoly on technological predictions here. And what they may portend. Last thought, Francis Fukuyama also wrote a book about this, another guy now being mocked. We'll see how that works out. I think I saw that Commentaire in France has an article by him looking back on that. (Did it already appear in English?) Something else to think about.
inquiring minds (Durham, NC)
Wait, wait, so let me get this straight. The argument you're floating here is that some men hate women and expect sex from them regardless of their desire and/or consent BECAUSE more women have sex before marriage now? And the solution if for us to have less sex before marriage? Are you aware that misogyny and rape has ALSO existed since... forever? Are you aware that this type of behavior also happens in places where women most certainly are NOT encouraged to have sex before marriage? The message: "Women, put away your birth control and put on your promise rings, otherwise men will have no choice but to either demand sex from you or schtup robots." I can't believe the NYT prints stuff like this. Also, just as an FYI: the good old days were not always good, Ross. Particularly for women. You should talk to some of them about this sometime.
Stephen Wangh (Brattleboro, VT)
Strangely I think, most of these responses concentrate on the incel phenomenon. And it was probably a mistake, or just a provocation that Douthat centers his argument on that issue. That's too bad, because the larger issue that Douthat is pointing to, that revolutions coalesce when seemingly opposing groups recognize a common cause is, however, worthy of discussion. Whether or not the "right to sex" is such a cause, there are other serious issues that we might rightly unpack with that insight: For instance, looking for the overlap between libertarian isolationism à la Ron Paul, and leftist anti-militarism. sw
Cobble Hill (Brooklyn, NY)
A good sociological study of the Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and elsewhere, with many of these thoughts in mind, might be a good idea. Douthat alludes to this in one paragraph, the one referring to conservatives. But as a notable fact, this community is growing rapidly, and a distinct feature of that community is that most everyone gets married and thus has access to a sex partner. This is not to say that this world view "proves" anything, but it should be part of the mix. Secondly, Douthat is truly a smart guy. Interestingly, Drudge, an obvious weirdo, gives a lot of play to this debate. What else? New technology has always thrown human beings for a loop. Marxism clearly got traction, because of the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution. (The psychology was not new, or even some of the words, like proletarian.) Both the Civil War and World War I were way more lethal than people expected because of changes in military technology. The changes in sex technology starting with the pill, but then with things like donor eggs, have also upended all sorts of norms. And then the ability to sort of make a person look like they changed gender has also now become a cause celebre. Absent medical intervention, that political development would not have happened. What matters is getting the political response right to these technologies. Easier said than done.
JJ (Philadelphia)
Let's start with an understanding of what Mr. Douthat is and isn't arguing. He's not arguing that there is a right to sex. He is identifying a problem that he sees in the contemporary world: contemporary American culture makes people feel that they have a right to sex. Here is his favored response to this problem: "There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate."
Rosalie Lieberman (Chicago, IL)
Putting Maslow's hierarchy of needs upside down. Ah, the 21st century. Sick.
SN (Los Angeles)
There are so many flaws of argument in Ross Douthat's essay—so many points of ignorance about human history, evolutionary biology, and psychology, on display, that one does not know where to begin. And, so, I will not.
Sabrina (San Francisco)
Does anyone find it inherently ironic that the Men’s Rights Activists who no doubt have incels among them, love to tout biology as a basis for rejecting feminist ideals—men are wired to do math, men are stronger ergo the military/police/firefighters et al shouldn’t hire women, women are meant to only be baby makers and housewives (you get the idea)—but are now wholly discounting natural selection as a reason why some people don’t find mates or sexual partners? Some men are simply undateable just as some women are. Yet you don’t see such women shooting up a college campus, or mowing down pedestrians with a rented van, or generally projecting their own problems onto others in a dangerous manner. You know what she does instead? She goes to the gym. She buys some decent clothes. She gets her hair done. Here’s an idea: how about making a mensch of yourself? Go to therapy. Put some effort into your appearance. Learn some social skills. Find a hobby other than railing against the world in online chat rooms. And if you can’t afford a therapist, watch “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” for some useful information.
Erna Wenus (Palo Alto)
What an intellectual disappointment! A right to sex? In this article the right to sex means the right of men to rape women. Google calendar shows the year 2018 not the ages of burning witches! Please do not try to discuss "rights" as long as you do not understand the meaning of the word. Rape is not right. So it never can be "a" right. I do have compassion with these poor incels. But as a society we have to model how to do sex the right way. Is this article meant to spark new creative approaches to a better society? To me it just seems to just eloquently rationalize rationalize violence?
Liz (California)
I don’t care if you’re disabled, trans, unattractive, or socially awkward. Men do not have the right to sex with another human being and it should not be the role of political parties to “redistribute” women to you. Ensuring all men can have sex (because let’s be real, this is only about men) certainly has no place in feminism because at its core, it’s deeply anti-women.
Linkdd (SF)
How did the sexual revolution skew things in favor of the rich, socially adept and physically attractive? Romance is more democratized than its ever been. The boomers prior were mostly male bread winner couples where the woman relied entirely on her choice of man to determine every aspect of her life. Instead we now have women with their own independent wealth, status and careers and with the elimination of segregation its never been better for lower class and / or ethnic men who are not teaming up with women who could never afford to choose them in the past. This article is entirely written from the perspective of a privileged classist white male who what's to go back to a time when he had the game rigged in his favor. The vast majority of white men even were never so privileged
Patricia (Pasadena)
About the right to have sex -- this reminds me of a scene from "Moscow 2042" by Vladimir Voinovich. The hero wakes up in Moscow in 2042 where he is introduced to the current state of socialism. The most exciting development in his eyes is that brothels are now legal and free for citizens. Of course he makes an appointment. He's taken to a room with a bed and given a towel and left alone. After some time alone, an attendant shows up to clean the room. But the woman never showed, he protests. Do you think we would degrade women like that, the attendant snaps. Under socialism, all brothels are self-service.
AE (California )
There is so much to dislike here, but I'll just limit myself to a few relevant points: Ross, incels do not want mere sex - they want sex with someone they can not attain consentually. They feel they are owed. betrayed somehow. Not just by the pretty girls that won't sleep with them, but also by the men can attain these women consentually. This is called a sickness. This is not okay. No robot can fix this.
SR (Bronx, NY)
A "right" to get sex is indeed absurd (cf. Anne-Marie Hislop); but a right of other adults to *offer* sex as a well-regulated sex worker would effectively fulfill that, and decrease the need for men to find merely half-naked, half-willing women in sports magazines or halftime cheers. Puritan laws and poor wages for everyone only lead to powerful men being able to demand that powerless underpaid Redskins cheerleaders become Costa Rica escorts, as the article to the left of yours attests. We are just as much resources as human, and artificial scarcity of the supply of sex, thanks to faux-Christians and "anti-human-trafficking" laws like FOSTA/SESTA, only breeds an imbalanced and corrupt market where big megacorps own the poor—and just as much here as with diamonds and "intellectual property".
Tom and Kay Rogers (Philadelphia PA)
Nice try, every bit of it. But all of these analyses are doomed to (at least) heavy listing to starboard, if not outright sinking, simply because they don’t begin with the correct model of human sexual behavior. We all have two wildly different behavioral strategies, a done deal at birth. Which one are any of these people addressing? They clearly don’t know, so we can’t know, either. This always ends up like two people arguing over a long distance call about what the weather is like today. Someday, we’ll get to begin the debate with a sound idea of which mating strategy we’re trying to understand. Until then, it’s not really all that helpful... —T&K
Dalgliesh (outside the beltway)
There is no right to happiness, just it’s pursuit.
S Miller (Denver)
Hey, Ross, I’m a happily married woman in my mid-50s, but if my husband should die before me (as men so often do!), could I be reassigned a new man under this redistribution scheme? Could I stipulate that he be under 40, under 200 pounds, and have a “look” that sexually excites me? Also, would I have him just for one-night stands as needed, or could he be exclusively mine for as long as I wanted? (Not sure I’d want to share him with a bunch of other “incel” women, plus lord knows what I might catch). Let me know, because I might be in for this!
Richard Mitchell-Lowe (New Zealand)
That which ought be yours is mine; that which is mine is not yours. The core belief of the Great One Percent sounds almost Biblical.
redpill (ny)
Maybe a pet dog would satisfy the need to be desired and appreciated.
kryptogal (Rocky Mountains)
The males of many species are violent when competing for mating opportunities, and human males are no exception. Virtually every society we know of "solved" this problem by sending the young men off regularly to war, killing off a good portion of them and lessening the competition. Others were castrated, enslaved, or encouraged to take vows of celibacy. It was quite common in the past for the men in power to castrate their (male) slaves, just as is done with farm animals. You really only need one breeding stud. Religion also provided a nice mollification to repress male sexual competitiveness and violence but that is no longer a bulwark. Certainly it's ineffective in a culture saturated by graphic imagery of sex that amplifies one's sense that they are not getting to partake in what they see all around them. Nature is cruel to men who lose the mating competition, just as it's to ALL women. These incels should blame mother nature or their god, not women, but I guess it's easier to feel powerful if one focused on a more vulnerable scapegoat. If they were really to start a "rebellion", they would not like the response society would most likely have, which is more likely to be death or castration, rather than some kind of utopian redistribution.
Bill (NYC)
This is the most interesting opinion article I've seen in some time. Really highlights how hard it is to have a coherent world view.
Emma (Santa Cruz)
Ummm because property and money are inanimate objects whereas "sex" requires another human being... It's pretty simple. And easy for dudes to forgot because historically they are not the ones whose freedom and liberty hang in the balance when sex is seen as a person's "right". Oh, P.S. For a long time in our culture sex WAS seen as a right. Like, when husbands were allowed to rape their wives? Remember that? No thank you.
richguy (t)
Last year, at a ski bar in Vermont while drinking alone, a woman not my type started to chat me up and touch me. I chatted back, but did not flirt. She got angry with me for not being interested in her advances, and said "you are an awful person." Four years ago, at a restaurant in SoHo, while I was eating alone at the bar, a woman not my type started talking with me. I was polite but not flirtatious. She said, "you're a snob." Are these female incels lashing out at a man (me?). I was polite, just not sexually responsive. I am nice looking, but not a male model. Perhaps they think I should respond to their interest. I am holding out for a beautiful younger model. In a few years, I will inherit a great deal of money. I will eat alone until then. I'm just recounting tow experiences in which women strangers who approached me lashed out at me (verbally) for not reciprocating their interest. I know for a fact that women sometimes yell at men for not being interested in them. I tried to be friends with a woman I dumped. She started to flirt with me. I reminded her we were just friends. She kicked me in the shin. Broke the skin. But I've never met another guy to whom this has happened. It seems to happen to me a lot. I'm 5' 7". maybe women can't stand it when a short guy rejects them. Like I said, I am always polite, just not flirtatious.
Michael Kubara (Cochrane Alberta)
Just/fair distribution depends on what's distributed. Theater tickets-- first come first served--provided you re willing to pay. College admission--needs acceptable academic record--evidence of ability to benefit from admission. Job pay--depends on supply-demand-skill level. Just sex play--needs mutual attraction, consent. Just sex trade--is like theater tickets. Sex trade is theater--sex play pretense/illusion/faking it Government re-distribution might apply to subsidies for sex trade. Your economist obviously doesn't know the difference between sex play and sex play pretense--faking it. Evidently Trump doesn't know the difference either--more fake news.
Kay (Connecticut)
Douthat begins by noting that money and property are candidates for redistribution so why not sex? Money and property are not living beings who care with whom they associate. Why is this not obvious? I kept waiting for him to say that would be the perfect role for a sex robot: a provider of sex that is not a living being. Fine by me. Go right ahead.
JM Hopkins (Linthicum, MD)
It is quite a problem of 'masculinity' to identify the amount of sex you are having or not having with your value as a human being. It's always been quality of relationships for me and not quantity, but some men are different. I suppose I have been able to channel my voracious sex drive, something that used to be called 'sublimation'. As I have gotten older, it has waned, slightly. I now have a child to take care of, am married, and even though women in public flirt with me and I know they are flirting with me, I walk away. Not like it happens everyday. Sometimes it does. I suppose I will never, ever have Wilt Chamberlain's stats. Boo hoo. Some men can't walk away. From personal experience, I will tell you what those men have in their lives, and that is unwanted children, STDs, sometimes sex addiction, failed marriages, debt, debt, debt. I knew one guy in the Army who, after his child support was all paid up, had about five bucks to live on for the month. Some become that pathetic 65-year-old you see in the 'gentlemen's' club buying lap dances and drinks for women who want nothing to do with them. As far as being an 'incel' and blaming women for that, you're the one that gives yourself that name. No one wants to be with a self loathing, angry person. This might be a cure. Find something interesting in life besides sex. You'll have something interesting to talk about. Maybe join a club to do that interesting thing. You might meet someone.
suetr (Chapel Hill, NC)
Mr. Douthat, please step back and read these comments: perhaps they can help you identify the horrific, gaping hole in your argument. The "incels'" "redistribution of sex" you are trying to dress in some kind of theoretical garb is the forced prostitution of women. Nothing -- not one thing -- about your editorial suggests that you understand the profundity of the misogyny here. Creepy indeed.
Nestor Potkine (Paris France)
Mr. Dothan completely forgets one large problem. Male, especially young male, sexual frustration is nothing new (and never mind female frustration...). What is new is that social networks make possible for these otherwise natural loners to gather. To build a collective identity. Now, what happens when sexually frustrated young males build a collective identity ? The internet is a Golem.
Lennerd (Seattle)
Regarding whether "incels" have a right to sex I am reminded of the quote from Alfred E. Neuman in Mad Magazine, under the masthead, that read, "The helping hand you're looking for is at the end of your arm."
Starvosk (NYC)
The desire for sex causes young men to be irrationally violent. Regardless of how liberals and conservatives feel, we need a solution. These men feel they have nothing to live for and are more than willing to shoot/blow others up to prove it. Most of these comments frankly show little desire to change or do anything other than bidding these incels to 'fix thyself' which won't happen. The culture of 'doing nothing' needs to change. These men need to be treated, appeased, or imprisoned. Feminism has nothing to do with it. Women's equality is a laudable goal, but it won't address violence coming from men that are clearly misogynists. Given today's political climate, the best and most immediate solution for any individual women would be to just buy a gun. There won't be any laws or action from the government for at least 2 years. It's time to stop thinking these problems will 'go away' on their own.
GD (NJ)
This article is a nice extension/discussion/POV of "Does anyone have the right to sex?" by Amia Srinivasan in the LRB. Mr. Douthat provides the link in his article. Most of the readers, and commentators here would have benefited by reading it before writing.
Billfer (Lafayette LA)
Equitable distribution of wealth, resources, and labor can reasonably be argued from multiple perspectives, mainstream, center right, center left, alt-whatever…. These are external objectively quantifiable issues. Not so for a “right” to sex. Until this event in Toronto, I was completely unaware of this incel subculture. I suppose that the majority of my male peers in high school could be considered incels – me included. None of those peers or I resorted to killing people as a consequence of that celibacy. My situation was solved by maturing, developing the ability to engage with others on an adult level, and accepting that not every beautiful woman was necessarily interested in an amorous relationship with me (very few were!). That said, legalized sex workers could solve the problem for self-identified incels. If that can preempt the type of carnage seen in Toronto, why wouldn’t we. It’s probably easier than getting gun reform through Congress…
DW (Philly)
This "incel" thing is simply misogyny; it comes in many forms but isn't anything new. These men think women are commodities to be distributed among men, and if that's your starting point then it makes sense that some men are mad at other men for getting the "better women," and that the men who find they can't "get" any woman at all are enraged. Advice to the average "incel": simply try not to be a horrible human being, and things will likely get better for you. It isn't about your looks, and no, you don't have a "right" to sex with anyone. Plenty of guys who are not at all good looking get plenty of sex. Their secret? They're nice. Women like nice men. Honest.
Andy (Tucson)
I am reminded that, in the aftermath of the Nov 2016 election, those of us who opposed Trump were told by the pundits (like Ross Douthat) that we needed to work to understand the Trump voters’ grievances and mindset. (Never mind that they have no interest in understanding ours.) Now Ross tells us the same thing about the incels, that we need to understand them, their lives and their grievances, and try to accommodate them. Well, Ross, the thing is, we -do- understand them. They are hateful misogynists from whom women rightfully run far away! These men don’t deserve sex with anyone but themselves. Let’s let evolution do its thing. If these guys don’t reproduce, their hateful genetic line ends with them.
James L. (New York)
"Incels" should just blame their parents and get over it like everybody else. I mean, really. (And, by the way, I recently saw a news segment about Facebook, showing one of their campus offices tasked with finding and blocking fake news. Frankly, the offices looked like a dump, and the guys in front of their computers looked like they just rolled out of bed, like they showed up to work with whatever they slept in. When you have this kind of disregard for yourself, you're destined to be alone and angry.)
eric (vermont)
How do you make a woman climax? Who cares... Most of my female friends get a hoot out of that relatively old joke and the ones that don't view me as the old joke, which I most assuredly am...
Emile (New York)
Mr. Douthat, what a narrow hetero-masculine point of view you have in this column. What, do you really not know that women are as much sexual beings as men? Why don't you talk about how women handled repressed female desire? Yes, women have different sexual needs from men. So what? The desires of the sexes are equal. Only the male of our species behaves abominably when deprived of sex--lashing out at women, and sometimes even going on a rampage of killing and/or raping as many women as they can. Women deprived of sex, by contrast, become like Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's "Persuasion"--longing for sex wrapped in love, to be sure, but longing for sex nevertheless. But let's be real: In the privacy of the real bedroom (as opposed to Austen's novel), they quietly satisfy their sexual needs in the oldest way possible--by fondling themselves. Men like Ross Douthat may not like it, but the toothpaste is out of the tube: Modernity--not merely modern women, but modernity itself--rejects the traditional relation of the sexes in which men get to satisfy themselves whenever and wherever they want. Deal with it, Incels. And if you can't, expect to go to jail.
MrMister (nyc)
You are looking to a radical solution for dysfunctional sex lives? How about universal health insurance that is inclusive of mental health services as well as sex therapy - as in a person who engages with an individual in talk and sexual therapeutical encounters with the purpose of helping the patient feel confident physically and to work through their social issues so they are supported in their attempts to build the lives they desire. Universal health coverage covering long term sex therapy would be a radical change for the better.
Fabrisse (Washington DC)
Too many of these young men won't ask out a woman who doesn't meet their ideal in looks. A girl who's a size ten rather than a size zero or isn't blonde or is taller than they are is automatically out. These men are voluntarily celibate. They just don't realize it.
itsmildeyes (philadelphia)
Am I the only one tired of talking about sex, tired about sex being used as a vehicle to sell products, tired about recommendations about sexual techniques, tired about sexual activity being considered the province of only the young? And, then, god forbid we talk about birth control, family planning, tolerance for non-traditional genders, kindness and respect in intimate relationships. I can’t answer for all cultures, but I am aware nineteenth century European men who had difficulty financially and emotionally supporting marital relationships availed themselves of prostitutes. Many men suffered from venereal diseases, a not insignificant medical problem. But, who wants to grow up to be a prostitute? I don’t like the guy in line in back of me at Whole Foods standing too close. With few exceptions (list available), I don’t want to find myself in a motel room alone with him. There are a lot of bitter angry people out there, men and women (remember ‘no fat chicks’ bumper stickers). Assigning a group of them a clever acronym just doesn’t cut. When you start killing people, I’m calling you what you are - a homicidal maniac. Without conducting a scientific study, I would imagine a robot would only increase a sense of isolation and rejection. So-called ‘incels’ have a whole lot more problems than an inability to get a date. My advice - call a doctor. You have a lot of work to do.
E. Connors (NY State)
Perhaps, Mr. Douhat, you might suggest something similar to The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson. Instead of someone being killed to ensure a good harvest, we could have one female sacrificed to the "incels," to ensure they won't kill the rest of us. I'm sure you know many people who would be happy to throw themselves or their family members, into the breach for this cause.
Anne (Portland)
Conservatives: Women should be chaste even if they want to have sex. Men have a right to sex and should not have to deal with the horror of involuntary celibacy. Belts for the women; robots (or sanctioned rape?) for the men.
andrew (nyc)
True to form, when a group of pitable men do something illegal, there's infinite handwringing by the commentariat about "What is to be done?" Oh my, women becoming more educated, wealthy and powerful, no longer needing to "marry down" to undeserving men. What a shame! What will happen with Incels and their ilk, at least in the western world, in quite simple: they will be locked up, like all criminals, and kept apart from the rest of the population.
Scott (Vashon)
They want the status that being attractive to comely women provides. They think they deserve that status. No amount of paid sex and sexbots will provide that status (quite the contrary). Sadly, status is a zero sum game.
TJ (NYC)
Ross, Ross, Ross... you are so far offbase this isn't even funny. Have you ever spent time with these incels? It's not about "access to sex". The real problem with the incel culture is that these men believe they deserve the youngest, best-looking women (Trump's "10s"). And they believe they shouldn't have to do anything to "get" them. They don't want relationships with other human beings. They don't (just) want sexual release. They want 10s to prove their own worth to themselves and to each other. The problem is the incels want arm candy--the 10s--and they don't want to put in the effort on their appearance, personal development, or social skills. Because a man who's not a conventional 10 (say, a short, ugly man) can still score 10s if he's funny, charming, high-status, or all of the above. Sexbots don't scratch that itch, because a sexbot is a walking advertisement that you don't have what it takes. But the incels still feel entitled to their 10s. And THAT is the problem: that rampant sense of entitlement. Oh, and I'm an incel (but not an entitled one). I'm a widow, and I'm probably not gonna land a man any time this decade. Much less a "10" since I'm over 50. Luckily for society, I'm not going to turn to automatic weapons to make myself feel better.
DW (Philly)
No, they don't want "sexual release" - well, not any more than the rest of us do, but if sexual release is all you want, it is really fairly easily arranged for, there are many options. What they want is to dominate and own women.
Treina (Seattle, WA)
"If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" Um...because women are neither property or currency. "Incels" not only promote the beating, raping and murdering of women- they actually have murdered women. This bears repeating - women have been murdered by these men. They murder because they believe, as men, they have an inherent right to women's bodies. To treat "incels" as an oppressed group for which society needs to devise ways to bring them equality, is at the very least, negligent. I'm sure members of other hate groups feeling equally victimized. The answer is not to legitimize their hatred.
RhettsHeir (CA)
Not mentioned here is the coming social strife in India and China where the demographics are getting way out of balance. With 120 men to every 100 women, there are inevitable riots and strife awaiting.
The article never suggested that someone has the right to get a sexual compliance from someone else!! He simply illuminated the fact that many in our modern society has the right to search for and utilize solutions (robots or else) to their sexual deprivation enforced upon them by an increasingly sex negative, class conscious, unimaginative and racist society.. I live in the (supposedly liberal) city of Boston massachusetts, this is a metropolis where if you are a man with any of the following: short (even below 5'7"), black, low wage worker, poorly educated, an introvert who can't create a stand up comedy show for 18 hour per day, overweight or underweight, and most recently: an immigrant with an accent, then expect to have a serious challenge dating around town if at all, to be sure, create such a profile online and wait for any beauty to respond, and the irony is that Boston women often report not having a date for months and sometimes a year or more, sighting the lack of eligibile men, as a single man I'm not sure I want to
John Taylor (San Pedro, CA)
There is a compelling argument that both incels and Islamic terrorists feel resentment toward women, and that some small percentage of both groups seek violent retribution against women and society. So, yes, if they would take their anger and repressed sexual desires out on sex robots instead of human beings, I would gladly see a portion of my tax money provide them with cuddly machines. It would certainly be cheaper than rebuilding bombed-out cities, or paying to imprison the people who did the bombing, and it would avoid a lot of pain and suffering. What is so fringy or crazy about that? It is rather obviously not as crazy as incels and terrorists who run around killing people.
jeaninehull (washington,dc)
i cannot believe anyone, even the so-called "Christian" Ross Douthat thinks that the Handmaid's Tale is a great outcome for American society. Talk about trying to compete in a global economy with over 1/2 of your population (and apparently over 90% of the thinking population) re-chained in slavery. REALLY???? Why does Douthat not consider the fact that now that most women do not need men economically, men need to learn to compete for women they way they compete for jobs, in athletics and in all other realms of male endeavors--i.e., by getting better at how they perform, tailoring themselves through training to have the skills necessary to compete, and by learning what the job takes. This would actually be GOOD for men--it would help humanize them and make them suitable partners for women and indeed all people. (newsflash to Douthat--women are indeed people.) All of this would improve the overall culture and incidentally improve America's economic competitiveness. But no, the easy way out is to just rape women. Does he think that men who shoot up business should then be offered jobs in those establishments? Isn't that the same thing he is advocating that we think about? What church does he attend? What kind of people does he hang out with? Whatever it is, he badly needs new spiritual guidance.
Dlud (New York City)
I have followed the current socio-political exchange in the NY Times and believe that it has finally arrived at its destination; everyone has a right to an appropriate sexual partner of choice whether anyone is available or not. This is a human right according to the new world. Not even the word 'narcissism" covers this lunatic fringe credo.
rockstarkate (California)
There are nowhere near enough women willing to "service" the men who want to purchase women's bodies for their sexual gratification. Take away the necessity some women find to enter into prostitution due to poverty and lack of options, and you will have even fewer. And what happens then? Trafficking of society's most vulnerable (homeless youth, women from impoverished countries) into prostitution, where men will pay to rape them. This is no solution. The solution is to teach these men that nobody owes them sex. If they want a relationship with a human being, take a shower, be polite, try to get to know a woman, and don't assume you deserve to release your sexual urges into a human being of your choosing. This is a truly disturbing column.
Publius (Los Angeles, California)
Just Darwinism at first-survival of the sexiest, I guess. For angry incels, best for all of us if they stay incel, if not angry. Too many people in the world already by several billion. No need for more unwanted, unloved wards of the state, any state. I remain baffled by our sex obsession. I certainly had my share, though apparently at the extreme low end of average. Yet have been married to a goddess for over 30 years, and before her to another smart, attractive woman. And managed to raise four successful non-biological daughters in the process. Life isn’t fair nor guaranteed. If you have needs or wants, it is up to you to do what you must to satisfy them in a lawful, civilized way. Not by violating the rights of others to gratify your desires. There are smarter, more attractive, better-educated, wealthier people out there than you. Live with that. Killing some of them or yourself or both won’t change that, which is why I think Ross’s column is, while well intentioned, not part of the real world. There will always be inequalities in life; some are easier to change than others. That’s just the way it is.
HB (England)
This 'comment piece' is lazy and rather entitled journalism. Spending any amount of time actually looking into male incels online will show what horrid hatred is at the heart of their ideology. Picking up in one of their awful ideas and discussing it as a 'thought experiment' in a major publication will give them little thrills of legitimacy. Maybe focus on just exactly how their deep hatred of women came into being and why they feel such a potent mix of hatred and entitlement. I'm betting there's quite a few reference points in our culture. There's a whole litany of other things to reflect on, not their stupid nasty ideas. A lack of sex is never an excuse for violence. A lack of sex has never killed the subject. In contrast women's sexuality has been suppressed for centuries and still is. There's a lot of sexual dysfunction among women resulting in a lack of fulfilment and frustration. Don't go killing people though. Probably as we don't think sex is an entitlement.
Carl Zeitz (Union City NJ)
Wow, all those words, all that philosophizing. But no, Mr. Douthat, it is simply this: Yes means yes. Any other response means no.
Bronbruton (Washington DC)
I'm so grateful to all of the other commentators who took the time to articulate why it's wrong... so wrong!... to equate basic human rights, such as access to food and health care, to the desire of males to have access women's bodies. It's so skin-crawlingly creepy and gross that I can't even respond to it on an intellectual level. Just yuck.
Radical Inquiry (World Government)
How confused. A "right" to have sex? Instead, there should be the right to engage in consensual activity (that harms no 3rd party) without any governmental right to interfere. Hence, legalization of prostitution, and victimless crimes in general. This approach would have provided a much better discussion for this article. But I read the NYT only for the news, not for discernment and clear thinking. For example, for the world's most conventional and boring articles, try the editorials. How many decades did it take them to favor legalization of marijuana? But note there is no larger discussion of the issue of the reach of governmental power into our private lives. Think for yourself?
Sue K (Roanoke VA)
No reason to assume only men will want sex services. There are lonely women, women deemed unattractive, poor, or otherwise undesirable. Separating desirableness from being a sexual being sounds like a good transition.
rto (Santa Barbara, CA)
Those with little to no income have a right to eat, but not to extravagant meals. By the same token, those with no access to sex with a willing partner are not automatically entitled. Let them use their hand like everyone else.
Dennis (California)
We've all met that gorgeous gal or hunky dude who as soon as they open their mouths, makes you want to run in the opposite direction as fast as you can. It seems social skills development has devolved back to the cave and the club. How about let's work on improving our attractiveness, which may mean being able to hold and communicate a lucid thought? I dunno. In the age we live in I may not life long enough to see it.
Bookworm8571 (North Dakota)
Thousands of socially inept, immature, pornography and video game addicted and sexually frustrated young men does not bode well for society. Something needs to be done to encourage them to shape up and work on their lives and their attitude towards women. I doubt sex dolls would be any use in the long run.
Dana Seilhan (Columbus, OH)
I've gone without sex for a decade and been poor for most of my adult life. The two states are nothing alike. And no, my looks or lack of libido are not the problem. Plenty of men will get with an ugly or fat woman, and I've always liked sex. I am just fed up with my life, health, and sanity being at constant risk if I get physically intimate with a man. And I'm not at all into women, so here we are. Frankly, as long as self-service were still permitted, I would happily give up sex with other people for the rest of my life if I could be guaranteed a half-million Powerball win, or even just a couple hundred thousand to get out of debt and properly established. I don't know why men are so histrionic about this unless they're angry that women are contesting their alleged "rights to ownership" over us, and I suspect that's the real problem. And while so-called "extremists" are sometimes closer to a correct answer than moderates or centrists are, it does not follow that's always true. Overgeneralization is the enemy of truth. Men who want sex dolls, however, are creeps and also bad with money, full stop.
Fidelio (Chapel Hill, NC)
It sounds like Hanson, being from George Mason, has attempted a reductio ad absurdum of redistributionist thinking somewhat in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal: if the widening gulf between haves and have-nots is a stain on our egalitarian democracy, why shouldn’t we be just as affronted by the fact that some folks can’t get no satisfaction, though they try and they try? But sexual privation isn’t at all on the same level as the inability to satisfy needs of survival like food, shelter and medical care, even if the distinction may be less clear to a randy adolescent than a George Mason economist writing with tongue in cheek. To be sure, sexual hierarchies are often cruel and arbitrary, but they aren’t mere constructs. Biology hasn’t endowed us all equally, and no one seriously believes that we can social-engineer attraction, though in the future we may each of us be able to find our ideal mate (or several such) in some enchanted virtual space. In the meantime, we can maybe do worse than recall the words of the late Paul Goodman, no incel but a man perpetually unfulfilled: “Every therapy needs a good whorehouse.”
Wordsworth from Wadsworth (Mesa, Arizona)
The culture's dominant message about sex is no longer "Hefnerian." It's digital. The means of production reflect the culture. Hefner came from the outmoded industrial epoch. Sex required a concatenation of physical events, like millions of magazines collated on an assembly line. In today's world there is a problem with ubiquitous hard pornography and a minor's access to it. But relations between consenting adults is a wholly different milieu because of all the internet connections fostered by everything from Tinder to CoffeeMeetsBagel and now Facebook. I assume there is a network of prostitutes, though I never bothered to check on any list. We have gone from a Newtonian world where intimate linkage had to be initiated with real presence in the physical world requiring capital and transportation, to a virtual dating scene with a much, much lower bar of entry. It's as though an individual has an almost infinite amount of partners awaiting in a quantum orbital only a click away. Hence, these incels have a much bigger problem than just sex. They are antisocial in the extreme, and have a personality disorder that has come to the fore with more discretionary time on their hands and a dearth of identity. This pathology is also a function of the means of production. These guys do not have enough good work, nor can they identify with something bigger than their selves with is ofttimes a cipher. Odd sexual habits and violence are symptoms not the cause.
Elise (Northern California)
"...our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate." So, the answer to men who can't get a girlfriend is that everyone else must be monogamous? This sentence alone makes me wonder how it is possible that Mr. Douthat is a columnist for one of the nation's premier newspapers. This is a comment straight out of the 17th Century, not the current one. To return to the "older ideas about the virtues of monogamy", all those men without girlfriends or dates or lovers should join a monastery and become monks. In Mr. Douthat's "older" world values, that's where they belong.
James (ATL)
Not sure why so many of the comments have read this article as saying that rape is the suggested method of redistribution. I would think that increasing access to porn and making prostitution legal would be the logical alternatives. Women can choose if they want to use their bodies for the ancient profession, and men have a substitute good. I read a study from Clemson that porn acts as a substitute good for rape, so it stands to reason that prostitution would as well. Both would be preferable to incel inspired terrorism.
cdearman (Santa Fe, NM)
Hummm.... "Srinivasan ultimately answered her title question in the negative: 'There is no entitlement to sex, and everyone is entitled to want what they want.' But her negative answer was a qualified one. While 'no one has a right to be desired,' at the same time 'who is desired and who isn’t is a political question,'” O.K. Prof. Srinivasan's philosophical musings are quite interesting desire is political, to reduce the statement to its essence. If the professor means by "political" religion, I agree. Before society became regulated by polity it was regulated by religion. At some point in human history, the rulers (polity) realized they would much more power over their people by joining polity and religion; ergo, rulers became "God's" representative on earth. The God-ruler, indeed, create a more power ruler. It's through religion and social preference that we get to who is and is not desired. On the one hand, religious and may be later humanism, created moral laws to establish what is acceptable and not acceptable. On the other hand, social concepts of beauty, ergo desirability, came to regulate what is desirable. What is moral and what is beauty conspire to create the desirable. Of course, sex has always been regulated to being an activity approved for procreation ONLY in Christian societies. Wow! The original "incels" were contemplatives who chose to dispense with sex. Why sex? But lets get on with it. The involuntary "incel" must create his/her society.
LesW (Honolulu)
This is a problem that is not confined to humans. King penguin males that don't have mates form roving bands that run into the rookery breaking nests, eggs, etc. Male big horn sheep that lose dominance battles often then ejaculate off to the side of the herd. But while having inherited the hormonal urges from our vertebrate ancestors, we humans have also evolved culture, which should lead us to more controlled behaviors. The rise of these so-called "incels" takes us back to our more animal state.
Diva (NYC)
The assumption of this entire piece is that this redistribution of sex would be for men, and not for women. Because 99.99999% of the time, women are not raping men, demanding sex from or trolling men online threatening to rape and kill them. The idea that we should accommodate this "right to sex" that men have decided they have is outrageous. What about my "right" to an orgasm? Should I go out and mow down a bunch of men because I haven't had my share of sexual pleasure? Or should I just power up my (wifi enabled) pocket rocket and hope for a better day?? Final note to Mr. Douthat: Counter to your beliefs, conservatives do not hold the key in appreciating and desiring monogamy, marriage and/or celibacy at various points of our lives. (And our scope might also include but not be limited to, homosexuality, polyamory and S&M!) The difference is that we believe those things should be a CHOICE decided upon by each individual, not dictated and applied by one group over another.
just Robert (North Carolina)
So interesting to read the comments here. Open discussion of sexual issues is far from complete in this country though Donald Trump if he has done one thing good has set the stage for that discussion to begin. I am an old baby boomer who has found that sex can be both a blessing and a curse filled with joy, but also mine fields that can blow up in your face mostly because it is related to our deepest expectations for relationship and every emotion that we can feel as humans. The Me Too movement has taken the discussion of power and abuse which it easily becomes in our commodity oriented society to new heights. Good luck to you young people out there as you come to your own understandings about sex and life. But I suspect even with all our changes you may find it just as mysterious as those before you have found it.
Al (Ohio)
A provocative piece that really sheds light on the problem of loneliness.
Kathi Blatt Thonet (New Jersey)
Isn't the incel issue really about "I hate myself; I hate my life; it's your fault, and I'm going to punish you for it."? And isn't that the same thought process for the ex-boyfriend or ex-husband who kills the girlfriend/wife (and kids)? And the kid who goes back to school and shoots up his classmates? All these people have trouble fitting into society. Instead of seeking help, and instead of acting inwardly (and causing self-harm), they act outwardly and harm everybody else.
Columbarius (Edinburgh)
I'm so tired of this. There's an inherent theme throughout this that somehow these men are hard done by. And to a certain degree, they are. They are raised to expect a certain thing to happen and as/when it doesn't they are left feeling inadequate. There is fault here from society perpetrating a future projection for how your life will turn out. But now they are to be mollycoddled. They are not to blame for their situation. Their beliefs - that they are owed sex - should be validated and somehow, sex should be provided to appease them. Not for them the lessons all women have to relearn from an early age. That having it all is impossible, despite what we were told as little girls and we have to adjust our lives and our expectations accordingly and just get on with it. I suppose the difference is, women don't go out on killing sprees when we feel hard done. We talk about it with our friends - not to stew and vent and stoke our feelings of inadequacy, but to deal with it and move on. We do not expect the world to adjust around us, as these men have obviously been taught will happen. Patriarchy can become deadly when they realise they really that important. The solution is not to stroke their feelings of patriarchy by giving them what they believe is their entitlement. The solution is for them to adjust, deal with it and move on. I'm so tired of these societal double standards. but I'll deal with it and move on. I won't go on a killing spree.
S.R. (Cape May)
Actually, we currently have a liberal legal framework regulating sex. It's called monogamous marriage. It does not guarantee sex partners, but equalizes opportunity. If conservatives are to be consistent, then they would support government getting out of marriage. People with the most ability should be free to collect as many partners as they are able, without government restrictions.
David Miley (Maryland)
The most compelling part of RD's essay is that this group of men have been rejected by society (or at least the female half of society) and that some sort of compassion for them may be imagined. And if it were like compassion for the handicapped, the transgendered (who are not victims, Ross) and the overly large it would make some small bit of sense. But its not like that. These folks are rejected not for their looks or sexuality but because they act like ISIS recruits - threatening, domineering and filled with hate for women.
Via (Atlanta)
Anyone can have fulfilling sexual relationships, regardless of what they look like, their income or status, so long as they are loving, caring and respectful human beings. 'Incels' are not lacking sex due to some unfairness in its distribution, they're lacking sex because they're misogynists and women aren't attracted to men who hate and belittle them. To distribute sex more widely, treat more people with kindness and respect, and it will happen naturally.
CS (Ohio)
Legalize. Prostitution. Done.
Patricia (Pasadena)
He really doesn't get it about incels. They don't want sex robots. They can already hire sex workers. Prostitution may be illegal, but just like drugs, that doesn't mean it's not available. But that's not what they want. They want a live woman they can dominate and abuse, and not pay for the pleasure. There's plenty of sex out there. If these guys aren't getting any, it's because their personalities are such that most women nowadays know to stay away. And there's no robot technology that can fix that.
manfred m (Bolivia)
Although at the cost I may incur in politically incorrect thinking, prostitution (pay to play!) may resolve or at least diminish the incidence of rape and even domestic abuse, as those of us (usually men) socially shy or incompetent, even sexually repressed, may have a licit outlet. Of note, just because we see, or meet, and become enamored of somebody that is good-looking, even beautiful, does not imply that there must be reciprocity, especially if the one pretending to be loved by that individual happens to be ugly. No one said that Nature is fair in distributing beauty, hence, it is up to us to find our inner beauty and make the best of it in our social intercourse; we are sexual beings who thrive when socially integrated, and hopefully keeping loneliness at bay. If this sounds 'clear as mud' is because that's the unvarnished truth of the constant changes we must adapt to, to survive yes, but also to enjoy what's on offer; and serendipity is not to be coughed at, to be seized instead, for it's potential. And if sexual inequalities can be harnessed, and tamed, fine and dandy. Satisfaction may be in the eyes of the beholder.
Gary (Upper West Side)
l suspect there is more to being an incel than unavailability of sex. If you asked them if they would have sex with a woman they found physically repulsive, probably most would say no. So then it is more about women they are attracted to not being attracted to them. That is more about standards of beauty promulgated by various forms of media. If you asked them if they would be willing to spend time with women they aren't attracted to in order to see if they have common interests that can form the basis of a relationship, many would probably still decline. A lot of unattractive men who would answer yes to that have ended up in happy and eventually sexually fulfilling relationships. So the incel problem is probably a lot wider and more imbedded in social norms and education about relationships than being just about availability of sex in any form.
Bobotheclown (Pennsylvania)
This is one more topic that the conservative mind cannot conceivably understand. And unfortunately it has been politicized to the point where liberals instinctively raise defensive arguments that mischaracterize the issue. After all is said and done sex is a human need that instinct drives us all to engage in for reproductions sake. And it is so powerful a drive that many of us feel that it is a fundamental part of existence, one of the existential reasons that we are here. It is not surprising when the background of many of the young men who become mass murderers show that they were isolated and lonely. That they did not have a girlfriend or any type of intimate relationship with another human being. The Hefnerian proscription to preventing these types of events might be to "get them a girlfriend" under the assumption that a life with sex in it is not a life that the typical young man wants to end. As much as this idea has been mocked I think there is a grain of truth in it. Sex is a fundamental human need that one of societies oldest functions was to find a way of satisfying while preserving the order of civilization. Our modern societies seem to have trivialized this need or made it subservient to the revolution in woman's rights and the pursuit of gender equality. In the end, if this need is not met it will cause stresses that will explode somewhere. Sex robots, virtual porn, and the like are simply ways of injecting a legal pressure relief valve into a broken system.
Annie (Pittsburgh)
Did Douthat just wake up from not a decades long, but a milleniums long, sleep? Issues about the "distribution" of sex are as old as mankind. The patriarchs of the Jewish and Christian religious texts had no problem having multiple wives even while poor men in their societies were denied women and families. Such was not restricted to the western world either. An African friend lamented many years ago about the difficulties of younger sons marrying in families with many male siblings. In his tribe (and marriage between tribal groups was, until relatively recent times, almost impossible), sons were required to marry in order of age. Since the custom was for the groom's family to provide numerous gifts to the bride's family--commonly called a bride price--it could be extremely difficult for poorer families to be able to afford brides for any but the oldest one or two brothers, leaving younger sons to languish. He dropped his voice to tell me that the local sheep and goat herds came in handy for the unmarried men. I don't know, of course, if that was true or not.
Rick Morris (Montreal)
I like Mr. Douthat's writings, he challenges the reader. It's just that sometimes, as here, about half way through the piece I ask myself - what is this guy talking about? Why isn't he getting to the point? About six paragraphs in I was thinking the obvious answers to his treatise are of course tried and true prostitution and the somewhat more recent phenomenon of pornography. They are not perfect answers to the 'redistribution of sex' - but they are answers, and they have been with us for a long, long time. I find the whole incel movement to be abhorrent -no one has a right to anything other than clean air, water, safety and free health care. After that we are on our own. Sex can be found anywhere. Free or not. Incels just haven't looked hard enough and prefer to lurk with their own kind wallowing in self pity within the dark alleys of social media. The real villain in this sad saga is the internet itself, which in its echo chambers develops, incubates and fosters such radical extremist thought and allows a man such as the Toronto killer to burst forth.
John Henbest (Scottsdale AZ)
I do WISH he had the time to reflect in this article on India and China. I believe, as reported in many newspapers, because of cultural and governmental policies - there is NO hope for many men in those countries (sexually, at least). None. Honestly, I believe people should think about that for a while. It IS profoundly disturbing and something never before experienced by SO MANY men. I would love to know Ross's opinion with regards to China and India. It looks like many of the letters commenting on your article online here seem to have zero compassion for men. Absolutely none. What a shame to assume that all men are bad! People might not agree with each other's morals, but I hope most will realize that GOOD men have to STRUGGLE with zero sex. Without any access to legal, "normal', socially acceptable sex, I don't think men will be able to behave well, act well, or think well. Think about how perilous that is for a large nation generationally over sustained periods of time? -- It is an unsustainable situation. As far as human nature and history itself are concerned it is also inhuman. Unprecedented. With out some SERIOUS help (conservative-based or liberal-based) - BAD outcomes will follow. I wonder what will happen in India and China? A little fearless compassion for men would help a lot more than dishing out hatred and disgust. Help please. History is in the balance.
Tom (Maine)
Thank the stars for provocative writing! It may be the only thing that forces people to actually think nowadays. Unfortunately, barely touched in the article and comments are the ways in which the "haves" use definitions of what is normal to reinforce and increase their own privilege. Removing the cultural stigmatization of celibacy, particularly of the involuntary kind, and the sexual outlets the celibate make use of, would go a lot further toward balancing the scales. This marginalization is itself a form of violence.
George Winslow Pierce (Alaska)
This article, and a lot of the responses here, seem to argue that a person's sexual viability can and should be viewed as another person's possession. Which is flatly wrong and sickening. At its core, the issue is about respecting others, and about deserving (being worthy of) respect. It's NOT about how selfish you get to be with your money and possessions and everything that you equate with money and possessions.
Mark Siegel (Atlanta)
I hate to sound old-fashioned, but sex is neither a right nor a commodity, a product to be bought and distributed. If we treat it as such, as our culture seems to, then we degrade it. Sex is one of God’s great gifts to human beings. If we abuse it, we diminish our humanity.
Dan Someone (Chicagoland)
"This wouldn’t instantiate a formal right to sex, exactly, but if the new order worked as its revolutionary architects intended, sex would be more justly distributed than it is today." Douthat does not understand what "justly" means. "Just" doesn't mean you get what you WANT; it means you get what you HAVE A RIGHT TO. He acknowledges there is no "formal right to sex" (nor is there an informal right to sex, whatever that might mean); therefore, there can be no just or unjust distribution. The terms are meaningless.
Rw (Canada)
Visit the places where older women hang out, Ross, and ask them what "sex" used to be, especially for those of the "faith". It shouldn't come as a surprise that "sex robots and sex workers" would aptly apply to "married" women "doing their duty".
Carioca (Rio de Janeiro)
Involuntary celibacy exists among heterosexual men, heterosexual women, and among homosexual men and women. Reading this column and good chunk of the comments, a reader might be led to think the problem is exclusive to heterosexual men.
JS (New York)
Aren't property & money external things while sexual identity is inherently natural and innate to one's being? Ownership of property and money are social constructs (none of us are born with it or intrinsically own it, but we do possess our own sexuality as individuals and can do with it as we choose). Why would Robin Hanson compare these things at all as a starting point for his argument? One can argue coherently that social constructs that lead to skewed wealth endowments are worth tinkering with, but why would that logic extend to asserting the right to asserting some sort of majoritarian view on how the incidence of the sexual act should be distributed within the population via some external mechanism. I just don't see the connection at all.
chris Griffith (OK)
I'm looking at the right to sex vs the need for sex. I have a need for food. I do not have a right to food, do I? I have a need for water. Do I have a right to water? More darkly, the "right to sex" implies the right to grab some sex. Does "right to sex" mean sex on demand? Without consideration of the other? Sex is the closest, most intimate interaction between humans. Some think it so holy that they created a sacrament devoted to it. (Holy Matrimony.) For those not willing to undertake the work necessary to make oneself attractive to a potential sex partner, I'd recommend a sex worker. In nature, many a bird preens, dances and honks to attract a sex partner. Not all are successful. "The mating dance." Old but true. Perhaps these poor, ill-treated boys have forgotten that they are a partner in the dance, not the ringmaster. Sex is given. If taken, it becomes rape.
uxf (CA)
How about MDMA? It's showing promise as a treatment for severe post-traumatic stress, and it's long been known for its interpersonal enhancements. It gets some people to talk, and talk has been known to be attractive to potential sex partners - as well as helpful in getting people out of the dark, reprehensible holes that these guys are obviously wallowing in.
Concerned Mother (New York Newyork)
This isn't about sex, which in the best possible world, is about pleasure. This is about power, domination, and violence. No one has the right to someone else's body. This isn't a group: let's not elevate it. This is a sick seam of violent predators. People who prey on other people, who harm them, who insist on their own needs over the rights of others to personal autonomy, are criminals.
RLC (El Paso)
Your Christianity is showing through. This is an argument to the absurd. In the past, many women married because they had to. There were no jobs. You needed male permission to go to college (if you were allowed to matriculate). You couldn't get credit in your own name. This was as late as the 70's. Marital rape wasn't a crime. Now you don't have to marry the guy who was kind of nice to you in school, or who has a job lined up. Forgive me if I think that expanding the opportunities, sexually or otherwise, for women does not mean reducing them for men. What these men really want is a woman who will have sex with them and then vanish. That is the definition of a prostitute. Why would any woman want to be with a man who advocates for rape? This is the same old problem: men want to control women's bodies and are looking for a new way to justify it.
doug mclaren (seattle)
This is another manifestation of the male god complex, that is, that men, and only men, are endowed with god like power to decide on the life and death of others (and related matters) including the role of women. The Incels appear to act like the easily offended and sometimes vengeful gods of Greek history when they have not been worshipped correctly by the mere mortals. Deprived of what they feel is their rightful due, they complain and bicker amongst themselves and occasionally strike out in rage stoked by envy of the more powerful gods that get more than all the attention they need.
terri smith (USA)
It's never made clear in this article whether the author is saying that women also need sex. It seems more like its sex for men with the underlying assumption that this is something women provide for them. Sexism much?
Eric (Seattle)
The government just passed legislation that shut down the widely used sexual interchange on Craigslist, one that provided relief for many people of many sexual persuasions. The new laws hold venues like Craigslist to be complicit or conspiratory in illegal activity that are initiated there. Nominally, they did it to prevent sex trafficking, and I am sure that there have been many offenses listed there, but only a small fraction of Craigslist ads were exploitative. So small, that I would think the police could have actually benefitted in combatting sex trafficking by following down those leads which have surely now slunk somewhere else. Most people who listed themselves there were people who wanted sex that they couldn't find in a more normal social setting. Lots of people of all descriptions, but also a venue for the elderly and the poor, and a place for sexual experimentation and fantasy. It was also a place where people could avoid spending money on sex. Who would buy a Gucci outfit and $300 perfume, when you can have a willing partner without changing out of your sweat pants? Of course, nobody would expect the puritans in Congress to defend the right for people to find sexual partners outside of the venues you can see in a popular movie.
CM (New Jersey)
Can we harness a certain number of men to be kind and not pressure us for sex and have meaningful, deep discussions as they date us, and only have sex when we're both comfortable with it? There seem to be not enough men like this for us women who work on ourselves, educate ourselves, have hobbies and opinions. Please redistribute the good men.
Stephen S. (New York)
I’m sorry Ross, I’m not sure I follow. How exactly did the sexual revolution cause an inequitable distribution of sexual activity? Are you suggesting that, prior to woman having a choice on birth control and families actually being able to plan reproduction, all good god fearing folk had plenty of sex? Or perhaps they they didn’t know they were missing it?
Jane Mars (California)
"If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" People aren't property to be redistributed. Women aren't property to be distributed. So yes, any suggestion that our bodies should be redistributed to some guy who thinks he deserves it is, in fact, ridiculous (and that's putting it mildly).
me (US)
It will be interesting to see what happens when sex robots become mainstream, and as ubiquitous as laptops. What percentage of humans will remain with robots exclusively, and what percent will find sexual relations with robots only lacking on some deeper level? Will some never bother with a "deeper level", since robots will presumably be much less problematic than humans?
Chris (CA)
A lot of comments are positing that Douthat thinks people should have a right to another person's body ("right to sex"). That's not what he said. He's suggesting that morays and laws will be loosened to provide options for people who can't get sex except within a more transactional context, such as sex workers or robots. The "right to sex" comment refers to people supporting the "right" of those people to ask that those morays be changed (e.g., currently prostitution is illegal). Notably scandalous, however, is Douthat's equation of a "socialist" with an "intellectual eccentric." Ross -- that's a bit over the line -- socialism is only "eccentric" in the United States, and even there it is only used that way by Fox News propagandists.
JS (Seattle)
Ross, I will agree with you, that increased access to sex through legalized prostitution, sex robots, and VR, will fill the void for a lot of people. It is inevitable that these outlets will evolve to where you say they will. I remember, as a virgin 14 year old, being mesmerized by the sex scene in the original movie, West World, the woman seemed so real, but was supposed to be a cyborg, that my pubescent 1973 self was breathing heavily in the back of the theater, already contemplating the future. And now it's here.
Yeah (Chicago)
I think that by using terms like "redistributionist" , Douthat is trying to make an analogy between sexual gratification and a social safety net; "some might say" that a base level of sexual gratification is a social good that society has to provide, like a base level of nutrition or health care. Luckily, here in the US, masturbation and porn are widely available and virtually free, and to keep on with the analogy, is to sexual gratification as food stamps are to nutrition; that is, the bare minimum to get by on at best. That said, I'm more troubled by the assumption that the "incels" are driven by lust more than by misogyny; there's going to have to be robots that feel physical pain or the hurt of rejection for them to be truly satisfied.
citybumpkin (Earth)
"If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" The sort of sex Incels are interested involve people, I believe, specifically women. So, uh, I don't know, Ross, I think after the Civil War there has been something of consensus about distinguishing people and property.
Peter Aretin (Boulder, CO)
It's interesting that science fiction in general, and in particular, Blade Runner, are not referenced in this essay.
Cynthia Starks (Zionsville, IN)
I suspect you are right in your conclusion, Mr. Douthat. But I am not happy about it.
jasper (Somewhere Over the Rainbow)
Why are so many commenters railing against Douthat's championing of misogyny and the like? I believe that this Op-Ed column is pointing toward the likely future acceptance of sex-robots (NOT unwilling women, NOT sex workers) to satisfy the urges of the in-cels; a slippery slope from the current acceptance of alternative sexual lifestyles. This idea is buried in paragraph-4 but is not explicitly developed elsewhere in the essay. Jasper
jb (ok)
What a horrid picture accompanies this article. Apt in a chilling and dreadful way. It worries me for my daughter, living in a culture where so many men have the attitudes they do, where rape and murder of women form such a big part of our "entertainment" content daily and nightly. And our crime statistics, too. And not just for my daughter or sister, but for every woman--. The sense of entitlement and self-pity of many men is mortifying to me as a man and a human being. It's become clearer as I have gotten older, and lately especially. The worst of in-group-out-group dynamics and human nature, rolled into one. I don't share Douthat's sympathy for these men at all. If he, and they, had to look around leaving their houses in case a woman was lurking to grab them, or couldn't have a third beer with a pal because he might rape them and it would be considered at least partly their fault--if they lived with the strictures and blames that women do--I can only imagine how loud they'd be crying then.
Jed (El Paso)
This is an argument that should really take place among men- women have nothing to do with it. Men look to make them selves feel more powerful by bullying other men. Favorite ways are to taunt each other about sexual inadequacy, gender orientation,but also money, athletic prowess etc. When are men going to see other men as the real enemy that is responsible for their self esteem issues, as well as their diminished economic and political power instead turning it around to take it out on women who are even more disadvantaged and lacking in power?
Mrf (Davis)
How many years has it been since we, as primates , got down out of the trees and developed "civilization". Based on this read , it sure isn't long enough.
Billy (The woods are lovely, dark and deep.)
Most people crave some measure of love, trust, intimacy and sex. A robot or a doll is never going to provide the first three. It's unfortunate that authority figures that are supposed to be spreading love and trust (like the priesthood) have a reputation of abusing their positions in their own pursuit of sex. Maybe they should try the robots.
Arethusa13 (st. george, utah)
Douthat wants to turn back the clock to a time when women were the property of men, a commodity, an item of trade. He gives no credence to the abuses to which women have been subjected over centuries, denied their choices without religious or political interference. It had NOTHING to do with respect. Basta.
Dolores (Toronto)
I agree with the poster below who said that it wasn't that Incels wanted sex, they actually don't want to feel like a loser which is how they view men who don't get sex easily. Further, I don't know how much this played into what happened in Toronto but Toronto has more single women than men in all age groups except under 25 years. It's brutal for single women to meet any single men here. By the time you're my age, 55yrs, the pickings are super slim to none. After 50, they're mainly men to stay away from. The fact that the guy in Toronto couldn't engage long enough to have sex was most probably due to the fact that he was too "off" or "weird". Having said all the above, the sheer idea that any person is entitled to sex is absolutely ridiculous, hands down, no question.
Lorna Bracewell (Kearney, NE)
Conservatives have been raising the specter of "sexual redistribution" to discredit leftist arguments for economic redistribution for hundreds of years. Seriously, this schtick is so old that Marx and Engels even address it directly in The Communist Manifesto (1848). Their response then stands the test of time: "But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the bourgeoisie in chorus. The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women. He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production."
Patricia (Pasadena)
There's a great movie on this exact topic that Ross might want to see. "Cherry 2000," starring Melanie Griffith in one of the first real action roles for women. This movie hits every topic expressed here. The loopy rage of controlling white men, the transactional nature of sex, the crucial importance of finding a life partner who can truly have your back in this often-cruel world. Plus loads of post-apocalyptic social commentary and fun. Basic idea: A guy goes off into the post-apocalyptic wilderness to find a replacement chassis for his shorted-out sex robot. But he needs the help of a real live woman to complete his mission. It's streaming in the obvious places.
Ro Mason (Chapel Hill, NC)
Things get complicated when sex is demanded as part of a package including respect. One incel I know of raped women; he felt he deserved their love. He also felt they did not respect him as much as he deserved. Failing to win sexual love, he took it by force. This is crime. Therapy might help the situation of such a man. If he had known how to win love, he would not have been angry, and if he had not been angry, he would not have been a predator.
Purity of (Essence)
Women are extremely choosy when it comes to men, and there are more males born then females. Invariably, there will be men who would like to have sex who will not be having sex, assuming they remain law-abiding. The marketplace for love is as brutal as any other winner-take-all marketplace, and some men will inevitably lose. I find it somewhat amusing how men are portrayed as these oppressive beasts yet it is women who hold nearly all the power when it comes to the one thing that matters most of all in this world: reproduction. It makes sense why many men wouldn't want to give up their economic privileges; they do that and they will lose their greatest advantage in the contest for love, which is their ability to trade resources for access to women. Contrary to the posts here that claim that these men aren't having sex because they are incapable of an emotional connection I find that even the most emotionally stunted and misogynistic men can have lots of sex as long as they are either good-looking or rich. The truth is that most women don't care about an emotional connection, they're just looking for good genes or a big bank account.
SandraH. (California)
I doubt that the violence perpetrated by incels like the Toronto terrorist has any more to do with sex than the rape committed by the rapist. If it were possible to assuage hatred of women with sex with a robot, I'd be all for it. I don't think that's why incels hate women and the men who date them. I suspect these individuals are enraged by their lack of a relationship--with a woman, but also with other humans in general. They're isolated and depressed, and they turn their anger outward rather than against themselves. I don't think a robot will be much help. Universal mental health coverage would be more useful.
Antikat (St. Louis)
I think it is worth pointing out that people do already have a right to sex — the kind they perform by themselves. I also think it’s very strange that the same men who imagine they have a potential right to someone else’s body get so excited about things like taxes and property rights. How can you not respect a person’s right to their own body and yet imagine rich people paying estate taxes or certain people losing their guns to be a terrible violation? The answer to that, of course, is that many people naturally sympathize with those positions they believe benefit them and not others, although they mask this, even from themselves, with more socially acceptable reasons. Incidentally, sometimes I wonder if this writer is just trolling us. It’s hard to believe he would really want to see the ideas he proposes enacted in society.
JPL (Northampton MA)
"By this I mean that as offensive or utopian the redistribution of sex might sound, the idea is entirely responsive to the logic of late-modern sexual life, ..." Hardly utopian. It fits perfectly with the logic of the capitalist market economy. To date, sex has been commodified and marketed illicitly in prostitution, and licitly in marriage, or at least in marriage in its "traditional" form, i.e. heterosexual, though more recently in variety of manifestations. Now, the opportunity presents itself to market sex as pure machine delivered product. The commercial possibilities for the massive crorporations already managing so much of our daily lives are chilling.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
A "populist" is not the opposite of a "socialist", Ross. Bad English!
cheryl (yorktown)
The "incels" and anyone else can "have sex," they just cannot make other people have it with them. I believe in redistribution of income in order that people have at least a certain baseline of needs met. That doesn't imply that anyone and everyone is entitled to move into my house. Nor does it mean that you get the car of your dreams etc. And you do not get to use someone else's body because you want sex. You are being provocative using the "incel" violence as a springboard - but altho' the term was foreign to me, the type of individual isn't. You are ignoring this group's fear and hatred of women. As socially inept as the are they have manage glom onto one big social message from their chosen media: women can be used like objects. AND that a woman who is attractive, or dresses attractively, is, as they ( men, police, society) used to say: asking for it, and therefore has no right to turn them down. This has little to do with the logic of commerce. Sex robots. Fine. Prostitution - it should be made legal, and safer for the prostitutes. For self-identified incels, robots would extend their private distorted worldview, probably making them less able to relate to human beings. And thus angrier. Would this make them less or even more volatile and angry with real women? Do you really think that the guy who mowed down women in Toronto was just sexually frustrated at that moment and that if only he had a robot for sex his rage would have dissipated? I do not.
NSH (Chester)
This is such a good point. It is not as if they do not have access to orgasms. They do. Intimacy requires consent.
Camilla (New York, NY)
I would be curious about how this observation and line of thinking relates to prostitution or other professional sexual services. If prostitution was legal, could anyone hire a prostitute? Would non-discrimination laws as they relate to disabilities or race in the provision of services apply? Some of these questions were probed in the movie The Sessions with Helen Hunt, where she plays a sex therapist for a disabled man. I assume that incels don’t want to pay for sex, but would their position change if it was an option?
PaulN (Columbus, Ohio, USA)
For men, paying for sex to sex workers is incomparably cheaper than to wives/mistresses/girlfriends and such. It might be different for women.
Nick (Arizona)
Regarding the suggestion that "sex is really all about power", my thought is: well, what's the purpose of power? We evolved with social power hierarchies; individuals (often males) competed to get to the top. And what was the reward for getting to the top? More access to mates (i.e. more sex). So of course feelings of power and feelings of sexual satisfaction go together. I'd say it's human nature, but its even deeper than that (watch any nature documentary). Of course, as humans we are not beholden to our biological needs. We also have higher level brain functions that give us moral and cultural frameworks to work with. But that doesn't mean our biological impulses can be eradicated. Things tend to work out best for everyone (men and women) when we find ways to satisfy our biological needs that are also compatible with our moral ideals.
Iberia (México)
In the world there have been many changes which bring consequences that sometimes we can not tolerate or manage.
Christopher Carrington (San Francisco)
As is his wont, once again Mr. Douthat regales us with a dreamy-eyed nostalgia for the good old days where monogamy, chastity and celibacy ruled the roost and allegedly kept " isolation and unhappiness and sterility" at bay. There's one key problem with this constant longing for the past and denigration of the present Mr. Douthat, and that is that there is little real scientific evidence that it's true. One example proves the point. The supposed 'isolation' you imagine among Americans has been measured for decades using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a scale consisting of six separate loneliness indicators (Clark, Loxton & Tobin, "Declining Loneliness over Time...", Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, (41): 78-89, 2015). And what does the scale reveal about loneliness (i.e., 'isolation') over time? We are far from lonely and growing less lonely every year. Further, are we really less happy? Hardly. Just one measure proves the point, the suicide rate. Even with the recent rise of the American suicide rate in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the actual rate is 1/3 lower than it's peaks in the earlier 20th century, back in the days when 'monogamy, chastity and celibacy' held their cherished positions in the American sexual and social culture. Progress is a real thing Mr. Douthat, and no amount of historical revisionism nor sepia-toned nostalgia will ever prove as good as the real thing of reducing loneliness, increasing sexual liberation, and making people happier.
me (US)
Christopher: Speak for yourself. Just because you, personally, are not lonely it doesn't mean that no one is. Also, just because you think monogamy and committed relationships are boring and "white bread", it doesn't mean that they don't fulfill other people emotionally. There is a world outside of your bubble.
larry (New Jersey)
Attempting to avoid the inherent gender inequality issues, (good luck with that) Duothat is basically saying that in the market place of sexual relations, society has in fact influenced the market. And shouldn't we attempt to do something about it? Be it glamour narratives, promotion of status, the aggrandizement of wealth, or other factors, he's trying to say that these are societally influenced. In left leaning circles, status might take different forms, like level of education, level of positive social improvement engagement or ideological purity tests. Left or Right leaning, high status is nonetheless clearly linked to sexual attractiveness. And then he makes the case that isn't at least the idea of how society influences the market of sexual relations a topic worth considering? Maybe. But the age-old trifecta of the attractiveness of physical beauty, status and wealth are not new market forces. They seem to be inherent, and quite possibly even innate to human beings. It would seem that attempting a sexual redistribution by the social engineering of the influences that drive sexual availability is akin to engineering human nature itself. Aspirational at best, but hardly practical in any meaningful way.
Eleanor (Switzerland)
There are so many logical fallacies in the columnist's arguments that it is hard to know where to start. But let's start by quoting him: "There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate." With this quote, Mr. Douthat tries to culturally appropriate the position that monogamy and chastity are solely conservative values. This is far from the truth! I know plenty of people who are progressive, atheists, highly educated and very engaged in a diversity of meaningful, high achieving professions who do not believe in the kind of cheap and commercialised sexual relationships promoted by low-value media. Contrariwise, many progressives and liberals value human relationships so much that they believe in freedom of choice based on the full respect of other people as whole human beings, not as sexual objects. From these positions stems the fact that sexual relationships are reserved for long-term, monogamous partnerships. So, it is absolutely not true that monogamy is a conservative value. It is a value endorsed by many liberals, but the latter do not base monogamy on religious belief, rather on a belief in human dignity.
me (US)
Eleanor: I live in the US, and I pretty much agree with Mr. Douthat's view on who values commitment in relationships and who doesn't. I wish I didn't think he is correct, but I do.
NSH (Chester)
Hmm, I live in the US and certainly conservatives use marriage as a cover for sex more than liberals but they don't value commitment or friendship within marriage more, that I am sure. There is definitely a sense that both partners are not equal partners that I see again and again in conservative circles.
earthgve 21st (Portland,OR)
Me Here in Oregon I have to disagree with you in the US. Having always been a progressive liberal and surrounded by family members of the same, we believe in monogamy and human dignity so I would love to hear why you think you can speak for me and mine.
Joshua (Houston)
The thing traditionalists like Douthat never acknowledge is the role played by market capitalism in the evolution of social customs. In a world where profitable self-interest is the only applicable virtue, it is fundamentally impossible to maintain the old traditional paradigms. Religious institutions and conservatives could exploit the atheism of the Soviets to marshal the masses into maintaining the old social order. But it was never going to last. A society that exalts material wealth will not be satisfied to practice self-denial for our carnal temptations. Feminism, the Pill, no-fault divorce...these are all consequences of a society that prizes material comfort and convenience. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just different. Bad in some ways and liberating in others
Mary (undefined)
Thanks for mansplaining hard won female rights, like the control of fertility and sex life via birth control pills - because males can't seem to figure out condoms; feminism that is simply equal rights; and no-fault divorce that allowed women to escape dreadful marriages without having to prove (to a male judge) the husband was unfaithful - because abuse and rape had not been enough of a reason.
Stephen (Phoenix, AZ)
It is about sex or companionship? If a guy has stable job and is in good physical shape he should be able to find sexual partners. Long term companionship and children is a different story. Women are increasingly able to provide for themselves and therefore have higher expectations. This, combined with the female propensity to marry around their economic/social class or above, creates a dynamic where more women are competing for the same number of men who do not evaluate partners the same way. In other words, making more money doesn't make women more attractive. That's the other side of the coin. It creates an interesting social dynamic of low status men with little long term prospects and more women frustrated they can't, "find their equal." You see this dynamic play out in the NYT.
Nikki (Islandia)
True, although looking around it seems like this is beginning to change among the younger (millennials and later) generations. Younger men are definitely more comfortable with having female partners who make more than they do, and some of the women are becoming more okay with it too as long as the male shares more of the child care and housekeeping work. There is also more recognition that jobs in the current economy are vulnerable, and the person who's making more today may not be doing so tomorrow.
Star Gazing (New Hampshire)
This is not much about money or earning power! I was married to a man who was making 2 or 3 times my salary, but the issue was the education and culture. Some women need a man who is at least their equal in terms of education and intelligence. Does it make any sense or is it fair? God knows.
Wherever Hugo (There, UR)
Sex drive is programed into all us human beings....simply to guarantee procreation, a continuance of the species....and its kinda random. Accidents happen, unexpected mutations happen. The bone wreck bull jumps the fence and impregnates the other farmer's prize cow. On and on and on. Sex is fun and enjoyable, granted.....but lets not kid ourselves, sex is designed to come with a GIANT hitch......babies happen. And that is the meaning of sex. Sex robots and the like are just more of our "clever" male tricks designed to help us avoid the inevitable baby...and the work that it takes to modify our natural state long enough to impress a suitable female companion, who is likely on an equal if not greater mental plane.
C Langille (Pacifica, Ca)
Douthat’s mentality perfectly highlights the thankfully dying old school male point of view. Everyone and every idea is ‘labeled’ in some narrow boring jingoistic way. Douthat’s misogynistic Catholic slant permeates his misguided view of women and women’s sexuality. He can’t understand how off putting his views are toward women-and sexually healthy men. Well, I do. I don’t appreciate using misleading titillating information about incels to gain readership.
David Gustafson (Minneapolis)
Aside from the creepy fact that this artlcle seems to have the underlying subtext of "woman as commodity," ever notice that when conservative intellectuals write about sex, their writing feels like it was put on paper with the aid of a dozen or more thesauri? Even William Buckley would have advised toning down the polysyllabics on this one.
Eva Lockhart (Minneapolis)
Hah! Awesome! Especially the last line!
Abe Jacobson (Bellingham, WA)
Mr. Douthat, do you have nothing more significant to write about?
Stephen C. Rose (Manhattan, NY)
Hurt and harm are the issue of evil actions. Self-pleasuring is not evil but obtaining pleasure by force is. Ethics consists in preventing harm. If this also involves aiming at truth and beauty in ones' actions we are approaching goodness. Actions and expressions that wind up anywhere else add to the weight of wrongdoing in the world.
LM (New York)
The idea that we would consider a theoretical right to sex because a few men can't handle their incel condition before we even address the fact that the vast majority of women's sexual desires/sexual health are currently grossly under-prioritized, if considered at all, is really something else. How about this for economics... You want a right to sex? Why don't you just try making the offer better for your intended lover? It's a simple cost/benefit analysis: increased risks of pregnancy, pain, abuse, societal shame, costs associated with sexual health... and for what? No orgasm? Hah. Seems to me the anger should be targeted at the people who make sex for women way more costly than its worth. Fix the sexual structure for women, more sex will be had. This is not even addressing the fact that sex is seriously not as enjoyable for many women than the men who are having sex with them. And you don't see women lashing out... Why don't we do a thought experiment on what a world it would be if sex were more enjoyable for women than it were for their male counterparts? That's just way too hard to imagine, I suppose.
TrueBlueMajority (Boston, MA)
<<Why don't we do a thought experiment on what a world it would be if sex were more enjoyable for women than it were for their male counterparts? That's just way too hard to imagine, I suppose. >> That is so far outside the realm of human imagination that even science fiction has never considered it!
Baszposaune (Texas)
My brain rebels at most of Ross’ columns. This one burns.
Allison (Marin County, CA)
That you are giving this twisted platform any normalization is beyond horrifying. And NYT...shame on you as well. Unreal.
Dana Lawrence (Davenport, IA)
How was this ever published? First, people can already have all the sex they want, so long as they have it with themselves. Second, they have no right, ever, to another person's body, ever. Third, the three points you posit as fact are nothing but opinion, not backed up by any evidence. And fourth, a sex robot is nothing more than another means to masturbation, which people can do without the need for technology. It will not solve Incel culture any more than anything else in this vile article. Chastity and monogamy will not solve any problem of men who think that they have a right to a woman's body. I am appalled at the Times for this.
Mr. Grieves (Nod)
The irony of all this is conservatives promote women’s “chastity” as sacred while focusing (relatively) little on men’s virginity. The result is a culture in which women are conditioned to guard their sexuality while men use it as a status indicator (i.e., more partners = more “alpha”). And if a woman is deemed to have too many sexual partners, these same men are the first to shame her as a “slut.” It’s a no-win situation for women.
Anne (Portland)
They are pro-chastity for women yet men have a right to sex. It's pretty maddening.
MA yankee (Berkshires, MA)
In James Gilligan’s book titled Violence, Dr. Gilligan, a psychiatrist who has worked with incarcerated criminals, states that in his experience, humiliation - feeling disrespected - is the motivation for most violence. The Incels’ gripe is not just that they are not getting sex, but that they feel spurned by women, ergo, they hate women. So it’s not just lack of sex, because after all porn is widely available, as is masturbation. What really rankles them seems to be more that the feel they are seen and treated with contempt.
DW (Philly)
"The Incels’ gripe is not just that they are not getting sex, but that they feel spurned by women, ergo, they hate women." I think you're right it's about humiliation and feeling they're treated with contempt, but it's not by women. They feel humiliated by other men. They view themselves as in competition with other men and other men are winning. Women are objects in this worldview, not people.
Lee (KY)
Incels don’t want just sex. They want sex with attractive virgins. A good portion of their message boards are dedicated to deriding “sluts.” So sex workers and sex robots aren’t going to fix the problem. Besides who would send sex workers to a group of men that literally hate women and want to kill women? Sex workers already have more than their fair share of awkward weirdos to entertain.
Danielle Bakhazi (Montreal)
It is deeply disturbing that the author is using this crazed man’s act of violence and cruelty as a platform to shed light on his pet cause. I suppose viciously running over innocent pedestrians is a convenient way to win Douthat’s attention. And to think that the big idea buried beneath the Latin catchphrases and philosopher name dropping, presented as a dangerously taboo suggestion; the brilliantly proposed solution for the disenfranchised incel (and implicitly, dare I hope) the dead and maimed VICTIMS of his sexual frustration iiiissss: traditional marriage values and celibacy. Wow why didn’t anyone think of that before? We were too taken with revolutionary fervour to notice its spotless record against sexual inequality and violence. Feminists have been tirelessly proposing healthier perspectives on sex and sexuality for all people since the dawn of time. If you want solutions to this wretched man’s struggle you might spend more time with some of that vast body of debate, and less time between ‘traditional values’ and the vilest corners of the online manosphere. There’s no genius in these forums (wild analogies to brexit and egalitarian principles notwithstanding). There is fury and hatred and helpless desperation. They need help unlearning their absurd and painfully common beliefs, not glory, not a dressed up amplification of their ill conceived grievances, and certainly not a doubling down on the status quo.
M (Texas)
I'm all for sex robots, but I find this article lacking in 2 regards: 1) Prostitution already exists and - even in places where it's not legal - it's not prohibitively difficult to access. Masturbation, we should remember, exists as well. The problem with incels is not that they can't find a way to get off. It's that they've never had the validation that comes from being desired by another human person. Losing your virginity - to a human who was not compensated for their efforts! - is the main rite of passage in our society (witness every teen movie ever). Sex robots are not going to change that. 2) More importantly, we should make a distinction between "male virgins" and "incels." I (a woman) have spent a lot of time on the incel subreddit out of morbid curiosity. These people's problem is not just that they're virgins. They have an unbelievably warped and disgusting view of what women are and what they "owe" men. It's truly chilling to read. There's a will to violence and domination there that I don't think would be satisfied just by getting laid -- maybe if it had happened when they were 17, but not anymore. However I have no reason to believe that all male virgins share these beliefs and definitely don't think we should push them into the incel camp by further stigmatizing male virginity!
Rebecca (USA)
Agreed. When you look and find the incel creed as this: 1)She didn't choose me. I'm angry! Then they jump to 2)no woman should be allowed to choose her sexual partner. Which ends in 3)women deserve no rights, rape is fair game. Stay far away, they have a criminal mental illness.
Sibling (Iowa)
Comparing sex redistribution to income redistribution is a cute pastime for an economist. But taxing someone’s income is a far cry from mandating sex. The brilliant economist Robin Hansen is surely familiar with search theory in which searchers move through the quality spectrum till a match is found. In this matching-theory framework, no sex redistribution is necessary. Incels just need to move down the attractiveness scale in search of their mate. There is an abundance of less physically gifted ladies who would appreciate some love and care and good companionship.
Donovan (NYC)
The solution for the malaise of extremely misogynist males who can't get laid is... sex robots??? Like the famous sex dolls of yore who offered, and this is an exact quote from the old ads, "three entrances of love"? Have you looked into today's sex bots, Mr. Douthat? They do not bode well for human females. Today's sex bots look like luscious, dainty, underage, ultra-femme hotties with baby-doll faces; swollen-lipped, always receptive mouths; long hair; "fully-functioning realistic looking genitals;" & of course gigantic breasts. Thanks to modern electronics, all their orifices can do amazing things to the males our species. What's more, there's big demand right now for ultra-girly-looking sex robots that offer all the features just listed as well as functioning, realistic male genitals. Yup, the current fad is for femme-looking sex robots that have breasts, vaginas, penises & testicles. Marketed as "transgender," these robots put a new spin on the notion of "having it all." https://nypost.com/2018/01/12/transgender-sex-robots-are-coming-to-a-bed... https://sputniknews.com/asia/201804091063351213-sex-robots-china/ Also, the idea of sex dolls as the answer to the alienation of modern-day men was addressed & debunked 45 years ago. By the wonderfully weird Roxy Music song "In Every Dream Home A Heart Ache" from 1973 written by brilliant Bryan Ferry. (I tried to include a link to it on YouTube but keep getting an error message.)
Jenny (St. Paul)
Anyone can have as much sex as they want—with themselves. This isn’t about true sexual frustration. No ones hands are being tied behind their back to prevent masturbation and orgasm. That I would have sympathy for. And I feel people have a right to masturbation and orgasm. Thank god for it! No one has a right to use another person’s body for their own gratification. I can’t believe we’re even having a serious discussion about this. Men need to make clear to incels: not cool. Get over it. Change yourself if you want a girlfriend.
William Plumpe (Redford, MI)
I have always thought it smarter and wiser that if you are really horny and don't have a willing partner available don't disrespect or be angry at somebody else either pay for sex with somebody else---with all the risks involved---or be truly independent and take care of it yourself. Sex with somebody else is almost always better but is riskier and usually costs a lot more in money or emotion or respponsibility. The value of masturbation as a viable sexual choice is vastly under rated. and there is a particular stigma usually associated with it.
Qui (Anchorage)
This is quite a mind bender. I can't quite believe something so sympathetic to these absolutely twisted sickos has been published here. Incels need to learn the things women have been told since time immemorial: You are stupid. You are fat. You are worthless. You need to lower your expectations. And perhaps Ross Douhat needs to hear the same regarding his inane scribbling. You, sir, are not a 10. Maybe a 2 on your best day.
Lauren (NYC)
There are plenty of physically "ugly" people who find love or at least sex and live fulfilling lives, so incels' inability to get laid is their own fault. It's interesting that people who don't think health care or education is a basic human right are completely willing to distribute vaginas--free, paid, or robotic--to the most unappealing element of our society. New York Times--what has happened to the Old Gray Lady? Why are you running opinion pieces that dehumanize women? Are you THAT desperate for clicks? I am so horrified that you ran this. Women are not merely vaginas that men have a right to.
Kestenbaum (Ann Arbor, MI)
People of my generation (Baby Boomers) are not really understanding how online dating and other new forces have reshaped the world of relationships and sex for today's young people. Most couples nowadays meet through web sites and apps these days, environments where quality of physical appearance is the overwhelmingly dominant threshold consideration, ahead of all others. That's fantastic for attractive people, but catastrophic for those whose positive traits don't show up well in a thumbnail photo. I urge y'all to pay attention, not to the small number of self-labeled incels whose bitterness has festered into ideological misogyny, but to the millions despairing young men (so-called FA's, for Forever Alone) who long for any kind of connection. Contrary to what some have written here, these men are not unwilling to commit to relationships, rather, they undermine themselves by being TOO eager to commit. What woman would be willing to accept a date with a man who is pathetically desperate for her to say "yes"? An online commentator who calls himself Robot Ghost wrote: "Loneliness is unattractive. That is possibly the cruelest fact I know. Need is repulsive…. The need itself makes it harder to fulfill that need." Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy tells us that loneliness is a growing threat to public health, because lonely people are far more likely to become seriously ill. This is a situation that calls for compassion, not a leap to the barricades.
NSH (Chester)
And are you claiming women don't fall into this as well? Of course not. The difference women compromise and don't expect the hottest guy. Men still expect the hot young girl, no matter what they look like, or how old they are. Plus, you can always ask someone you meet out.
Phyllis (Maine)
Want to bet these guys spent a ton of time online and gaming when they were younger? They have difficulty with the ladies because they have not developed socially and they act repulsive. Greater efforts at socializing on a continuous basis are needed.
Andrew Jenkins (Portland)
I think it would be great if NYT actually explained the incels/MGTOW/TRP/MRAs correctly. They are all very different, but the central tenants have not been correctly explained.
Ana (NYC)
What we in developed countries call a "right to sex" is more like a "right to marry in order to have sex" in countries with surplus males (China, India) and/or huge numbers of unemployed young men (many African and Middle- and Near-Eastern countries). There are all sorts of unpleasant consequences for the rest of society when men can't afford to form families.
Jeff (New york)
In order for Russ to honestly investigate this issue and understand the root cause, the first thing he needs to stop doing is improperly giving the Christian portrayal of sexuality the position of being correct by default. The historical record regarding celibacy and it’s somewhat not surprising ill effects (priest predatory issues, nun pregnancy filling orphanages, adultery, etc) are quite clear. Regarding pornography, if it were responsible for inciting sexual crimes, wouldn’t they be going through the roof at this point? Well they aren’t, they continue to decline as access to porn gets easier. Much more likely that restricting access to sexual material causes sexual crimes, no matter how much nosey neighbors like Russ hate this fact. The battle in American continues to be between those who believe this is a free country and people should be able to do what they want with their own lives, and those who want a theocracy with restrictions on the lives of average Americans that don’t apply to the special classes like catholic priests. In other words, these people share a worldview very similar to the same middle eastern nations they make us spend all our tax dollars on military to defend against.
Mary (undefined)
The number of sex crimes against girls and women has not declined. Anywhere. They are on the increase and gaining in volatility, as well as more pack sex crimes - gang rapes.
Observer of the Zeitgeist (Middle America)
I think Douthat's point is that if there is an argument for the redistribution to those who try hard but face structural and societal impediments to financial achievement, there is an argument that there should be a redistribution of other important things to those who face structural and societal impediments. But you know what? I don't anticipate lots of good-looking and sexually active people rushing out to have sex with incels and/or those to whom they are not attracted,even if those people have good structural and socially-constructed reasons for their predicaments. (After all, it is hard to blame someone for a character defect that acquired before he even knew how to spell the word "bad parenting," "socialization," or "personality disorder"). Those arguing for financial redistribution might want to reconsider if what they really want is equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.
smirow (Philadelphia)
I'm very surprised at the lack of a historical perspective as well as a comparison with other social systems Both China & India have great imbalances between their male & female populations that have been noted as creating disruptions to their societies; too many single men with no possibility of mating does not make for a stable society The legend of the founding of Rome is that the Romans kidnapped the Sabine women to deal with the lack of sufficient women A number of historians have theorized that one of the reasons the Vikings raided was because there were too many men to be matched with the number of available women So why should one believe that all will be well with those men in North America who are involuntary celibate? If people were not hard wired to mate & reproduce, modern humans would have gone extinct long ago The real questions are what to do with those who have been unable to find mates & how can they receive whatever help is needed without self-identifying as a loser - which is an obstacle to one needing help seeking help As to those who address this column with talk about consent; they are oblivious to the real problem attempted to be addressed. It was there in the past & is present today. Ignore it at your own peril
CA Meyer (Montclair Nj)
0bsession with sex takes people to strange places, and so it is with Ross Douthat, who ventures into the cyber worlds of Icels and loopy bloggers. A “right to sex” odd topic for Douthat to take up, considering he favors limiting the rights to sexual activity of healthy consenting adults, never mind persons who can’t find partners. The The idea that access to sex partners should somehow be equalized or redistributed sounds like a provocative notion libertarians would use to argue against redistribution of wealth as a means to address high economic inequality. Of course, sex, unlike food, shelter, education, and health care is not essential to a dignified human existence. Some sort of government or societal effort to ensure access to sex by promoting sex robots or human sex workers more resembles a Philip K Dyck story than a real future. As usual, Douthat sees a solution in a return to traditional sexual morality, as if unequal access to sexual partners was invented by Hugh Hefner. There have always been men who can’t find partners, whether due to shyness, poor social skills, unrealistic expectations, or character problems. Thanks to the internet, we hear about them. In addition, growing economic inequality and diminishing economic prospects for men also contribute to problems finding and maintaining relationships, but you won’t hear conservatives like Douthat talk much about that.
Mary (undefined)
More American females are going to college than American males, but there are still just as many poor females as poor males - few of whom seem to have constrained sex lives given the number of babies they produce.
Mystic Spiral (Somewhere over the rainbow)
Oh lordy..... face it people humans are just slightly more advanced animals. In the animal kingdom I'm pretty sure you won't find *any* hierarchy that provides the opportunity for all males to mate - indeed in most it is the minority of males that ever even get the opportunity. Why should human males expect to be so special and different?
Robert W. (San Diego, CA)
"and the special respect owed to the celibate." There is a bit of romanticizing the past here. The celibate priest always had respect, so did the virgin Mary, to give examples from western culture, and celibate monks had special respect in other cultures. On a worldly level, young maidens had vastly more respect is they were virgins (not as much young men). But let me ask you this- how much respect is implied in the bygone expression "Old maid?" Not much, in fact, in was almost a term of derision. That respect for the celibate was for the otherworldly, priests, religious entities, and the young (and available, however theoretically). But if the expression "Old maid" doesn't arouse as much respect in your mind as "Innocent young maiden," there's a reason. The old maid was as pitiable then as she is now.
Robert (Seattle)
Arguing that one person has a right to sex is roughly the same as arguing that another person must be compelled to supply that sex. In short, there is not and cannot be any such right. That is a plain-as-day, unemotional, intellectual response to Mr. Hanson's proposal. I disagree strongly with Ross's notion that the right to sex is "characteristic of a recurring pattern in liberal societies." Sorry, Ross. The right to sex by some men is characteristic of "The Handmaid's Tale." Moreover, the correlation between misogyny of this kind and racism, terrorism and mass shootings is too strong to ignore. It isn't a universal problem that the sexes aren't relating to one another. It is a specific problem. It is right wing young males who are not relating. Women are no longer second class citizens who must submit to them. Funny. The "Hefnerian" thing that Ross mentions doesn't exist where I live, in the most liberal zip code in the country. Only conservative brains are still thinking of that. Liberals do not look down on the ideas of monogamy, chastity and permanence, though Ross suggests otherwise. We believe everybody has the right to choose how they themselves wish to live. The rightwing fixation on legal sex work is misguided. Most of the young women or men who do it are addicts, impoverished, homeless, victims of sex trafficking, and victims of violence or domestic abuse.
me (US)
First, you miss the point that sex robots can replace human females, meaning fewer human females would be pressured to have sex or even be seen as "sex objects". Beyond that, I agree with Mr. Douthat that liberals, especially millennial liberals DO look down on ideas of monogamy, chastity and permanence. And older liberals go along with them in an effort to seem young and trendy.
W Richard Stark Professor, retired (Mathematics, University of South Florida, Tampa)
There are the laws of Humanity and the laws of Nature, but few see the difference. Our ideas on Justice may have no meaning in Nature, but they are essential to Humanity. The Survival of the Fittest is the first law of Nature; it makes no sense to debate it; attractive people are, by definition, attractive. I admit that we have tinkered with SotF, but keep in mind that this is not our domain.
Dsmith (NYC)
Actually, the idea of “Survival of the fittest” IS debatable: I like to refer to Franz de Waal’s research in the higher apes, who proposes other survivability strategies such as “Survival of the kindest”
Renee Rufeh (New York, NY)
The author is missing the real point. Prostitutes and various methods of auto-erotica already exist. Nothing can replace being desired by another human being. Nothing. And that desire has zero to do with politics. Men who can't control their reaction to rejection is need *mental health intervention*, not contrived essays from academia.
me (US)
We don't know yet if your third sentence is true. And it could be true for some, but not true for others.
Dsmith (NYC)
Please remember that Mental health intervention is ALSO from academia.
Rudy Flameng (Brussels, Belgium)
Actually, in my country a debate has started, haltingly and awkwardly, about the "right to sex" of people who would, because of physical or mental disabilities, be unlikely to get any. This is a quite serious debate within the framework of our comprehensive public health insurance and social services system. It starts from the acceptance and recognition that the desire for sex is -almost- universal and that even those who are not mobile or incapable to communicate easily are subjected to it. In an effort to alleviate this desire, it may be advisable to facilitate access to sex. We don't have an answer yet, but the point made by Mr. Douthat is not moot.
T (Denver)
There already are people that do this, called “sex surrogates.” Granted, they are few and far between, but their job is to fill this role for people who would otherwise be unlikely to find sexual partners. There was a movie made about this a few years ago, called The Sessions, if anyone is interested in learning more about it. However, there’s a difference between finding a sex partner, and finding a long-term companion. Men who consistently spew hate and degrading comments about women are unlikely to find someone who will put up with them for the long term. I had a man once tell me that he found doing housework emasculating. Unsurprisingly, he struggled mightily to find a woman who wanted to date him.
ironyman (Long Beach, CA)
The Robin Miller essay reads like a long form question on the Voigt-Kampff test. Anyone who reacts to it with less than complete outrage has failed.
S. Richey (Augusta, Montana)
As an admittedly not total, but still partial, means of addressing this issue, I recommend following the model currently established in the rural counties of the state of Nevada: that prostitution be legalized, licensed, regulated, inspected, and taxed with zoning laws for brothel districts enacted. The benefits of adopting this policy are several. First, those incels who are not averse to paying for sex would have access to relief in a way that would not endanger or abuse women. Second, the women involved would *not* be victims of degradation but would in fact be co-equal partners in a business transaction over which they would have ultimate control. Third, human trafficking and other criminal activities that inevitably arise where prostitution is illegal would diminish. Fourth, prostitutes (who would properly become "sex workers") could openly unionize and openly work toward obtaining for themselves recognition of their right to safe, sanitary, secure working conditions. To state what should be obvious, women who consider themselves to be incels could hire the services of male sex workers according to the economic laws of supply and demand.
Billy (The woods are lovely, dark and deep.)
It's not just about sex. It's about touching, intimacy, love and companionship. Sex is both a side benefit of the above and one contributor to a fulfilling life of love and family. Sex is a proxy. It's love that should be more widely distributed. (Curious that a priest would not seem to understand this) My recommendation to incels would be to learn to cook. For 2.
Robert (Seattle)
Arguing that one person has a right to sex is the same as arguing that another person must be compelled to supply that sex. In short, there is not and cannot be any such right. That is a plain-as-day, unemotional, intellectual response to Mr. Hanson's proposal. I disagree strongly with Ross's notion that the right to sex is "characteristic of a recurring pattern in liberal societies." The so-called right to sex by the "involuntary celibates" is characteristic of "The Handmaid's Tale." Moreover, the correlation between misogyny of this kind and racism, terrorism and mass shootings is too strong to ignore. It isn't a universal problem that the sexes aren't relating to one another. It is a specific problem for one sub-population. It is rightwing young males who are not relating. And women are no longer second class citizens who must submit to them. The "Hefnerian" thing that Ross mentions here and in prior columns simply doesn't exist where I live, in the most liberal zip code. It is a conservative thing! Liberals do not look down on the ideas of monogamy, chastity and permanence, though Ross suggests otherwise. We believe everybody has a right to choose how they wish to live. The rightwing fixation on legal sex or pornography work is misguided and wrongheaded. At present, most of the young women who do it are addicts, impoverished, victims of domestic abuse, compelled by violence and fear.
Brian (Indiana)
>Arguing that one person has a right to sex is the same as arguing that another person must be compelled to supply that sex. >In short, there is not and cannot be any such right. Exactly. Just like there can be no right to healthcare for the exact same reason.
RoadKilr (Houston)
'Widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility...' are what some people experience when you achieve a negative birthrate. Perhaps Mr. Douthat is too young to remember that overpopulation was the 'climate change' of the 70s and 80s. It was solved ... women's education and careerism did it. World population will top out at 9 billion at 2050, and reach down to 4 billion by 2100, some population experts say. It's better to have some loneliness than pandemics, famine, and death. Learn to be happy about it!
Mary (undefined)
World populations will continue to skyrocket past 12 billion. Already 7.6 billion is unsustainable and comes with 2/3 poverty, crime, degradation of 3 billion females, continual bloody religious wars and sub-saharan military regimes driving immigration to Europe and the UK, with the equivalent high breeders from South and Central America to the U.S. and Canada. The largest demographic today is millennials - all in their prime breeding years. Because. Math.
Anonymous (Texas)
At some point a good many years ago, I got bogged down in the so-called "manosphere." I was highly celebrated for being the "right" age, having the "right" online demeanor, and espousing the "right" views about male-female relationships. I later experienced a devastating bout of mental illness, and when I came back, I found that my old manosphere "friends" were advocating the complete rejection of any woman who had a mental illness. At the time, I took it to heart. THAT is the danger of the manosphere. Young people stumble upon these communities and get the wrong idea about what a healthy relationship looks like. They think you need to have certain qualities (mostly beyond your control) to be in a committed marriage. And they think women who have "stains" on their sexual history should be banished from the relationship marketplace and "avoided at all costs." The really odd part is that they don't apply these same standards to themselves. After all, a lot of these guys live with depression.. isn't that a mental illness? And God forbid anyone would examine *their* sexual histories with a fine-toothed comb. But what I'm saying is, neither of those things makes them unlovable, just as my weight/hair color/medical history doesn't mean I'm out of the question for someone. And I'm not. Today I'm happily married.
Robert (Seattle)
We should note here that Mr. Hanson is a professor at George Mason. Last week the president of George Mason admitted to the faculty that agreements with donors "fall short of the standards of academic independence I expect any gift to meet." The donations in question were from the Koch Foundation, and the agreements were with the Koch brothers. Specifically, the university agreed to give the Kochs a role in the hiring and firing of professors. They were even made part of the process by which candidates were identified. The university had refused to release the information for a number of years. A recent legal action compelled them to do so now. A little skepticism is justified. Hanson's whacky ideas align so nicely with the whacky misogyny of the whacky misogynistic rightwing billionaires who have donating millions to Hanson's university according to secret agreements that gave the billionaires significant control over the university.
John Stroughair (PA)
Raises some interesting ideas. Clearly the solutions if there indeed are any will have to take full account of the agency of women. I am inclined to doubt that there are in fact workable solutions, there is nothing innate in human biology that requires all men to have stable sexual relationships. In the recent past, as recent genetic research clearly shows, human societies have excluded many more men from the mating pool than happens nowadays. That happened as a direct result of male on male violence. We now seem to be going through another shift, with female preference excluding the bottom decile of males. In the recent past, given female exclusion from gainful economic activity, the bottom decile of men were marginally attractive. Any male with a job could get a mate. This is no longer the case and is extremely unlikely to change nor should any of us want it to change. Possibly the only solution is to educate young men on two important points: one, mating patterns are fluid and the current pattern is different from that in the 1950s and will stay different; two, reproductive success is competitive, when the rules of the game change you have a choice adapt or be celibate.
Michael Fallai (Phoenix AZ)
isn't it funny how a libertarian professor only respects the Darwinian concept of 'survival of the fittest' with respect to economic matters... but not at all when it comes to what "SOTF" actually dealt with...
Laurie C. (Marina CA)
As a person with a disability, I hate that the specter of Me is used to argue for "the right to sex". I'm going to guess that the people who make this argument are not disabled (just a guess). And as a disabled, straight female, do I get my own man? Something tells me the incels might squirm at this idea. I wonder why... While attraction is sometimes affected by the political, the idea of a person assigned to me for sex just feels insulting. And believe me, the perils of dating while disabled are not unknown to me. Also, this article seems to be skirting around the point that "sex redistribution" is not one-sided; that is, it is not about one person getting sex. Last time I checked, it took (at least) two to tango. And since the incels hate sex workers and the sex robots do not satisfy their need for domination, what is left? What's left are the attractive women they want to score with. Nothing else will do. While columnists may have a grand time with their intellectual exercises, they seem to be missing the real point of the incel: to subjugate and control the female population. While this may not be as novel and exciting to write about, it is far more important, and more accurate.
gwcross5 (ny)
I see this more through the lens of my opposition to the development of the winner take all society. The ideas of incels, at least the stuff I've heard second hand here and elsewhere, are utterly repugnant. Nobody owes anybody sex, or any other interaction beyond the basics of helping provide food, shelter and clothing to the truly needy. I promise to not let you freeze, or starve, or walk around in rags. Beyond that, if I don't want to interact with you, that's my call, not yours. But there's something truly repulsive about the current campus hookup culture, and more generally the trend in online culture where personal worth is measured by click counts and thumbs up signs. Distilling sex to a notch-counting exercise is a form of dehumanization that derives directly from the dehumanization that social media have brought upon us. And it's all been in the name of "building connections" between people, to use Mark Zuckerberg's favorite phrase. You don't have to be a religious believer to see this as a bad thing. Sex outside of marriage, or even outside of a committed relationship, is not by definition pathological or empty of all value. But taken to an extreme, it certainly can be.
RR (San Francisco, CA)
I doubt Incels' main complaint is involuntary celibacy; more likely is their inability to forge an emotional connection with women because they are emotionally stunted, a consequence of genetics, cultural environment they grew up in and the parenting they got (varying combination of each). As some have commented earlier here, they hate sex workers, presumably because it hurts their ego - they want a woman to come up to them and say that she is in love and offer herself as a slave. The only remedy is therapy, lot of therapy. And preventive strategy would be to encourage boys to be emotionally expressive rather than seeing it as a sign of weakness.
David Martin (Paris, France)
Rather than offering them robots, we would do better to try to figure out what we were doing as a society that allowed them to become so lost and confused. Not to say that they are the only ones lost and confused, only that they are among the most extreme cases. Or failing that, the ones that became violent about the emptiness of their lives, and thought it had something to do with lack of sex.
BP (South Coast, MA)
What Mr. Douthat fails to realize about Incels is that it's not about a lack of access to sex, but an inability to exert control or have power over others. It's been said already, so I'll just echo it further, there are Twitter threads and communities of sex workers sharing their experiences with the Incel archetype, and they're among the worst people to be around. Incels HATE sex workers because they feel like they should just be able to take what they want, without having to pay for it, or "earn" it in a relationship. They are typically violent, creepy, threatening, and dehumanizing. To the broader point of the article, sex is not a commodity that one has a right to obtain. We're talking about human beings here; no one has the right to physical or mental access of another person without their consent. I thought we established that in 1865 with the 13th Amendment, paid for with the lives of over 600,000 Americans. That Douthat considers only the recipients of sex-as-commodity highlights how warped and biased his views are toward male fulfillment, even in this arguably transactional scheme he envisions. Again. It's not about the sex, and never was. Incels say "I want her, but only if x, y, and z." (which typically involves purity or chastity tests, appearance, prohibitions on the types of partners a woman has been with, etc.). Sex is a tool for the Incels. Sex is weaponized by the Incels. Sex is a means to obtain control over another. We already have a word for that: rape.
befade (Verde Valley, AZ)
I think this issue separates male and female. I think men have an easier time separating sex from love. I think incels are men who want to be loved. I remember the hostile reaction from a man who thought I wasn’t responding to him in a friendly way. He wasn’t after me for sex. He was looking for acceptance. As a woman, I want to be loved. I don’t want a man to ignore me or be unfriendly to me. If a man wants to have sex with me, he might not want to love me. It’s confusing.
Ariane B. (Brooklyn)
Hanson, you claim, asks, “If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?” The answer is obvious. Money is a type of property. Property is a thing that belongs to someone. The word implies ownership of, not access to, things. To make a distinction between money and property is senseless. While one can “have” sex, sex is not property. It cannot be isolated from the individuals involved for the sake of distribution. Even considering the notion of a so-called just redistribution of sex relies on a belief that some people are property, that they can be owned by other people and that ownership can be regulated through law and policy. In the US, the thirteenth amendment ended slavery and involuntary servitude. When you reject the idea of people as property, sexual redistribution is of course inherently ridiculous. Hanson’s query endorses the distorted worldview of incel killers because inherent in the idea of just redistribution is a belief in people’s entitlement to whatever is currently being, in their view, unjustly distributed. Denied their due, the men around whom your article is organized, feel entitled to take women’s lives,
Ana (NYC)
This actually is a huge issue in countries with huge numbers of "surplus" (China, India) or unemployed young men (many African American and Middle Eastern countries); it's not spoken of as a right to sex but rather as a social disaster. If millions of young men cannot afford to get married there all sorts of unpleasant consequences.
kollidoscopeas (denver)
Not only does the article miss the point, it further obfuscates just how far we have come to construct a mode of consumptive behavior out of interpersonal intimacy. A "right to sex" that parallels the "right to consume" therefore becomes contingent upon wealth and privilege, as many have noted in the comments. But beyond that, we're really talking about "incels" in relation to the choices they make and habits they form to sublimate sexual desire into, primarily, playing video games and constructing reactionary, right-wing internet politics. In other words, the right to sex already exists as the right to consume, which postpones internal crises of identity and meaning. If the Toronto "incel" couldn't consume the women he wanted, then nobody could, as if the people he mowed down were like those Harry Potter books burned by rabid evangelicals.
David Martin (Paris, France)
These incels are angry about being excluded from a world that doesn’t really exist. But they foolishly believe does exist. If it weren’t so sad, it would be comical.
Arthur (Rockingham, NJ)
The majority of the reader / NYT Picks miss Douthat's central thesis entirely. He is neither advocating for or against a right to sex, nor praising or criticizing so-called "incels." He claims only that society's much celebrated sexual liberation over the last several decades -- Hugh Hefner's, or the "Hefnerian," revolution -- has unleashed forces that will inevitably lead society to treat sex AS IF it were a redistributive right. And that technology will be the natural means to accomplish this "second" revolution to fix the unanticipated costs of the first. Douthat's (barely addressed) solution is to return to a conservative, monogamous, chaste, sexually unliberated time when, presumably, all was well, or at least all was better. But as some have pointed out, all was not better. Human nature was always bubbling beneath the surface of the purportedly chaste and monogamous, and those preaching sexual purity and celibacy were often among the most profligate offenders -- just look at the Catholic church. No, Mr. Douthat. The solution is not a return to some pre-modern chastity. Instead, the solution is to find a balance between human nature and human ideals. To do that, we all need to do precisely what we have been doing: expose and eliminate sexual injustice, talk about and teach sexuality with open eyes and hearts, and explain the biological (and cultural, and normative) downsides of abusing sex, pornography, and sexual variety to overstimulate and desensitize.
joymars (Provence)
It strikes me as odd that an economist would weigh in on a subject that is entirely personal and subjective. And that includes the twisted anger that explodes in some people who believe if they label themselves something (incel!), they have a cause. But getting back to the oddness of this column: you can’t policy-wonk your way out of every human problem, as much as you believe it is a right. So to answer the question whether that economist is the creepiest one ever, let me put it this way: this column sure gives me the creeps.
Mark (MA)
The biggest shortcoming with a lot of this gender stuff is due to the cultural elites failing to constantly keep the underlying reality at or near the top of the discussion. Contrary to what people think and say sex is about one thing, and one thing only. Breeding. Just like eating, drinking, breathing, etc you can shape the periphery to a certain extent. The mind can only do so much to overcome the core of a genetic based behavior.
Will (Berkeley CA)
People, we have *absolutely no responsibility* to "address the unhappiness of incels," as Douthat implies. Any grievance these (mostly teenaged computer nerds) have is their own. These are people who actively avoid self-improvement and seek out codependent internet relationships to the exclusion of all others. Their kind of self-pity is a form of self-worship.
Melissa Aaron (Claremont, CA)
They’re not all teenaged computer nerds. Other than that, good point.
Fabrisse (Washington DC)
I think we have a responsibility (one which includes access to mental healthcare) to these young men because if we don't look at the problem we end up with the Isla Vista killings of 2014. Being a "nice guy," like the one who shot up a gym in 2009, doesn't mean someone is entitled to sex. Incels aren't just staying at home. They aren't just teen aged computer nerds. They are people with access to weapons and in need of help.
Joel (Brooklyn)
As soon as we institute a "right to sex," with all people having some type of sexual outlet whenever they so desire, whether through paid/mandated human tact or robot/AI/technological contact, we will also lose our ability to innovate, grow, create and make progress. It's in our innate desire to procreate (known today as "have sex") that we find ways to prove to those we want to have sex with that we are worthy of having sex. And those ways involve innovation, ideas, creativity, making money, progress or generally doing things that are impressive.
Anon (NYC)
Simple answers to simple questions: "If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" Because human beings are not property or currency.
margaret (london)
This is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent articles that I have read in a popular periodical in years.
WesternMass (The Berkshires)
Margaret, if that is true, I strongly urge you to rethink your choice of reading material.
C (Toronto)
Reading the comments I see that many people don’t understand why the sexual revolution leaves more men without sex than women: women are very choosy but men are often not. Thus a superb top 1% man may be willing to sleep with almost any woman, if no strings are attached. Think of rock stars who can brag of having slept with 20,000. No woman, unless she is paid, is interested in doing something like that. In today’s environment a woman is free to sample some of the best men, maybe have a child on her own and then enjoy her work and hobbies. She gets intimacy and meaning from the child but she doesn’t need a husband. This is called hypergamy. It’s bad for women because these women and their children often end up poor and anxious but it’s disastrous for men. Most of them may very well be rejected and then their earnings will be taxed to support the single mothers. Remember, if Leonardo Dicaprio is hanging out with 20 beauties on his yacht, 19 other men are alone. In more monogamous times some of those women might be more open to a lower quality mate. Now I know not everyone is part of this — lots of people are still monogamous. But enough people do this to have skewed the dating market for young men. Also, I think a lot of women have simply left the marriage market after having bad experiences in our promiscuous culture, or are uninterested in marriage in favour of intellectually challenging work.
C's Daughter (NYC)
The vast majority of women are not content having sex a few times (or "to sample," your words, eww) with hot men and then getting "intimacy and meaning" from their children (again, eww). Why do you think upwards of 80% of women get married? You cannot possibly logically believe that your average unwashed 20 year old man with no social skills who spends his days whining on the internet about Chads and Staceys and Betas and Alphas is not getting laid because some very attractive, high status men have a lot of sex. I've seen these incel forums- the reason they're not forming relationships with women is because they believe women are inferior to men, are stupid, they s!ut shame them, they reject women at their own level of attractiveness, they're deeply misogynistic, and usually inclined towards violent punishment of women who aren't sleeping with them. For god's sake, they refer to women who have had a number of sexual partners as "roasties," analogizing her vulva to a *lunch meat sandwich.* (The theory is that she's been used up so now her genitals don't look attractive.) Their behavior and attitudes are appalling. THAT is why these people are not in relationships/getting laid. Get off the manosphere forums and go hang out with people in real life. "Hypergamy" isn't real.
NSH (Chester)
Exactly. The idea that women have sex maybe three times in her life and that's it. I mean really. The reason they don't have romantic partners is because they regard women as a public utility which is repulsive and can't be fully hidden. Maybe she doesn't know why she doesn't like him, but she will know he creeps her out and say no.
C (Toronto)
Another thought, C’s daughter — are you sure 80% of women marry? Out of my private girls’ school friends (all of whom were slim and conventionally attractive) I would say only six out of ten married (so far — I’m over 40). And then you have to think how long are people single now before marriage? If a proportion of people marry at 30 or 35, that’s a long time to be single. Both men and women can accrue bitterness and heartbreak in those years.
Emanuele Corso (Penasco, New Mexico)
Well, it occurs to me that the discussion might work better if the matter were taken back to first principles. The first principle of sex and its obvious first purpose, in my opinion, is reproduction. Reproduction is, without question, essential to every life form. Without this so-to-speak "rule" ... Well, needless to say, I suppose, we wouldn't be around and having this discussion. The importance of the reproduction function is quite familiar to Catholics, of course, and this stricture reinforces the matter of continuance. However, there comes a time when there is far too much of a good thing and that seems to be where unregulated and relentless reproduction meets the reality of finite resources. Consequently, the matter deserves dispassionate and rational discussion which recognizes both the reproductive, the recreational, and the undeniable expressions of love between two people. n'est-ce pas?
Blackmamba (Il)
We are primate apes who evolved evolutionary fit over 300,000 years in Africa programmed by our biological DNA genetic nature to crave fat, salt, sugar, water, habitat, kin and sex by any means necessary. Including conflict and cooperation. The purpose is to leave the most best adapted offspring over time and space. Instead of pleasure, procreation is the goal of human biology. By that measure Genghis Khan was a major success. While George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were failures.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
And, given global warming/climate change, overpopulation is now a huge issue. This "dominion" thing is iniquitous; we are destroying our hospitable home. If there is a god, stewardship should be the premier issue, not destruction and exploitation. "It took all of human history up to 1804 for the world's population to reach 1 billion. But the next billion came only 100 years later, in 1927. And after that, the rate of growth accelerated, 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion 1974, 5 billion 1987, 6 billion 1999, and now 7 billion."
Hoxworth (New York, NY)
The old system created a system of distribution by limiting sex (mostly) to an activity between married couples. As technology and culture have changed, that forced arrangement has lost its power to confine sexual behavior. The new system has created winners and losers, which is compounded by hypergamy. But hypergamous behavior is not politically correct and so is not discussed. The incel community may be rude, backwards, and apparently at least in some cases, criminal, but it is not going away. A frank discussion would be more likely to yield positive results.
NSH (Chester)
Here is a frank discussion. Women are not utilities. Until they (incels) learn this and treat people like people, they will be alone. Done.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Fear of sex and of approaching others to seek sex can be addressed by educating children about how to converse openly with other children regardless of gender and by making sex education a subject studied and discussed by all children before and when it becomes of concern so that they feel free to discuss amongst themselves. This would reduce the fear and lack of communications that isolate some and lead others to act without regard for others.
Scott (Berkeley)
A MODEST PROPOSAL It is a melancholy object to those who travel through the Internet, when they see forums, sub-Reddits, and the ‘chans crowded with the male sex whining about the lack of feminine attention, followed by thirty, forty, or sixty replies, all filled with similar complaints. Recently, I from the famous Aizen Myo'o that in his country when any young man happened to have become hopeless, he is placated with a constant stream of anime and video games. But who will pay for all that? Well, only a fraction of available brain computational capacity is used at a certain time. And computational capacity is valuable. Further, the male-placating effectiveness of anime and video games is drastically increased with VR technology. Today’s VR is limited to headsets, but brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are developing. Once BCIs are operational, we can entice these incels to jack themselves into a false world of their favorite fantasies. Meanwhile, their unused neutral capacity can form a network, a matrix, of computational power that can be sold freely. These men are thus not just placated, but turned into a productive resource. Therefore, let no one talk of other expedients, such as cutting off ad money to online hate groups, improving access to mental healthcare, creating K-12 programs to help disaffected young men, and expanding blue collar vocational programs, 'till there’s at least some of hope, that there will ever be some sincere attempt to put them into practice.
W in the Middle (NY State)
Or - we could build direct BBIs (brain-brain interfaces)... It'd evolutionize the whole AI industry - if we could just design the right plug and socket and get everyone to use it... Hey - HEY!! My batteries are up here... Yes - they're D-cells... Or - decels???
Shalom (NM)
Providing people with connection and purpose is an essential function of human communities, second only to survival; indeed, without connection and purpose, neither individuals nor communities can survive for long. There are many issues at play with angry male internet culture, including misogyny and a toxic sense of entitlement. There is absolutely no excuse for violence. The majority of these men are not violent, though, and there are real unmet human needs there, too. Modern life can be tremendously lonely, and my observation as a man and as a mental health professional is that there is a particular disease of loneliness among men. How can our communities help young men to find a sense of purpose and to form meaningful relationships, for their sake and for everyone else’s? There is no right to sex, but there is certainly a right to community. Healthy communities facilitate intimacy in all its forms—family, friendship, fellowship, romance.
tew (Los Angeles)
The history of the "extremists and radicals and weirdos" is also full of terrible ideas and "experiments" that led to suffering both small and vast. Be definition these cohorts form the "tails" of the distribution and we know that must always accepting "both sides" of the outlier effect. It is up to the more moderate bulk of the population to carefully proceed and weed out the bad ideas while folding in the new good ideas.
Mark Plus (Mayer, AZ)
The English philosopher Bertrand Russell reportedly enjoyed success at attracting women; but he knew about incels (not by that name, of course), and he showed compassion for their plight. In Russell's popular book, "The Conquest of Happiness" (1930), he writes: "To be unable to inspire sex love is a grave misfortune to any man or woman, since it deprives him or her of the greatest joys that life has to offer. This deprivation is almost sure sooner or later to destroy zest and produce introversion." Russell didn't suggest a solution for the Incel Question, but at least he recognized it as a humanitarian problem, as does Robin Hanson and Ross Douthat in our time.
Susan Anderson (Boston)
Have you heard of sex trafficking? Pimps? Legalizing sex work (the oldest profession) means everybody is safer, except the exploiters. Venereal disease? Murder? Theft? These are all much more likely when the market forbids acknowledging the age-old urges of what are now being called incels. Sickening! And I agree, enough with the sniping about the "left". It's not Christian to believe the "god" in one's head is more legitimate than another person's spirituality, just because it supports materialism and male privilege, violence and exclusion. People's lives are important after birth as well as before.
C (Toronto)
I’m willing to bet that the real issue for these men is loneliness and isolation — perhaps even a lack of purposefulness and meaning in their lives — rather than sexual frustration on its own. In previous eras many people failed to marry, and those people, especially if they were not wealthy men, probably rarely had sex. What has changed, though, is the structure of the extended family and community. Before everyone could have had a place — with nieces and nephews and so on. In a large family many would have been tolerant of “different” people — what we call autism they might have called “simple”. Today, though, everyone is on their own. Women without men suffer from anxiety and depression (something like a quarter of women take anti-depressants), as well as poverty. Men can become angry. We’re undoubtedly better off in families. I married my high school sweetheart at 22, though, so I’m biased. I think the problem is that women have been encouraged to be individual earners and focus on their careers, and then men don’t really have anything to offer to the women. Personally I think stay at home motherhood and more leisure time is pretty great, and if you plan for it you can probably get by. I think most women work because either a) we think it will be self-actualizing or b) because we’re afraid to depend on a man. For most women work is not a career, and when combined with parenthood can often be exhausting. So today we have tired women and angry men . . .
Miami Joe (Miami)
If that is the case more talk therapy. Talk therapy at $15.00 an hour for non-accredited workers/listeners.
Belisarda (Tennessee)
"For most women work is not a career." Assuming an awful lot aren't you?
El Herno (NYC)
I wonder how much of this is caused by attachment disorders where increasingly people (these men) are spending formative early time in substandard child care because so many of us are forced to work terrible hours for substandard pay and our society has yet to prioritize child care and parental leave. Could this be part of the failure of our political system to enact empathetic and common sense programs that prioritize child rearing and parenthood coming home to roost??
UN (Seattle, WA---USA)
Most young people have been through daycare/preschool environment and do not have these issues. Look no further than women demanding equality for the complaints of these men. This goes hand in hand with these mostly white men who also object to people of color demanding equality. It’s misogyny.
adm (D.C.)
What would Ross Douthat's reaction be if it was women who felt entitled to have sex on demand and trated men the way the incels treat women?
Rachel C. (New Jersey)
It's always conservatives who claim that somehow Hugh Hefner and his rampant misogyny are "liberal" ideas. I don't know a single person who is a liberal who considers Hefner a liberal. In the Victorian era, men had plenty of sex with prostitutes. Those women were just lower middle class or poor and often desperate for money while earning pennies/day doing factory work. Meanwhile, the "virtuous" wives were kept from all that, to the point they didn't even know what an orgasm was. Liberal ideals proposed that everyone had a right to enjoy sex and understand it -- but also to say where and when they had it, including wives. Combined with a growing middle class, that meant that couples had better sex, but also that men could no longer hire an illiterate, desperately poor working class woman any time they wanted. It is the misogynists who want to bring back the Victorian age of dire poverty and exploitation of all women, matched with the virtuous upholding of wifely virtue. Ross Douthat firmly fits that mold.
me (US)
Sorry, but Hef WAS a liberal. Playboy Magazine promoted liberal writers and thinkers for decades; I'm not criticizing them, since they promoted and employed many very talented writers and artists, but 'its just dishonest to deny that Hef was liberal. And it's dishonest to pretend that the "free sex/ free love" belief system has been 100 positive for everyone, especially not for people seeking some sort of commitment and security.
Michael (Austin)
Perhaps we got over its Puritan heritage, we wouldn't be so hung up about sex. People are ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality, and the topic is embarrassing or taboo.
Wherever Hugo (There, UR)
Run.
Joe (Boulder, CO)
Oh good, I thought I'd missed Episode 3,236 of "I'm a man and I have thoughts about what women should do." My god, Ross. If you turned in this as a paper to any English or Philosophy professor they'd flunk you on logic alone. The problem is not that incels need to get laid. The problem is that they have warped and demented views of women and women's place in society. Getting lucky ain't gonna change that, no matter how often it happens.
Rachel (Boston)
I love you. Thank you for this.
Colleen (NM)
Any house will sell at the right price. If your house isn't selling, you lower the price until someone buys it. It's the same with sex. Everyone can get a date with the right person. If you're putting yourself on the market but getting no bites, you have to lower your expectations. An incel is just a 5 trying to date a 10.
SANTANA (Brooklyn, NY)
That was exactly what I was thinking as I read this and other accounts of the involuntarily celibate. I am sure there are plenty of women who have been "friend-zoned" by some of these men because the men feel entitled to someone who looks like a supermodel. Maybe it's time to lower expectations?
Theo D (Tucson, AZ)
Won't readily happen. Modern extended adolescence and the narcissism that accompanies it prevent such logical thought in these guys.
rumpleSS (Catskills, NY)
Colleen writes, "Any house will sell at the right price. If your house isn't selling, you lower the price until someone buys it. It's the same with sex. " Fail. Your metaphor is a failure because sex is not the same as realty, unless you're referring to prostitution. When you sell your house, it doesn't matter what the buyers are like...as long as they have the money.
Bill Cullen, Author (Portland)
The use of the photo to accompany this editorial is creepy unless you are inferring that a voluptuous robot with a modicum of AI could satisfy these men. Come to think of it, the Japanese are moving quickly to fill this need. If only Elon Musk would put his talent to comely robot companions for the unfulfilled male population instead of what looks like a doable Mars shot! As gross as it would be to see beautiful, difficult to separate from the real thing, robots on the arms of idiots and misogynists, it might fill an important niche and make women safer... Now is that out of the box thinking enough for you?
Adam Rakunas (Seattle, WA)
No.
ls (Ohio)
Right to Sex? Is that the next rape defense?
Jo (Massachusetts)
Well if you’ve been watching Westworld Ross you’d know that sex with robots doesn’t end well.
Eric (Bridgewater, NJ)
"The left’s increasing zeal to transform prostitution into legalized and regulated “sex work....” Ross, please, just once, try to write something without a gratuitous swipe at "the left". Simply make your case and leave out the straw-men, false equivalencies, etc... Yes, it will be hard to do, but you ARE a columnist for the NYTimes. I'm sure they thought you could do it when they hired you and I do too. WhaDaYaSay? Give it a shot, it might open new doors of perception to you. Best of luck.
SCB (Boston)
Get real. Understand what’s in the mind of the fat boy who isn’t willing to date a fat girl...because she’s fat. Too many men simply believe they have the right. And woe be to women who don’t agree.
W in the Middle (NY State)
Sorry, Ross... Like the person in the coffee-shop that buys one latte, then sits in the corner and types for hours... But - as far as... “Does Anyone Have the Right To Sex?” No... They should each be left - to their own devices... Each master - of their alternate-universe - and their own existential celibate ("excel"?) Baiting you, of course... ..... Reference to "1950s" life is cruelly ironic - the decade during which Lenny Bruce taught future comedians that... > Anger is funny > Rage is something to chuckle - if not laugh out loud - at > Assassination could become downright hysterical
Susan Anderson (Boston)
Women aren't quite human, it's OK to use them without their consent? The Gospels aren't really true, Jesus and Pope Francis need to take a back seat to Republicans in Congress? One wonders about the women in Ross Douthat's life. The "god" in his head seems to approve of things I never read in the Gospels. It is a kind of golden calf worship, where men reign supreme. By the way, abusive men are not made less abusive if they are permitted to treat women as chattels. Quite the reverse. Plenty of people find other ways to deal with their urges to sex without using unwilling partners. It's rather fun when both people are enjoying it, but doing without is vastly better than coercion. As for sex dolls and masturbation, that's much better than treating another person as an object. Jesus wept!
JE (Connecticut)
Sexual release is available to everyone in masturbation. No one has the right to inflict themselves on anyone else. Mutual consent is always a requirement, regardless of one's philosophical/religious/moral point of view, meaning within marriage, exclusive or open/casual relationships, or for hire. Go take a class, volunteer, join a church/synagogue/mosque/ethical culture society. There are people out there waiting for relationships. Rejected? Move on and get over it.
Aram Hollman (Arlington, MA)
There is no right to sex with another person. Let's call "incels" who assert such a "right" what they really are, would-be rapists. Sex between 2 people should be limited to 2 parties who voluntarily give informed consent. (Not the kind of consent Bill Cosby pretended to have obtained when he drugged women, not the kind of coerced sex that UN aid workers sometimes extracted from refugees in exchange for food). We should not accept sex as a commodity, to be bartered or paid for. That prostitution has been around a long time doesn't make it right; it is degrading to the customer and even more degrading for the prostitute. Ditto porn, notwithstanding the forthright Stormy Daniels. Sex by oneself is masturbation. It is perfectly acceptable, despite religious prohibitions, because it harms no one else, and it is highly debatable whether it harms the masturbator. If someone wants to use various devices, that is fine too, as long as it is done in private and harms no one else.
Jenny (Los Angeles)
Gross. NYTimes doing the "good people on both sides" by legitimizing instead of truly problematizing.
rjon (Mahomet Illinois)
Why not take a step back? If we do that we need to come to terms with the male narcissism that has been relatively dominant throughout at least Western history and even more so in some other cultures, including Chinese and Japanese history. Where has it been dominant? Let's just take one minor area: modern literary history, where the Updikes and the Mailers have largely ruled the roost or at least set the tone. Or another, the world of art, recently delved into by National Geographic, where Picasso has held sway over much territory. These male narcissists are at least in some measure responsible for the nonsense that the greatest catastrophe for mankind (less than half the world's population) is impotence. And they're extolled as "greats" and "geniuses" (I know other, unprintable, words for them). I concede they are perhaps interesting in relation to a world of conformity and repression brought on by WW II, but jerks nevertheless. And "incels" judge themselves by the standards of modern culture, including literature and art, as we all are encouraged to do? I have the impression that the goal of modern Western culture is complete freedom, especially male freedom, understood as the ability to do anything one wants--a truly stupid definition of freedom. The question of the rights to sex is a question that is meaningful only in relation to our inherited culture, not actual living together in a complex world. Robots? Really? This, too, is stupid.
Sam (Santa Fe)
Why don't incels just have sex with each other?
Ted (NYC)
This essay and incels are looking externally for a solution problem that lies within them. I have known some pretty gnarly looking and eccentric men who have had very happy relationships and marriages. Incels are not being denied sex because something is wrong with the women they desire. Incels are unable to find partners because they lack the social skills, understanding of women and most importantly the insight into themselves to successfully initiate and sustain a relationship. There is no "right to sex". A person only has dominion over their own body and whatever satisfaction they can achieve with it (how's' that for vague euphemism). Incels should be required to read Kurt Vonnegut's short story Miss Temptation about a thousand times. It might contain a small clue.
rumpleSS (Catskills, NY)
Ted writes, "There is no "right to sex"." Umm, I think what you meant to writes is that there is no right to have sex with whomever you want. I would say that, in fact, we do have a basic human right to engage in sex, either with ourselves or willing partners. As for why incels aren't having sex, lack of social skills is likely, but certainly not the only reason. The point of Douthat's article is being missed by the vast majority of comments here, including Ted when he writes, "This essay and incels are looking externally for a solution problem that lies within them." Douthat's not advocating for forced prostitution. He's describing an issue that is a disrupting society. Pretending that it doesn't exist or that is completely internal is the same as pretending that income inequality doesn't exist or that lack of heath care is the fault of the those who lack the gumption to do it for themselves, pay for it, or find a job that covers it.
Oswald Spengler (East Coast)
Historically, Incels have fulfilled an important social and evolutionary function. These are the hordes of angry young men who have been sent off to die in war. The British have a descriptive phrase for them: cannon fodder. The problem is that we have become too damned civilized. There are pitifully few mechanisms left for thinning out the surplus of breeding-age males. But, human ingenuity will come up with remedies, perhaps something like issuing licenses for consenting males to hunt each other down in fenced-in arenas and reservations. These could be televised and sponsored events that would eventually rival professional sports in their popularity. Such would particularly appeal to NRA members, as a way to prove their manhood.
Judith Perry (Cambridge, UK)
It is really stupid to object to a western woman wearing beautiful and interesting dress from other cultures. Americans have been assuming that their native dress (and that is what 'western' dress is) is somehow the proper dress for the whole world. Do the objectors living in the US only wear the dress of their biological origins even if they were born in the US? Westerners don't comment when male leaders around the world wear business suits - the native dresss of the north of England.
Boomer (Boston)
This is such a strange and overwrought article - the current retreat, it seems, of conservative columnist who can no longer write with pride about their bedrock programs that have reached an apotheosis in Trump. Outside of prostitution and to a lesser degree pornography, sex is not a commodity - and nothing that Hefner achieved made it so. One whack-job economists proposition deserves a two-sentence refutal at best.
Sue (Austin, TX)
Did Douthat just really say that the incels are on to something here with their ideas? The last 2 sentences of this article are terrifying. Conservatives, who fear the redistribution of wealth and who hate the idea that people can be gay, want to redistribute sex to sex workers (who are hated by incels, btw) and robots? This is a hot pile of garbage ideas.
Another reader (New York)
I think you meant is there right to sex with whomever you want? The answer to that, obviously, is no.
Balthazar (Planet Earth)
Disgusting in every possible way. The logical fallacies in the question about "sexual redistribution" are so great as to be absurd. To equate interpersonal relationships with money and property is inherently heinous, and the notion that homicidal male freaks who are so upset that they lack the emotional skills to attract and retain female sexual partners that they feel entitled to express their pathological frustration by committing murder--that these vile men somehow deserve our sympathy, not to mention the grotesque invoking of bizarre and twisted philosophies, or proposed solutions to their "distress" and "unhappiness" is appalling, repulsive beyond expression.
Vidoqo (Palm Desert)
The Incel movement is about mysogyny, pure and simple. It is a bizarre, complicated rationalization that assumes women are merely tools for male pleasure. Like all hate groups, there is no "there" there.
M. (G.)
I sometimes wonder whether Mr. Douthat is capable of crafting an argument without 'the left.'
Pdxgrl (Oregon)
As far along in development as we are - as a species I mean - it seems you still can't take the Cro-magnon out of the man. The Neanderthal is still with us. Kind of weird when you think about it.
Patricia (Pasadena)
Pdxgrl -- I don't think anything is really known about the sexual behavior of Neanderthals. There is evidence that they did mourn their dead. And modern man has a lot of dead to answer for. Like genocide, WMDs and the general cowardice behind killer drones.
Heather (Youngstown)
False premises abound. Women are sexual creatures too. The requirements to be sexually attractive for women are way narrower than they are for men. Because of this there are easily as many "Incel" women as men. A woman who is anything other than young and/or beautiful has difficulty getting sex with your average American guy. Women without sex-partners don't go around killing people in a rage though. What is sex anyhow? If it is about orgasms one can achieve those on one's own quite handily, so to speak. The male Incel culture is about subjugation and anger, not sex. Humans should not have a right to violent rage and domination over another group of humans.
Sarah (Chicago)
This reads like the work of someone trying deliberately misunderstand and muck up “liberal” and “modern” attitudes about sex. You know ideas that don’t require women to marry and submit.
James D (Connecticut)
I think a lot of the commenters here are conflating cause with effect. Young men don't become incels because they are hateful, rape-seeking misogynists; they become hateful, rape-seeking misogynists because they are incels. If you're in your mid-20's or older and you're a virgin, there is no support group for you. Everyone of every political persuasion tells you you're a pathetic loser, and many women cite lack of experience as a reason not to date someone. In this apparently hopeless situation, there are basically three groups who don't hate you: MGTOW (who shun women), the red pill crowd (who treat women like objects), and incels (who hate women). Correcting for this problem doesn't involve giving out free sex, it involves the de-stigmatization of not having had sex. If you push people into radical groups, you're going to get radicalized people.
Puying Mojo (Honolulu)
Good lord. How would anyone know you were a virgin unless you told them?
rumpleSS (Catskills, NY)
James D writes, "If you push people into radical groups, you're going to get radicalized people." Wow...someone who actually gets it. Gets the point of Douthat's article, and doesn't accuse Douthat of defending misogyny. The human condition is such that being poor is not a problem when all around you are equally poor. Poor becomes a problem when you see plenty of rich people on a regular basis. And being told that the rich earned it so either do the same or shut up is not going to fly for all the people who try and fail.
Scott Spencer (Portland)
Let’s not normalize “incels”. We all have a moral responsibility to engage with society in a productive way and when people don’t they run the risk of social isolation. I’m not convinced the real problem of “incels” is about lack of sex, it’s more likely about lack of social connection. Likely people who identify as “incels” lack the social intelligence to engage with others in a way that enables them to build meaningful relationships. Porn, robots, legal prostitution won’t replace these missing social connections. My advice to “incels” is get a life. Join a club, a gym, a church, a running group, volunteer at a soup kitchen. In other words - engage in society in a positive way and it will engage back.
CW (USA)
There are lots of folks without sex....basically most age out of the process. Somehow most folks don't go around trying to murder an entire class of people because they have self-deselected out of the dating rituals, then blame their imaginary targets. It is the great magic of the human mind..... I imagine nobody likes me so it must be their fault, so I'll kill them (guaranteeing I'm going to be very lonely). Maybe what they really want is to go to prison? Nice structured environment with no rent, free food, and free healthcare. They can bond with other incels and debate all day why their problems are caused by those unfair women. The issue is not sex. There are lots of porn sites, prostitutes/escort services, strip clubs with lap dances, and even complex toys......... the real problem is identified easily identified by looking in the mirror.
abdul_74 (New York, NY)
The ancient Greeks also pondered this question and helped solve it by instituting public brothels. If I recall correctly, I believe it was Solon who enacted this measure.
Jules (California)
".....without anyone formally debating the idea of a right to sex, right-thinking people will simply come to agree that some such right exists..." Yikes, Ross. Hasn't the election of Trump taught you anything? It taught me that half the country is composed of knee-jerk non-thinkers. They pulled that lever on pure base emotion. If a "right" to sex gained mainstream acceptance, how would that half of the country respond? I don't even want to contemplate.
Melinda (Los Angeles)
Robin Hanson *is* a misogynistic creep. Previously, he's argued that rape is less damaging to a woman than cuckoldry to a man. Therefore, he thinks that women who cheat should be punished more severely than rapists. The punishment he floated? Torture. And Douthat is not being honest about Hanson's sexual redistribution arguments. Hanson is talking about people, not robots. His ideas are utterly disgusting and, frankly, terrifying to women.
Nikki (Islandia)
I liked the mention of Srinivasan's piece because it brings up the possibility that women, too, might not be finding it so easy to get as much sex as they want. What a woman can get if she is young and beautiful is quite different than what she can get if she is older and perhaps obese. Pretty good bet many of the unhappy "incel" men won't look at her then either. Are porn and sex robots necessarily just for men? Google "why dogs are better than men" or even a similar question about cucumbers and maybe the sex robots for ladies won't seem farfetched. Heck, the one Jude Law played in A.I., and some of the ones on Westworld look like an improvement over the average girl's prospects...
Peter (Houston)
You do have a right to sex. With yourself. That's it. Everything else is either a consenting arrangement between adults, or rape.
Rick Papin (Watertown, NY)
Again with this ridiculous "incel" nonsense. They simple need to take themselves in hand and get over it.
Claire (Sacramento)
Yo don't lump transwomen with incels. Got no problems in the dating department thank you very much.
AMG (Los Angeles)
THIS IS WHY EVANGELICALS LOVE TRUMP'S HOOKERS. Evangelicals crave the sexual conquests Trump regularly affords, PORN STAR HOOKERS, PLAYBOY BUNNY HOOKERS, GOLDEN SHOWER RUSSIAN HOOKERS (Putin says Russia has the Best Hookers). Evangelicals are thrilled that Trump has the ability to pay $130,000 through a fake LLC as a fake Consulting Fee to the HOOKER for her services so that Trump can take a fake Tax Deduction. They PRAY that some day they too can afford not only the payment to the HOOKERS, but that they can know that their wives too will obediently stand by them. That requires control and money .... lots of both. Evangelicals will have to settle for living vicariously through Trump. Trump's Bodyguard's theft of the 35 years of medical records from Trump's doctor although seemingly sounding inane, makes me think that all Trump's UNPROTECTED SEX has most likely led to STD's he contracted in RUSSIA. Trump was probably terrified Evangelicals seeing proof of the RUSSIA connection again, and more ADULTERY again, might be negative. Not so, Evangelicals rejoice Trump's conquests.
Teed Rockwell (Berkeley, CA)
Here's my advice to the incels of either sex. 1) There is no point in being attractive to everyone who sees you. All you need is one person whom you really love and who loves you. 2) No matter what you look like, you can find at least one person who likes you and is attracted to you. 3) You see that amazingly sexy person over there that you can't stop fantasizing about? 99.999999% of the time you will never have sex with them. 4) That's OK, because the sex probably wouldn't be that good anyway. There is only a random chance that looking good will correlate with sexual compatibility. It is equally possible to have good sex with someone society thinks of as ugly, and to have bad sex with someone society thinks of as beautiful. You can enjoy a beautiful flower or sunset without having sex with it. Why not a person? 5) Being beautiful really is a social construct. Compare Twiggy to Jane Russell to the Gibson Girls to the nudes of Titian and Rembrandt. Standards of beauty constantly change, so no matter what you look like, there is a time and place either possible or actual, where you are the most beautiful woman in the world. 6) Some women don't fit the mold of the moment, yet create their own standard of beauty by sheer willpower. Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy have built careers around their alleged ugliness, but both have husbands (and numerous male fans) who adore them.
Mike! (Ohio)
When Douthat's columns are collected in a book, I certainly hope this piece about how women should adopt practices and behaviors that would more greatly benefit incels is placed back to back with his piece about how Christians should adopt practices and behaviors that would more greatly benefit ISIS which certainly he has written, right?
Mark Roderick (Merchantville, NJ)
Mr. Douthat could have saved himself and his indulgent readers time by replacing this column with the single declarative sentence: “People were happier in the good old days.” But then he would have needed to defend the claim.
Brian (Here)
Westworld comes to OpEd. Hi, Dolores....whatcha doin'? Ross is advocating that the answer to the incel's dilemma of inability to get some action is to reorder society. This will allow the incel to pretend that what is involuntary is volitional. Which accomplishes..what, exactly? However, it does reinforce Ross's preferred convention of monogamous coupling for everyone (strong preference hetero only,) regardless of preference. By extension, he's also advocating for the involuntary arranged marriage paradigm. If, that is, he is truly posing a search for an answer for the incel's dilemma. But I don't think that's what he meant to really address, anyway. The inherent flaw in marriage as an institution is precisely that it couples and conflates economic partnership with sexual scarcity. Economics and sex in lock-step is the foundational bargain. With a veneer of romance added on to make it feel less transactional. What could possibly go wrong? It validates the ideas Trump espoused on Access Hollywood. All-chocolate diets are an equally good idea.
Matthew (New Jersey)
Yep, and, um, yes, biologically speaking everything about life is transactional.
Mark (UK)
Completely misses the point. Sex robots and prostitutes will do nothing to remove the loneliness, isolation and alienation, if anything they will exacerbate it.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Any reasonable reflection on sexuality produces the observation that some aspects of sexuality are genetically conditioned but a lot are determined by experiences that become associated with sex throughout an individuals development from the womb to adulthood. Gender itself is a gradation determined by both genes and hormones to which the developing organism is exposed. The normal range is just the average and standard variations which describe the majority of people. But when all the diversity of sexuality is considered some will find that theirs just is not the same as nearly all others who they know, it will be rare but it will happen. It is not anyone's fault let alone a social injustice that should be expected to lead to anger and resentment towards all who do not fix it for the outlier. Being an 'incel' is not a motive for murder. Nor is sacrificing others' happiness to end theirs. It's a problem that has no clear solution, for now.
miller (Illinois)
"There is an alternative, conservative response . . ." Oh, please. The conservatives have been offering this "response" for decades now but it's rife with hypocrisy. It's more about control of women—chastity for thee, not me—than anything else. Look at the spike in prostitution during conservative political conventions. Look at the history of certain evangelical preachers. Look at the current dear leader of modern conservatives.
Peter (Houston,TX)
Of course, no one is entitled to or owed sex. However, it’s a fundamental drive to seek it out and a human reaction occurs when a cannot be found. I am in no way saying that any of the anger or actions are justified or even understandable, and in no way at all suggesting any sympathy, but just that, as the author says, we need to not be afraid to deal with aspects of modern society we find uncomfortable to talk about. I think that the sex stuff is just one part of the bigger phenomena of ever growing loneliness. There was a study that came out that showed Americans, and especially young Americans are feeling lonelier than ever. In the UK the phrase “epidemic of loneliness” was in the news. We can’t tell how extensive it truly is because we are right in the middle of it, but the digital age is fundamentally changing the very nature of human interaction.
Alexia (RI)
Funny how the 'right to sex' movement emerges when now it easier than ever for people to gratify themselves. Is this somehow legitimizing that it's ok to have sex with rubber dolls? A movement that encourages women to pay for sex seems more realistic. Just think how things would fall into place for both sexes. The feminist vs. traditionalist view does seem especially narrow, especially when considering darker elements of the sexual, digital black market that involves human trafficking and other pathological stuff.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
On the bright side, sex robots would be a delightful help to slowing world human population growth. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ Current World Population 7,619,371,157 7.6 billion humans and growing is not working out great for the planet. Our 'be fruitful and multiply' cancer needs some serious treatment. Free sex robots for all !
Miami Joe (Miami)
I wouldn't be surprised to see marriage all but obsolete in fifty years. Almost everything will be monetized, have a contract and a blockchain attached to it. Sex work will be a legitimate business in less than 20 years. Surrogate mothers - hired by single men & women will expand. Few women will opt to have a baby without being monetarily compensated for their effort. Lab babies which will be cheaper than surrogates will be prevalent. Care-taker & nanny work to raise the next generation will expand as well. Only the poor will marry. Relationships are very expensive and time-consuming. People won't want to make time for them. A gradual disappearance of the nuclear family will occur over the next fifty years. Euthanasia Institutes will be prevalent. Life will be easier with contracts attached to all our efforts. Everyone will know what to expect and what is expected of them. The "#Metoo workers" should appreciate this. A new sense of clarity will be attached to our daily interactions. Everyone will pay or be paid for their time and effort.
Luke (Yonkers, NY)
Douthat's argument here relies on a strawman -- the culture’s "dominant message" or "master narrative" about sex -- which demonstrates his misunderstanding of the sexual tenor of our age. The whole point of diversity and tolerance is a refusal to submit to master narratives. It is an admission that life expresses itself with infinite variety beyond the ken, power or authority of any one person or religion to define or legislate. I know of no thinking person who argues that sexuality other than one's own should be "cultivated," or that "virginity and celibacy are at best strange and at worst pitiable states." Just as freedom of religion also means freedom FROM religion, so does sexual tolerance include the accommodation of lifestyles free from sex.
DB (Spain)
Oh, my, where to start... First of I have my doubt that Incels really want to rape -if such was the case, they would o out and do it, not writing rants about doing it. Everybody who reads a newspaper knows that there are ample chances of scot free even when the victim has the courage to report the assault. Theirs is a banter born out of frustration: what they wish is for women to desire them as they are, without changing themselves, or having to put up a mask of some sort to appeal to women. Alas, it is not going to happen. It would be nice if these persons understood that the "involuntary" in incel is really a misnomer - if all they really wanted is to have casual sex, a way can be found... unless someone is affected by real handicaps. At the same time, I think that Douthat is another one that confuses causes and effects when it comes to the sexual revolution - medical advances allowed to have more sex with less consequences, the rest are rationalizations. Another fundamental detail that we tend to forget is that - for all intent and purposes - the "loss" of war as a way to get rid of the excess of young, unemployed and excessively aggressive males is a stress source for the weakest among the lot. I think the "solution " in the end will come in the form of easy access to pre-natal sex determination (note: the majority of those that use sper-filtering already ask for girls now). Once the males/females ratio will go down to 1:1.1, the incel will be no more.
Nikki (Islandia)
I disagree, because some people will always be desired more than others, and even if the sex ratio is 1:1, there will be some who are desired by many and others who are not desired at all. There have always been, and always will be, some too unattractive (either for personality or physical reasons) to find a partner who will settle for them, especially if (like the incel types) they will not settle for someone of a similar attractiveness level.
jackox (Albuquerque)
You only 'need' opinions that back you up in your current corrupt state- Magie Haberman is a great example.
AG (Canada)
This is about social inclusion, not sex. Men who feel excluded from the kind of privileged life everyone else seems to be having, because of their personal characteristics and place in the social hierarchy, i.e. their looks, lack of social skills, lack of money and power. They see ugly men who are rich or powerful getting sex from the most desirable women, even if they are treated badly, and conclude women only care about status and money. They see women going for handsome"bad boys" who treat them badly, and conclude women secretly desire to be dominated. Unfortunately, there is a grain of truth to this. I'm a woman and don't understand women who act this way, but have to admit many do...
Puying Mojo (Honolulu)
Grain of truth? Please. I know FAR more women who don’t go for that type.
Philomele (Los Angeles)
Men outnumber women by 70 million in India and China. Let that sink in.
Emily B. (Massachusetts)
"Incels" can't be equated to marginalized people who society deems undesirable, though-- because while disabled people, people of color, and the elderly are often deemed undesirable for facts of their identities, incels are undesirable because their chauvinism is violent, and the vast majority of women will not willingly have sex with someone who fundamentally means to do them harm. The fact that Ross Douthat cannot see that distinction is, frankly, disturbing to me. Moreover, I'm surprised (and sort of amused) by how little Douthat seems to understand the changing sexual landscape. There is a sexual revolution already underway that is meant to address the former problem of POC, disabled folks, fat people, and other marginalized groups being labeled undesirable-- this is the sexual revolution of anti-racism, body positivity, disability activism, and, perhaps most importantly, affirmative consent. These actions are fundamentally opposed to the alleged "needs" of incels. Please, Ross, educate yourself.
Nigel (England)
This is as old as men and women. Right to sex? PAH! Women got one thing that men have always, and will always want. Play your cards right and you may get limited access, but women still own it. It's theirs to do with what they please, and it'll always be theirs. Maybe that's not fair. Ask a woman what's not fair? And they'll give you a list.
SB (United States)
One weeps for the dominant hand that serves such an angry man, often more than once a day for a lifetime. Do they respect and cherish that hand? No. They openly rage that they are owed more, that they’re entitled to use the body of another human. How does it make their current partner feel? (Are we seriously discussing these hateful Gollum cos-players? Many industries already serve their needs. Grow up.)
Jon (Colorado Springs)
A right to sex seems like it could only be a right if there were artificial means to provide it; ie, the right doesn't require anybody else to give up their right to not have sex. But then what's the definition of sex? My definition of sex requires at least two people. And if that's the case, then a right to sex couldn't exist without impinging on the rights of others not to have sex. As they say, it takes two to tango. Sex workers don't fix the issue, because they charge money. My assumption is that those on the extreme spectrum of sexual undesirability would have to pay considerable amounts of money to convince someone to have sex with them. So they would have the same right to sex that I have to expensive healthcare that isn't covered by my insurance. It exists, but it's unaffordable. If a right to sex can't exist without taking away someone else's more fundamental right to not have sex, then it shouldn't exist. On a side note, I don't know if any philosophy even tangentially related to the "incel" movement is worth debating at length. Let's give their ideas enough sunlight to wither, and then go back to ignoring their deranged narcissism.
Alex Mon (Tennessee)
The entire idea of sex robots is pretty strange to me. Although I’m open minded to trying to understand different practices in sex, unfortunately I find myself judging those who use even sex dolls. Especially now that there’s talk about children sex dolls to possibility decrease abuse on kids. Obviously I’m all for keeping children safe from pedophiles, but at the same time, is this normalizing their behavior? This ties in with Douthat’s comments of “incel”. According to Maslow, there is a hierarchy of needs, the first being physiological: food, water, shelter, sleep and sex. Of course the asexual should be taken accounted for, but to many people sex is important, but I don’t believe it is a right. I’ve known people personally who haven’t participated with a partner for years while functioning perfectly fine without raping people. The idea of incel may be sex is an extreme want, but no one is entitled to share this connection with anyone but himself or herself. Rape is a serious issue; I think that those who believe people deny the fortification they “deserve” can be helped through therapy not robots. Robots might be able help people with social anxiety and different sexual practices but shouldn’t be for normalizing and condoning the entitled.
s einstein (Jerusalem)
Whether by intention or not this article explores a complex issue within the binary constraints of “either/or,” rather than considering its multidimensionality as a dynamic interacting continuum of “actors” and “actions. Some are adequately known. Some are currently unknown but may become knowable. And there are others, within our reality of uncertainty, unpredictabilities, randomness and lack of total control, notwithstanding our efforts, which may remain unknown, whatever their impacts. In addition, it is useful to consider that this label, which attributes/“tags” an identity to a person’s behavior-chosen or not- represents a diverse group of people. WHO a person is, as experienced identity, as well as attributed identity by others, is more than just semantically different from WHAT s/he does or doesn’t do; their overt and covert behaviors. By choice or not. A shared lacking in...does not “homogenize” their states of Being, their available and accessible internal and external interacting resources for daily coping, adapting and functioning.The map is not the territory. The word is not what is being targeted; focused on. The label is not the living person!
Emil (US)
Sex workers and sex robots can offer temporary sexual release. They cannot cure loneliness. The only way to elevate loneliness is to cultivate friendships.
Vin (NYC)
Ross, the topic of sex inevitably scrambles your brain. Without fail. Hanson’s redistribution of sex wasn’t a “provocation” but rather an unwitting tale. Sex, last I checked, requires (at least) two people. Hanson seems to forget there’s another person - and that person’s consent - required. The woman in this scenario has no say in the matter. It’s exclusively about satiating male desire. This is deeply misogynistic. It’s worth noting that if one looks into incel online communities, one finds that they are replete with deep, vicious hatred toward women. A feeling that these men deserve sex from these women - and that women have no say in the matter - is pervasive. Hanson simply repeats these sick rantings in more polite terms. As for the sex robots...well, that’s late capitalism, baby.
gregg collins (Evanston IL)
I think you jumped the shark with this column, Ross. I've often found it intellectually stimulating to confront the question of why your ideas seem wrong-headed; it's less edifying to contemplate why your ideas seem morally bankrupts and completely appalling. Before I go, though, I want to point out that the ideas that are the cornerstones of your faux-historic days-of-yore fantasies--modesty, chastity, (female) monogamy, etc.--were conceived as part of a system for binding women to "their" men in lifetime sexual slavery, the precise purpose of which was to ensure that wealthy men would never find themselves in the unfortunate position of being involuntarily celibate. You are a crypto-male-supremecist, and there's not all that much "crypo" about it. Your proposed remedy, stripped of the Sunday-school happy-talk, is to make women men's sexual property again. Thanks. We tried that already.
camorrista (Brooklyn, NY)
Hilarious: Ross Douthat, a conservative intellectual who never hides his disdain for all forms of therapy, now wants us to "understand" all the external & internal obstacles faced by "incels" (i.e.,wanna-be rapists). And he even has a suggestion: the "incels" should marry virgins, raise a family and, of course, stay faithful. Brilliant! A few days ago, at my gym, an "incel" began to harass two women. One of the women was a trainer, the other her client. The trainer tried--futilely--to deflect the harassment. Then, using the "incel" as a model, she demonstrated some elegant karate gestures. Then, the gym manager called 911 for an ambulance.
Curiosity Jason (New York City)
Incel males just need to change their behavior and bat for the other team. Or just give it up, and acknolwdge that they actually are not physically attractive and that evolution is working in its proper, and not so mysterious, ways. It's a good idea to make good sex robots so these evolutionary dead ends can go to their graves having spilled their seed in a way that does not involve war or rape or anything. There is no right to sex. At all. Either you are attractive to the opposite (or same or cis-same or cis-other) sex or you are not. In other words, if you can't find someone to hold you at night, it is not the fault of the government or society. It is likely genetic, and there's not much that can overcome that. If you are not procreating and passing on those genes, then you're the biological dead end. Now, for non-procreating couples of any type, they can and do choose adoption and surrogacy. Because the child or children are fully by choice, it's my thoroughly unscientific opinion that those kids stand a really good chance of being actually loved. For those that don't fit the world's definition of sexy or beautiful, and who are amazing people to be around, the loneliness can be unbearable. Good people can hope that life gives them fulfillment in other ways. Or with a good sex robot or something. Sex is important to us all, but there is no law that saws you Will Have Sex. That is rape, plain and simple.
Nancy Brown (Laguna Woods, CA)
"One lesson to be drawn from recent Western history might be this: Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane." For God's sake, even a broken clock is right twice a day. That doesn't make the clock useful or insightful. There is no inherent right to have sex and incels who kill people for sex-deprivation revenge don't need sex robots. They do, however, need help. They should have a right to low-cost or no-cost mental health counseling. That would be part of a universal healthcare plan, which would save millions of dollars & thousands of lives long term. Too sensible & too "big picture?" Yup. We only look at solving our problems in daily sound bytes, and we wonder why we keep falling further & further behind in world leadership, healthcare & infrastructure. We're no longer #1 & exceptional in any way except for civilian gun deaths in the developed world & the size of our military.
Chris (USA)
I love this comment. Right on!!
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Does wanting something oblige all others to provide whatever it happens to be to a particular individual? Read extensively enough and interact with enough people and you will find that pedophilia has existed for many generations, homosexuality arises from heterosexual couplings continuously through history whether cultures forbid it or encourage it, and that there have always been people who treat others as prey to be tortured and killed for their own enjoyment. There are things which people want that others cannot be expected to provide. Sex is rewarding when it comes with mutual gratification for the participants but not when it is one sided. When it is one sided it is only suffering for the other participants. Giving satisfaction to one mean denying it for the others. So the problem is transferred not resolved.
AG (Canada)
This thought experiment demonstrates clearly the fact that every right implies an obligation from someone else. For everyone to have a right to food, housing, healthcare, etc., means other more privileged people have an obligation to either provide it free themselves, or pay for it to be provided by someone else. Charitable people provide it themselves, the welfare state forces the more privileged to pay for it to be provided. In the case of sex, the same argument could be applied: either a woman has an obligation to provide it, or society has an obligation to pay for some willing prostitute, or a sex robot, to provide it. The twist is that religions call women who provide "charity sex" sinners, not saints. Even men receiving it are likely to call them that. Sex is one area where even the most liberal become free market Ayn Rand types: if you can't earn it yourself, tough! Stop whining and get to work.
Steve (Indiana PA)
The more things change the more they stay the same. Even forty years ago the high school boy who had his "cherry popped" aka. lost his virginity was cooler than the boy who graduated as a virgin. Since the dawn of time there are ingroup winners and outside losers. That is the nature of human and primate behavior. Social media has magnified and focused these feelings of grievance and victimization more. Easy access to lethal weapons has made people who feel marginalized potentially more dangerous. Good parenting and available and nonstigmatized mental health care are better than virtual sex or a new paradigm proposed in the article. Besides when isn't the world going to realize that the only good lasting sex comes with true love.
RR (San Francisco, CA)
It's interesting that Ross would would write a column worrying about Incels' inability to get sex. When did religious right start caring about these issues? When one thinks harder, you realize that most Incels are from the religious and/or conservative backgrounds, and they are he ones increasingly getting isolated as an increasing number of women from the same conservative/religious community reject their background and seek non-religious mates; after all, why would all such women willingly accept a subservient role to a man that is proscribed in most religious traditions. Number of women going the other way, rebelling against their liberal/atheist upbringing to turn to conservative principles has to be a fraction.
Hanrod (Orange County, CA)
First, Ross, your statement that "socialists and populists in politics" are "intellectual eccentrics" is not only wrong, but dishonest on your part -- you know better than that, merely look at the numbers, please. As usual, this is apparently the real point of your article; and your sly prescriptions for some return to "the good old days", does not and will not serve, neither as to politics and economics nor as to sex. Second, there is neither right nor need to assert some perceived "right" to sexual participation from other people. We are individuals, and experience our natural sexual drive and release individually, regardless of the participation of others. The future, whether with robots, sex dolls or other technology will not only reinforce this, but will free us too.
Nate (Cleveland)
This is a terrifying take to find in a news organization that is respected around the world. This should be heinous from its apparent endorsement that anyone can have a right to use someone else's body, and its arguments don't even stand up, if that wasn't enough to disqualify this piece. First: We have had sexual selection from time immemorial. That does not entitle you to rape someone. Second: If you cannot talk well to people, or find them that are willing to have sex with you, that is your problem. That does not entitle you to rape someone. Third: If you believe that you can only be truly happy if you are having sex, you need to reevaluate your life goals. That does not entitle you to rape someone. It should not be hard to condemn something that calls for the redistribution of human bodies, but here we are.
Anne (Portland)
I'm sure there are lots of women in the US who aren't getting the amount of sex they'd like nor able to have sex with ideal men. But you know what they aren't doing? Creating hateful forums demanding men have sex with them or risk violence.
Peg Duncan (Ottawa, Ontario)
Missing the point. The "incel" group have more in common with other extremist, fundamentalist, militant hate groups that attract troubled youth. We need to identify and help these people before they become vulnerable to online hate ideologies. When they're bullied as small children. When they don't know how to make and keep friends. When they show other signs of social learning disabilities. Turning this into a liberal/conservative argument isn't helpful.
PDXtallman (Portland, Oregon)
"...Whether sex workers and sex robots can actually deliver real fulfillment ..." But this is not the issue. Rape is a crime for the obvious, and exhaustingly legally thrashed out reasons. Shooting up the school because you don't like Mondays is equally a crime. Both perpetrators are mentally ill, and We should see to it that 1) we identify those likely to offend; 2) take affirmative steps to prevent their crimes; and 3) deliver mental health services and the research that affords Us a deeper and productive understanding of the roots of these criminals' 'bad brains'. Affording an opportunity for criminals to share their criminal minds with other criminals results in the Klan.
Puying Mojo (Honolulu)
They are not mentally ill. They are angry, hate-filled and entitled.
Brer Rabbit (Silver Spring, MD)
Ross, you take their problem too seriously. This is not about sex or economics. The emptiness and isolation they feel will not be resolved through sex. I think they would feel better if they set aside their computers and phones and stopped talking to each other so much. I think they would feel better if they reclaimed their personal agency and rejoined the more general society.
Cormac (NYC)
Um... So here's the thing, like rape, the "incel" phenomenon is about power not sex. Here is how Arshy Mann, a Toronto journalist who has studied "incels" described them to NPR: "[an] online subculture of young men who feel very frustrated with their sexual and romantic lives. They get together online to kind of talk about this, but the way that they express that isn't through working through their feelings or talking through their issues. Instead, they move toward a very virulent misogyny, and they spend a lot of their time engaging in really violent ideation about the horrible things that they want to do to women and to sexually successful men." This is not a problem addressed on the individual level by giving them sex, it is a problem that is addressed by giving them mental health treatment. And it is not a problem addressed on the societal level by creating rights to sex, but rather by adjusting ideas of masculinity, entitlement, and status.
Mark Johnson (Bay Area)
Weird! The greatest and best distribution of sex invented is marriage of one person to another, with at least a presumption that the two partners will obtain their sexual gratification within the marriage. No, it does not work for everyone--but it does work for a great many. Incidentally, it also provides a means to accommodate the frequent results of sexual gratification: children. I am told that many religions encourage this solution, as do many who disavow religion. Self-gratification can always be an option for distributing sexual pleasure, whether strictly do-it-yourself, or assisted with the help of various visual or tactile aids. Commercial ventures are available as an additional option for those determined to let capitalism be the final arbiter of all things. Finally, the incel boys should perhaps follow the teachings of Dire Straights: "I should'a learned to play the guitar...Money for nothing and the chicks for free." The truth is out there.
Aspiesociologist (New York)
Mr. Douthat, Have you gone on the incel message boards? The discourse utilizes tropes of rape and assault. This is not about sex, it is about power and control. Hanson is disngeneously conflating the desire to rape with the desire for sex. These men do not want to have sex with a consenting partner. Recognizing that who we find sexually attractive is a social construction and calling for a rethinking of how we understand the sexuality of people with disabilities, people who are transgender or people who are not conventionally attractive, etc. is not an equivalent of Hanson's argument. To suggest that this is the case is to deliberately misread Srinivasan's essay.
Kate (Portland)
"There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate"--except that Douhat never seems to want to address the reasons that the "older ideas" failed so badly: they grew too dependent on misogyny, shame, and male supremacy to be as useful as they once were to our societies' stability. Maintaining a false image of these ideas was becoming more important than the reality that they were failing badly. Monogamy was always required for women but not men. Men insist under this model that women are responsible for regulating male sexuality and enforce this through sexual violence and rape. And as church leaders elevated celibacy, they were quietly hiding and protecting sexual abusers--as long as the image of propriety was there, they didn't seem to care about the reality. So as much as the "pendulum swing" to some sort of relationship-less, abstract ideas of sex seems scary and ridiculous, it is no less ridiculous or scary than what the old model was threatening to become, and much of society rightly rejected it. I suspect (and hope) we will all settle down somewhere in the middle.
Maria Ashot (EU)
No one is "entitled" to be loved. If you want to be close to someone, cultivate within yourself the qualities that make you desirable. Part of the whining from the "incel community" has to do with their complete unwillingness to view others as complete, autonomous human beings. They don't just demand sexual services, Mr. Douthat: they resent that the categories of females they themselves personally most desire are not automatically falling into bed with them just because they snap their fingers. There's a revolting tendency to dehumanize females who don't look a certain way, sound a certain way, act a certain way by these same immature boors who refuse to take an honest look at themselves. All the media have promoted a cookie-cutter idea of what is 'desirable' in a date/mate. Most lonely people, if they were less obsessed with a certain type, could find a reciprocal, satisfying, supportive partner just by themselves being more open, more generous, kinder. What these troubled, rage-filled souls need is therapy, not sexual "services."
Tom (Vancouver Island, BC)
"The left’s increasing zeal to transform prostitution into legalized and regulated “sex work” will have this end implicitly in mind..." This is just a sloppy straw-man characterization with no basis in fact. First of all, legalization of prostitution is not a "left" position: many liberals and progressives abhor the idea, just as many conservatives, particularly libertarians, favor it. But more to the point, I have never read a serious proposal for legalizing prostitution that was based on anything like the idea of "redistributing" access to sex. The main arguments invariably fall into two categories similar to the arguments for legalizing drugs: 1) the libertarian argument that people should be free to do as they please with their own bodies; and 2) the social welfare argument that the pathologies associated with prostitution (or drugs) are mostly enabled and exacerbated by forcing them into the shadows by criminalization.
David Doney (I.O.U.S.A.)
Sex in this day and age isn't hard to come by (no pun intended). The question is really about setting your standards appropriately. No, we are not all entitled to a member of the opposite sex in the top 10% of the distribution in terms of their education, looks, fitness, social networks, etc. Those folks are reserved for their peers, unless they choose otherwise. If you smoke, drink too much, are overweight and underemployed, rest easy, there are many folks out there like you who would be glad to meet you. Just restrict yourself to your pool.
cholo (San Antonio)
Amazing how many of the NY Times readers missed the innovative and speculative aspects of your article, and how much they distorted what you say. It shows once again how the brains of even educated and presumably critically minded people (relative to the American public, I suppose) are short-circuited when it comes to discussions of sex. There is actually a respected tradition in contemporary philosophy that you could have appealed to in this piece, it is called "luck egalitarianism." Roughly, it holds that inequalities in the distribution of important goods that are not the result of individual decisions should be rectified. This philosophy has been applied to justify the redistribution of such goods as income, healthcare, and occupational opportunities. If this social justice philosophy seems plausible, it is quite reasonable to ask why, for example, a person with a congenital skin ailment that renders her or him very unattractive to the vast majority of the population does not have a justifiable justice claim to receive her or his fair share of physical affection and pleasure. Since the reason for their unattractiveness is not the result of a personal decision or choice (unlike, presumably, cases where someone is unattractive because of extreme selfishness or arrogance), why does the distributive principle not apply to such an important aspect of life (for most people at least) as sex? In short, the thinking is not as "eccentric" as you claim.
Medusa (Cleveland, OH)
Whoa, whoa, whoah. I thought that Mr Douthat and his conservatives friends wanted everyone to be married before they had sex, and the Catholic conservatives don't want to use birth control. I would pay to watch the likes of McConnell, Ryan et al propose a bill to fund sex robots for poor incels. Would this program also pay for birth control for the sex workers? Would our tax dollars be used to pay these lucky ladies?
SO (Canada)
Why try to redistribute sex when we could simply redistribute sexual desire? As someone who was once a very unhappy sexless teenage boy (the type that, today, would probably have been drawn to the Incel community), I can say with authority that unfulfilled sexual desire is an ugly thing. But why not treat the desire itself as the issue to be addressed? Teenage girls can buy tampons and birth control to make the experience of their emerging sexuality more comfortable; why not give teenage boys easy access to drugs that would inhibit their otherwise out of control sexual desires? I'm serious. If we're going to talk about legalized prostitution or government subsidized sex robots, we should also certainly be talking about providing access to over-the-counter drugs that can lower sex drive. It's a much less morally fraught solution, and if what you really want is "men's liberation", that's the way to get it.
Steve B. (Pacifica CA)
Douthat’s argument seems logical as long as the reader accepts his absolutely warped view of the actual work we inhabit. This is a man who, if he were taken on a vacation to some fabulous locale, flew first class and enjoyed amazing food and weather, would report on his return home that there were (gasp) dirty magazines in the airport news stand! Furthermore, his notion of ‘the battle of the sexes’ is laughable. In his mind, war has been declared on men, by women, and (much worse) traitorous men who have abandoned the heterosexual fundament. He should re-examine the definition of war and conflict. It’s okay for women to want to control property, to not be forced to give birth, and for everyone to want to be treated fairly when they walk in the room. Finally — a Hefnerian world? You’ve plummeted from the plains of perspicacity by stepping off the precipice of pomposity.
Amanda (Los Angeles)
Once again! A think piece that ignores the REALITY of those calling themselves Incels. A five minute review of one of their forums quickly reveals the truth: these so-called "Incels" are anything but involuntarily celibate. They are voluntarily celibate because they ONLY want to have sex with women who look like cheerleaders and models. They abhor and avoid other women. This column is arguing against a set of alternate facts. There are plenty of women who don't meet the definition of model or cheerleader for these creeps to mate with -- they simply refuse to.
Daniel (Kuwait)
I rather give them copies of Jordan Peterson’s books. These guys seems to be his target audience. A bunch of self absorbed, weak, entitled man-babies that need to start with cleaning their rooms first. Douthat is exactly what I expect a conservative writer to be these days: a balloon full of hot air whose thinking is never anchored in the material reality.
F/V Mar (ME)
Incels could take out loans to enroll in a private online "university" for a certificate in Pxssy Grabbing. If Incels are not able to complete their studies or find "jobs", Bank lenders and owners will offset their social failures by enjoying strong profits.
Gerry (WY)
Incels want more than sex. They want to be desired by "hot girls". They want the "hot girls" as an entitlement not as a fulfilling human relationship. "Hot girls" and "hot girls" only. They don't want to have to work at a relationship or develop social skills. They are damaged human beings. No amount of sex robots or access to sex workers (they don't want sex workers; they want their own "hot girl") will resolve their frustration. Incels don't need online forums or "redistribution of sex" they need therapy.
Marie (Boston)
There are far too many people who are obsessed with sex in ways that are not helpful to others or the society. And they seem to assume that everyone else is as obsessed as they are. What is so disturbing about this "incel" thing and repeated in "why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" is the idea that women are simply sexual tools that owe men sex. Impersonal goods that can be distributed about as desired. And the "involuntarily" part? That is blaming others for who you are. Look at yourselves. Look at other men in relationships. You can see that not all of them have relationships simply for their money or looks. Many a non-"Chad" man has relationships. Personality and emotions are more important. Making women fearful or creeped out are not ways to win their affections. If you are unwilling to change the characteristics that keep you from having relationships you are not involuntarily celibate, you are voluntarily celibate. And yes, women can see through acts. Maybe not all, all the time, but in the end acts are seen for what they are.
Michael Chorost (Washington, D. C.)
As someone who struggled socially while growing up -- I didn't have my first girlfriend until I was 26, and didn't meet my wife until I was 44 -- I can sympathize with the feelings of incels. However, the solution isn't to find some way to "give" women to men; as others here have pointed out, that's exploitative in half a dozen ways. For me, the solution was to become a better man. I spent years going to group therapy and workshops on communication. I learned that the skills of listening, compassion, self-awareness and patience can be taught, and I got chances to practice that I was rarely afforded in real life. These were skills that high school and college *never* taught me, and discovering there were classes for such things was a revelation. If I was asked to recommend a policy-based solution to the problems of incels, it would be this: Support these kinds of therapies and make it easy for incels to find and pay for them.
Howard (Los Angeles)
I used a search program to look for the word "love" in your column, Mr. Douthat. I didn't find it. Sure, there are a lot of unusual people who get their kicks by writing about unusual ideas and sex. Congratulations to you for joining them.
Josh Hill (New London)
It isn't 1950 anymore, and it seems that celibacy leads mostly to pedophilia as priests those felt they had a reason to remain celibate demonstrate that they were correct. You can pretty much take all that nonsense (you have discussed this with a psychiatrist, haven't you?) and shove it with the even more nonsensical nonsense about the redistribution of the right to copulate (Darwin had other ideas) and then that leaves us with what -- sex robots? Seems like a good idea. They'd keep those incels happy, and they don't get headaches, or venereal disease. More seriously, the avoid the issues of human trafficking and the barbaric jailing of prostitutes. No one has to pretend that sex is a "right" to see that it's a compassionate solution. But the engineering isn't adequately advanced; that's where the real work will be done, not by the wingnuts or feminists or columnists who yearn for a non-existent utopia of rectitude in which everyone was straight, married for life, and dedicated either to missionary position or God, and in which prostitution, having been illegal, ceased to exist (it has actually become less legal and less common as sexual mores have loosened -- imagine that!).
Sarah D. (Montague MA)
A little odd to have this discussion without mentioning murder. They guy in Toronto didn't "seek retribution" against women. He murdered and injured a slew of women in a fit of rage. That's not open to rational discussion. As to a right to sex? Nope. Hope, yes. Right, no. Rape, obviously no, although it's probably all that would satisfy these sociopaths.
NNI (Peekskill)
Sex on either end of the spectrum between what is deemed good/bad, right/wrong, in/out of formal/informal relationships, church/state/personal. Redistribution of sex seems like a commodity from wholesale to retail. And we now have ' incels ' demanding rights, damnit rights (!!)to have sex. That these whackos even get a mention let alone discussions by so-called enlightened academics is beyond any reckoning or reason. Will incels getting a right to sex become a civil duty like jury duty? How did you find these creepy experts like Hanson and Srinivasan? That you even discuss them is what surprises me the most. Having sex on my brain all the time is bad enough!
Mr. Adams (Texas)
I don't believe so-called incels will be satisfied with hookers and robots. Many of the same arguments could be made about porn, yet porn doesn't stop these guys either. That's because what most seem to want is not sex but rather to be desired sexually by someone. You can't get that from anything less than a real relationship between two lovers, which is why incels continue to pursue relationships rather than hiring call girls. Then they become frustrated when their awkward and/or creepy advances are turned down by women who see them as they really are: socially handicapped and therefore potentially dangerous or abusive. Rather than recognizing the problem is on their end and working to better themselves, they seek the easy way out by claiming they've got a right to sex and therefore no matter how awkward & creepy they are women should still fall for them. Unfortunately, that's just not ow the world works and so they kill others in pointless acts of rebellion against the laws of nature. The real solution is not to make sex into something that can be bought and had by anyone, but rather to teach young men and women the social skills they need to build real relationships. I know plenty of ugly men with great wives and girlfriends, so being overweight or ugly clearly doesn't kick you out of the dating pool. What does kick you out is an inability to interact with other humans in a respectful, casual, and fun manner. It really is as simple as that: just don't be a creep!
Clearheaded (Philadelphia)
Ross, this loopy adventure is in line with the craziness you spouted recently on tv, including Bill Maher's show. You have a mistaken impression that libertines from the 60's through today have thoroughly debauched "normal" and "righteous" sexual conventions that held in the U.S. for a relatively short time, from the 1900's through the 1950's, about exclusivity, divorce as moral failing, ethnic purity, and the subjugation of women. You use this false narrative to make a case that since we've trashed what's good and moral, we have entered a new realm where anything is possible, even direable. This is nonsense - gay marriage does not lead to the demand that men or women can marry turtles, or other extreme ideas. People still love in a sense that even you would approve, they desire who they desire, and not anyone who comes along. When you suggest that people have the right to sex from those who are not attracted to them (outside of sex worker), you have stepped entirely off the reservation. What I hear from you echoes the incels, who are ugly (inside) at best, and murdering sexists at worst. Please step back from the group who refer to attractive women who won't have sex with them as "sluts", who advocate rape to break their involuntary celibacy, and murder when that fails. I usually disagree with your ideas, which are often at least thoughtful, but this is beyond the pale. I guess you need to sell product like most of us, but you're better than this.
BostonMom (Boston, MA)
Anybody can have "sex" anytime they want -- it's called masturbation. Sexual access to another person requires the free consent of both parties. A person has no entitlement to someone else's body.
Jean (New Orleans)
Everyone has the right to sex. It's called masturbation. It can be with your hand or a sex robot. Sex with another person requires consent. Even sex workers should have the right to turn down a potential customer. Someday we may get to the point where women have the same agency as men, the same rights to their body and not just be a thought 'experiment' in how sex with them should be more available to men. Until then we get drivel like this.
David Martin (Paris, France)
Generally speaking, on average, the majority of married people have little sex. The real problem is the selling of the perception that normal people have great sex, very often, and un-normal people don’t. This is part of a greater marketing campaign to sell cars and a thousand other things.
Berkeley Bee (San Francisco, CA)
The only way that "redistribution" works is if you're talking about a commodity. The only way that sex is a commodity is if we're talking about sex workers. Real relationships are not commodities. Incels or just dorky, angry guys who can't get any or even get a date and think they are unfairly being cut out of relationships need a good, hard talk about everything they do and don't do, how they act and don't, how they dress and don't. They need serious, deep re-education and time to get with the program that is used to find, make and keep a relationship. If they just want release, they can, of course, stay with the commodity concept and seek out sex-for-pay. But then they have to give up the anger. It has no place if they accept this path. They will have *chosen* what they really want. End of story.
PMW (.)
Douthat: "... [Slate’s Jordan] Weissman [sic] engaged with Hanson’s thought experiment — by commenting on its weirdness or ideological extremity rather than engaging fully with its substance." Weissmann never uses the words "weirdness" or "ideological". However, in a footnote, Weissmann says "that Hanson is an opaque writer prone to producing half-baked, ambiguous blog posts." Weissmann explains the ambiguity in the body of her essay: 'Hanson’s meaning might be a bit more lucid if he didn’t have a weakness for the cheap provocateur’s trick of simply “raising questions” about volatile issues rather than taking clear stances, which leaves some room for interpretation.' Those quotes show that Weissmann is herself an inept essayist, because she resorts to name-calling and fails to analyze the ambiguities. Further, Weissmann engages in mind-reading: "Hanson read it and, amazingly, saw an opportunity to razz progressives."
Cynthia (Seattle)
So Mr. Douthat believes forced redistribution of sex is inevitable. I assume he'll be first in line to offer his wares.
Me (wherever)
I'd take a different tack - my guess is that the incels are mostly if not all young, innately or nurtured (family etc.) shy/awkward (as many of us are), narcissists (blaming others) but raised wth the internet and spent too much time online in comfortable corners rather than learning how to navigate actual human beings. Sure, there are many others who grew up at the same time and are not incels, but with less innate or nurtured social awkwardness (it is a continuum but with threshold effects), though many of them have other problems. Seems also likely that what they see/read online gives the impression that everyone else is having wild wonderful sex with little or no courting or non-sexual interaction and buildup beforehand. Maybe some of them would be satisfied with dolls, with hookers, but my guess is most would not - their problems are greater than that. Either way, the best thing they could do for themselves if they want flesh and blood women is to get out of the incel groups and being whiny children, get away from online porn, actually get completely offline sometimes, and do the harder work of learning how to navigate humanity face to face. They will need lots of help to do that. As for the economist quoted, I was trained as an economst but have recognized for a long time that economics (markets, goods) is not always the best or palatable tool for addressing problems. Those who try to twist everything into economics are lacking in tools.
HughMcDonald (Brooklyn, NY)
Instead of complaining, the incels might work at their appearance, their character, their accomplishments and other features. Wear more fashionable clothes. Get a new hair style. Pick up a new hobby. Make yourself more interesting. Above all, don't overlook the average woman, who just might make a better wife.
EE (Canada)
You'd think that the widespread availability of prostitutes, mail-order brides, pornographic services like cam-girls etc would be enough for any man to get some degree of sexual satisfaction. These troubled guys find all of that repugnant along with the interest of average looking women with an average amount of sexual experience. Wanting sex with virginal supermodels and without providing anything in return - not manners, not responsible behaviour, and sans commitment is basically the wish of an overgrown baby. Time for therapy of some sort!
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
There is no question that incels are all mentally ill in some fashion.
kj (Philly)
This is not about access to pornography or sex robots or sex workers. This is, once again, about power, control, resentment, and misogyny. Thought experiments such as this perpetuate the idea that women exist for the pleasure and edification of men. You would never guess that women are people, not some amorphous being or abstract concept. The Beckys and Stacys they talk about are gross caricatures. Do not make the mistake of symphathising, they do not think women are human and as such they should be controlled-like a commodity. Many have the luxury of thought experiments because the reality has never and will never happen to them.
Josh Hill (New London)
What they seem to miss is that the reality will never happen to them precisely because they think of women in those terms! There are plenty of women looking for guys who are kind, loving, and respectful.
AF (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Alas, it it the culture makers who perpetuate this, and they are deeply protected by the First Amendment. When was the last time you saw a pop musician who couldn't instead have chosen a career as a model?
tew (Los Angeles)
Whenever I heard the lead in of "This is not about X, it is about Y", I know I've got an argument bully - all about controlling the frame in absolutist terms to dictate the conditions such that the only possible solution is the argument bully's. A thoughtful counterpart always leaves the door open to more complexity, even if the person is convinced that her/his framework is the dominant one that applies.
Mollykins (Oxford)
Why don't the "involuntary celibates" don't just have sex with each other, instead of women who don't want to have sex with them?
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The unwelcome response to this subject is that life is unconcerned with happiness, it does whatever perpetuates life until death ends it. Life as we know it is the extended and greatly expanded process that has continued unbroken since the creation of one cell billions of years, ago. Every living thing is a finite end to that process and when each dies so does that extension of life. Our gift of intelligent awareness seeks fairness and happiness but that is all. Humans are dependent upon bisexual reproduction. Evolution has selected what works. Human societies consciously favor behaviors which perpetuate their groups through the next generation. Individuals strive to be happy but they cannot ignore the constraints imposed by nature nor remain in cultures which constrain what they want just because they would like. The rest of this discussion amounts to dancing around the really difficult issue of how to deal with reality when it disappoints.
Amy (Los Angeles, CA)
You know, if you start with the premise that women are people this whole wasted column really just falls apart. Our bodies, even for sex workers, are not commodities and our agency matters. Sex workers decide what to do with who. Fat people, disabled people, people who are not conventionally attractive, and kinky people all manage to have sex without needing a 'redistribution.' What persists is a group of men who cannot see sex as an act of intimacy with a human and insist they are owed something. Seriously, what is wrong with this guy?
Rachel (Boston)
I could not have said this better. Literally mind blowing that he just openly asserted that women, property and money should all be redistributed. What a joke.
Nick (NY)
I love robots.
just Robert (North Carolina)
You love robots, but do they love you back? Good luck.
nora m (New England)
The right to sex ends at your own ability to pleasure yourself. It has been there all along.
LouiseH (UK)
I don't think the Left wants to regulate prostitution for the benefit of the punters any more than they wanted to secure worker protections for the benefit of the employers. The bracketing together of "someone who is working in the sex trade" and "something that isn't alive" is a highly dodgy one. I'm dubious about any article that casually groups together prostitutes and sex robots as useful things that in the future incels will be able to have sex with when they like.
Emily68 (USA)
“one might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income” I’ll believe that when someone plausibly argues it.
Anne (Portland)
Curious if Douthat is willing to distribute his body to men and women he might find unattractive and/or to be horrible human beings?
Carl (Winston salem NC)
I think a missed opportunity in this article is discussion of China's gender imbalance: nowhere in the world will these problems of sexual philosophy come up against a harder realpolitik. With a 118-100 male to female ratio among babies, there will be literally billions of men unable to find meaningful sexual connection in their home community. The results of this could be catastrophic, and there don't seem to be easy answers to hand.
Sara Greenleaf (Oregon)
Thank you for making me think, anyhow. Obviously, it is time for societies to, in their myriad ways, stop deciding for us what is most sexually desirable and attractive. We know this causes people (mostly women) terrible distress, but we can’t seem to help ourselves. It’s a shame and relatively easy to adjust. It is true that people who think outside the box are often addressing more nuanced versions of reality. But I would never apply this to thinkers who use their ideas as a justification for hurting people. Nuance is seeing all the various planes of a situation, not simply using an argument to get what you want at the expense of your neighbors’ health and well-being. I can see by the headlines that I am reading lately, and by my own experiences with even very liberal men, that the current feminist movement does not yet have the breathing room for nuance.
Rebecca Ralston (Seattle)
The thought exercise is interesting, but coded. The right to sex plays out in many ways today, including failure to be believed in the court of law, attempts to restrict information about birth control, restricting access to family planning services, restriction of other female freedoms, including isolation and lack of education for female children. All are attempt to restrict women’s rights regarding sex. Until you can frame the discussion in terms of equality of rights for all, you are a part of the problem.
Perry (Berkeley, CA)
We are all cordially invited to a sex party! A different kind of sex party. A party where you gather with complete strangers and start by deeply listening -- really listening with empathy, love and compassion. As you listen, you hear things that really resonate with you, with your own life story, your own suffering, pain and long-held wounds. Suddenly, you don't feel so alone anymore. You start to realize your own situation is really no different than that of so many others. You realize we're all in the same boat. Then, you feel a connection to this person in front of you, previously a stranger but now someone you feel a new-found intimacy for, someone who has opened their heart to you. Someone who has cried for love just like you... You realize you've been holding back love all these years... Now that's what I call great sex!
Chris Patrick Augustine (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Talk about the fringe with this author... Was it the need to get a headline or cause a controversy or generally talk about societal problems? With elements of communism and sex, the author paints a picture trying to show how clever he is by making and stirring the truth. And if not him then the professor's themselves who don't know the truth. The whole story byline is sex robots, and nothing else but a glancing blow of a major societal shift. Instead of focusing on sex what about love? Instead of focusing on redistribution and wetting the 'fears' of the zeitgeist of socialism, why not focus on the true whys? Technology is a major influence on mankind's loneliness, not just sex robots. Feminism has been a major factor, too (like it or not). The disrespect of men in general is a factor. Then add in looks, money and the rest. It use to be that people of 'like looks' could find each other, but not with everyone staying at home idolizing the perfect and self hating themselves. The media is thus a huge influence. But today I learned a new term: incel, a form of the word ancillary in my mind (maybe intended but right on the spot). Those of us on the edge don't accept the zeitgeist because the consciousness of society does not accept those that think and vise versa. People who think are dangerous and start the fires. Those forced out of the common consciousness without a brain are even more dangerous: they are the 'mob of the masses.' Be careful with the matches!
CSadler (London)
Or you know they could just grab a cup of tea and make friends, develop a hobby, become decent people instead of self-entitled jerks. They might even end up getting laid as a result. Or not. Because that has to be okay, rather than used as yet another excuse to go around murdering people. There are plenty of involuntary celibate women (and men) around who don't go around killing so it isn't the celibacy, involuntary or otherwise that is the problem. Maybe instead of finding ways to appease appalling attitudes and actions, we should just say clearly that this behaviour is unacceptable.
Sara (Minneapolis)
My person is not available for "redistribution"; I am neither property nor money. This author raises the specter of legalized rape, and yet does not condemn it, or even explain that he does not support it.
Patriot (Nyc)
Ross proves yet again that he is so blinded by his own bigotry and devotion to conservative idols, he could not think or write his way out of a paper bag. The conflation of radically different strains of thought as falsely equivalent ... sounds like everything else the Republican propaganda machine produces to camouflage their male, white, fundamentalist views.
Jack (Austin)
(1) “‘[W]ho is desired and who isn’t is a political question,” which left-wing and feminist politics might help society answer differently ...” I think a decade or so ago there were a few tastemaker types who wondered aloud whether black women matched up with our standards of beauty. Then, as I recall, there were several TV commercials that matter-of-factly showed a young black or biracial woman (not always a celebrity) as the desirable woman a nerdy young white guy wanted to impress. Trendsetters quit talking in negative ways about black women and our standards of beauty. Those commercials may have been politics, broadly considered, but the argument was unforced and depended on the audience to supply crucial premises. (2) I thought the best comments on the sex/shame/incels NYT piece early this week were by women pointing out how some of these guys are interested only in glamorous women beyond their reach and don’t respond to women who express interest in them. The original Star Trek episode “Mudd’s Women” makes the point well. (3) For good and for ill I read Robert Graves’ version of the Golden Fleece story at 13. Yikes. He tells of a matriarchal world of sex, religion, and agriculture transitioning to a more patriarchal world. Men could go to a deity’s temple bearing a gift, undergo a purification rite appropriate to the deity, and consort with a temple priestess. Seems more wholesome than a red light district.
cw (madison)
So we should revive or adapt "older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate." Sort of like with priests, right? You see where I'm going here. Preists? Incels? Child Abuse? And another thing. DO you think in the past men weren't suffering from involuntary celibacy? Do you think they might have acted out on their feelings in some way that was not good for women?
M. Johnson (Chicago)
Back in the days before internet, I remember a friend who complained of lack of success in pick-up bars. He complained "I'm just not good at small talk." My response: "You think the rest of us were born good at small talk?" Get a clue. Make an effort! As far as I can tell "incels" don't think they should have to make the effort. They are narcissists who think women (and others) should be required to adapt to them and their demands. They are in need of extreme makeovers, starting with a good woman therapist.
Neal (Arizona)
This whole notion is profoundly silly. Society writ large has absolutely no responsibility for pandering to men who are too creepy to find a partner and certainly no right to force women to pander to their desires. That is called slavery, Mr. Douthat, and is not okay under any set of circumstances. Your informant, if that's what he suggests, is not just "brilliantly weird", he's a criminal.
Barbara Lester (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Why should we be pandering to these creepy misogynists? They don’t need sex robots; they need extreme mental health services and anti-psychotic drugs. Our society has so overemphasized sex and physical appearances that these immature and mentally ill men feel they deserve to have sex with porn actresses or Victoria Secrets models. Meanwhile, there are women who might not look like models who are ignored their whole lives by cruel men. Get over it. Sex is not a basic physical need on the same level with food or sleep. If they didn’t look at or treat women as mere receptacles, they might actually make a human connection, which is much more of a basic need.
John Fox (Orange County)
The correct move is not to try to satisfy everyone's sexual desire, but to teach people that it's possible to be celibate and happy. Our culture has a sickness around sex that elevates sex as the highest goal in life. It is not. Our culture has a sickness that is called hedonism, and this pursuit of pleasure will never end in happiness. Sex robots are not the answer; a change of perspective is the answer.
Jake (Santa Barbara, CA)
I rarely read Douthat, because I him, to coin a phrase, "consistently confused", about a great many things. And there's so much in here, honestly, I could hardly begin. He hates Hugh Hefner, for example, calling him a mere "pornographer", and yet, in this article he (laughably, given his prejudice) elevates Hefner's playboy philosophy to "Hefnerism". He struggles with the concept that everyone has, at once, a right to sex (they do - at least, an implied right), and, at the same time, has a right to not have sex with a partner they do not want to have sex with - this whole "sex" thing obviously has him caught in a philosophical conundrum. He's a grown man, and he's still struggling with it. Douthat is caught in the problem Twain observed in his Letters From the Earth, when he said “For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race -- and of ours -- sexual intercourse! It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting ddesert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!" So: reading Douthat's comments is like watching a man in the middle of a nightmare thrashing in his bed as he sleeps. Ah well. Thrash away, Douthat. We couldn't stop you anyhow - you just have to wake up from your own bad dream in your own due course.
Ed (Smalt-town Ontario)
For every Right, someone or some entity is on the hook for the balancing Obligation. The "Right to sex" argument falls down on the dilemma of upon whom does the obligation fall.
Gideon Strazewski (Chicago)
As the brother of a wheelchair-bound man (since birth) in his early 40s, I can tell you that this issue has far more dimensions than "incels." The disabled live in a world where sex is far more difficult that can be explained by off-putting social behavior and weird affect. What are your sexual options when people look upon you as pitiable, ineffectual, needy, with perhaps poor/no bladder control? Not to mention physically diminished. Granted, that's not descriptive of all disabled people...but growing up around the disabled-from-birth community, I can tell you that those descriptors cover many. Also, the disabled don't want to have relationships with other disabled people any more than the majority of us do. They want what we want; relationships with healthy, autonomous, sexually attractive partners. I'm not sure what to do about this issue, but at least it's a conversation that might be brought to the forefront in articles like these.
Anne Murphy McNamara (Baltimore)
From what I understood in the article, he focused on the rights of incels and included the disabled as a supporting afterthought. I think that’s a whole separate conversation, but I do agree that being disabled can be a barrier to emotional and sexual intimacy. I do wonder why he’s set against having a disabled partner, I understand that he desires a strong healthy woman, but I wonder if his distaste or disabled women is a projection of how he views himself. Not to go full oprah, but you can’t have a healthy relationship with anyone, disabled or well, if you don’t fix your relationship with yourself.
Anne (Portland)
"...the disabled don't want to have relationships with other disabled people...they want what we want; relationships with healthy, autonomous, sexually attractive partners." They can want that, and I can understand the frustration of not having a fulfilling sex life, but would you personally feel it to be your job to have sex with severely disabled women because they deeply desire it or feel entitled to it? So, where does the discussion go if we start with the premise that no one owes anybody sex?
Mary (undefined)
To repeat an obvious phrase: You can't always get what you want.
A2CJS (Norfolk, VA)
We have seen how much it cost to keep Trump happy all of these years. Just how much is the government supposed to spend to provide such equal rights to incels?
MW (Indiana)
At first, I could not even finish this opinion piece, but I made myself go back and read it. Sex is a natural, human drive, and one can certainly understand how those who are involuntarily celibate feel bereft. However, when serious thought is given to how to meet the demands of the involuntarily celibate through the use of sex workers, I...I...as my millennial children would say, I can't even.
Thomas Deal (Seattle)
Income inequality causes resentment, anger, calls for reform, and occasionally violence. Are we surprised that unequal access to sex and love does also?
ExileInLA (Los Angeles, CA)
There is a difference between the "right to sex" - the concept that government cannot prohibit consenting adults from engaging in mutually agreeable sexual conduct - and "the right to sex with YOU" - this mistaken notion that any person can compel a specific other person to engage in sex. Douthat, by conflating the two, does a disservice to his core argument.
Carla (Massachusetts)
Douthat might want to sit down and read Carole Pateman's "The Sexual Contract." That (mostly) young white men are irritated that the sexual social contract is being rewritten isn't a surprise. Neither is their growing intent to blow up that system and restore their perceived God-given right to women's bodies.
K Yates (The Nation's File Cabinet)
If I involuntarily tolerate the nonsense cooked up by men over the milennia, will they redistribute common sense for me?
Michael (Madison, WI)
The "incel" issue has nothing to do with sex rights. It is a market valuation problem. Just as I would be "inbus" (involuntarily taking the bus) if I attempted to purchase a Bugati with only the funds to pay for a Corolla, the "incel"s overestimate their own dating market worth, and thus find there are no adequate matches.
Stallion (Philadelphia)
So, 100 years from now, will people be able to apply for government-subsidized experiences, like this one, administered by civil servants? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k80UQWWUIYs
retired guy (Alexandria)
Aristophanes already covered this issue, and, believe me, his treatment of it was much more entertaining, not to say hilarious.
RMorrison (Cleveland, OH)
I was familiar enough with incel culture before this happened in Toronto (call it a morbid curiosity), and let me underscore a point made by others, that needs to be loud and clear: Incels HATE sex workers. With a passion. The idea they're not getting it for free, and that women are making the monetized transaction for it direct, absolutely burns them and causes them to target SWs with their rage. And understandably, sex workers find men with this set of attitudes to be intolerable clients--violent, dangerous, disrespectful. They are all over Twitter talking about problems they have with men like this now.
UN (Seattle, WA---USA)
What these men want is to have their pick of women—whether the women want them or not. We call this RAPE in civilized society. Look no further than India or Spain in the news right now for what this proposal actually looks like. Men—get used to this idea-women are NOT property. We are individuals and we get to choose how we spend our lives—this includes who we share our beds with. Don’t like it??? Too bad. Make some personal improvements and you may attract a partner.
Berkeley Bee (San Francisco, CA)
Thx for that insight. Then these guys are mentally-ill individuals with criminal intent stamped all over them. And they need to be monitored, prosecuted when they break laws, and efforts must be made immediately to stomp out this movement.
tew (Los Angeles)
Yeah, these guys seem more or less - to use a technical term - whacked. Out of some legitimate grievances, real pain, and probably some deft observations that only an outsider can really sharply delineate, they've concocted a twisted worldview in their echo-chamber. It's a predictable outcome of identifying solely as a victim whose only chance at positive change comes from radical change of the basic foundations within with they exist. From the outside-in, I'll bet most of us would find a large proportion of these folks just need to address some solvable personal issues, change their mindset, get some social support, and get into the world.
Sterling Minor (Houston)
Douthat gives young men and old women a great deal of hope for the future. Maybe we can redistribute to have those two groups bless the lives of each other.
Paul (MA)
I expect this column (or parts) someday to be the preamble to a new law(s) permitting a regulated sex worker trade in America. Well done.
memosyne (Maine)
I read somewhere that "incels" and young men who joint the alt right movement, grew up with abusive mothers and weak fathers. So the young men want to be strong and control women. Since their mothers needed to be controlled, it's somewhat logical. But if a boy grows up with an abusive mother, he may never be able to relate positively to a woman. What sane and ok woman wants to be involved with a man who wants to control and abuse her? No wonder they can't find a relationship: they are not warm and loving and safe partners.
ls (Ohio)
Redistribution of sex? Isn't this just another word for making women have sex with men they don't want to have sex with? And isn't this what happened when women married because they had limited other choices, legally, financially, politically? There is a conservative solution for this . . . incels take responsibility for the reasons no woman wants them. They inherently dislike women. They haven't gotten the memo that women are human beings who don't exist to have sex with them. These are old fashioned misogonists, blaming women for their problems and killing them. Ross, your time would be better spent looking for ways males could come to terms with the idea that they are not entitled to have a woman do whatever they want. Ways to bring masculinity into the modern era. Maybe there'd be less mass shooting, less divorces, more engaged dads. Come on Ross, stop looking for excuses for incels.
gregolio (Michigan)
Sadly Mr Douthat is a bit behind the curve. Folks on the forefront of the -dare I say conservative?- right to self-identify celebrate the presence of the "A's": asexuals and aromantics. The decades long LGBT fight has been a jumping off point to allow these people a place at the table in a similar way the self identifying as a "geek" in high school allowed people to shift from being scorned to being celebrated.
Mitch Gitman (Seattle)
Now that I think about it, this is one situation where we can look to the Founding Fathers for insight. They recognized the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," not "life, liberty, and happiness." And to apply another layer to this perspective, it's easier to correlate the pursuit of sex to the pursuit of happiness than it equate sex with happiness.
Vivid Hugh (Seattle Washington)
Douthat is probably right. If so, there shall also be a considerable conservative backlash, whether dominant or subordinate. "Revulsion" comes to mind.
Grace S (Walnut Creek, CA)
Incels don’t complain there is no sex available to them. Their complaint is that the women they want don’t want them. They reject the requirement for the consent of the woman. Robots won’t repair them.
JFC (Havertown Pa)
As usual Ross, you are the most thoughtful of the Times’ columnists. Who else would dare to tread this turf. And yes, sex robots seem inevitable. But there could be a dark side. See the first season of HBO’s West World. And if robots can do sex, what else can they do?
SMB (Boston)
Douthat never defines what constitutes the actual practice of "redistribution;" apparently readers are supposed to be au courant on homicidal van drivers and obscure economists. But his few referents are disturbing. If "redistribution" is in any way involuntary to either participant, including but not limited to legal or physical coercion, to violence, or to harassment, then the writer is advocating a morally repugnant stance inconsistent with his Catholicism, let alone the law. If he's describing supply, demand, and the commodification of sex, his point was made and solved sometime after the Garden of Eden. Yawn. And if it's all another cute jab at Dread Liberals, Douthat might be reminded that conservatives did not invent morality or monogamy, nor did liberals invent sexual frustration or self-entitled young men.
Fred Vaslow (Oak Ridge, TN)
Males can find a suitable knothole in a fence,(erotic pictures around it). Females broomsticks. Either can use their fingers. Whats the problem?
brian (boston)
Sex robots. Hmm. With my technological aptitude and abilities, I'm certain robot sex would inevitably climax with a visit to the emergency room.
Eve Howard (Las Vegas)
I would disagree that pornography exists to address the unhappiness of incels. Pornography exists because people, all kinds of people, even grandmas, like to see what turns them on. It's fun, it's enjoyable, it's very human. I do agree, though, that a combination of sex robot technology and a fully legal sex worker industry, would go a long way to relieving this problem. It would also afford much needed protections, legitimacy and dignity to sex workers, which they fully deserve for their sincere efforts. Enough with the phony puritanism. People think about sex all the time, they want it, they need it. Let them have it without breaking laws or putting the vulnerable at risk. Let poor girls and women have a chance to pay their bills, doing sex, if that is what they choose to do. End pimps. End dangerous evening strolls down city streets. Stop making sex dirty. Or requiring religion to sanctify it. It's nature's first impulse, don't treat it like a disease. End of rant.
Marc Sandon (Los Angeles)
In Brasil it appeared to me during a visit that sex is available and plenty - no mass terrorists there - they don't have the moral hangups we have about sex workers...maybe something to learn from? In the past in Europe every father would initiate his boy by taking him to a house of pleasure (a brothel), which functioned more like gentlemen's clubs with benefits. Talk about taking the edge off. Many counties still function that way but in the US the conservative right has made all that illegal (funny because most of the prostitution scandals with politicians involve right wing people)...so I agree with Douthat
victor Sanchez (New York City)
There is no problem of applying economic logic to sex, but it is the kind of economics that is important. Sex is best thought of as a health issue and there are economics of health that can be useful in setting policy. The problem with incels' use of economics of sex is that they view it as a form of income entitlement or right, which presumes that the state can force someone to give sex to someone else (akin to income redistribution), which is usually a misogynist nonstarter.
Anne (Portland)
"...why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" Because sex is a deeply personal decision and experience. It's not a commodity to be "distributed." No one owes anyone their body.
Jo (Los Angeles)
"Thought experiment" is a failed attempt to dignify the idea that one group should be denied power by another. Floating the idea that men have a right to sex (or that women don't have a right to deny it) relies on the assumption that male grievance trumps female personhood. Talk about grievance! Women and girls do not have complete bodily autonomy right now. Right here. And around the world. Their human rights to control their bodies, to choose what their bodies do or don't do, and to inhabit their bodies safely and with dignity areeroded or outright denied by social and political constructs--though experiments--enacted by men just like the smug author.
Hope (Cleveland)
What you mean is a "right to women ('s bodies)." The liberal spin does hide that. This is so offensive.
Diane J Mayer (Denver CO)
This is a male-centric argument that makes sex and women a commodity. It completely ignores desire, connection and human emotion and the feelings of a willing partner. Incels see women as objects not people.
Justin (Seattle)
The notion of re-distribution of sex commoditizes (if that's a word) women. For better of worse, men have always been sexual instigators and women sexual selectors; that is true throughout nature. But if sex is distributed equally, women lose their agency in that process. Having said that, I think it's likely that in hunter-gatherer and agrarian/village cultures, sex was more equitably distributed. It's easier to know, in a small community environment, when one should 'settle for' whomever is available. In large urban environments, we are assaulted on a daily basis by the wealthy and beautiful; that is only exacerbated by a commercial culture that celebrates beauty and sexuality. As a species, we are not well adapted to such environments.
LT (Boston)
The entire framing of this is wrong. Within the last 100 years women have started to not be treated like property (started, not completed yet). A true libertarian economist would realize that the best way to resolve a supply and demand issue in a market, here the sex market, would be to completely liberate women because the marketplace, as we're so crass to describe it, would clear itself without significant distribution issues if women didn't have to worry about sexual assault and had access to reproductive health care from places like Planned Parenthood. Instead of appreciating the economic, social, psychic, spiritual, philosophical, cultural benefits of liberating women, white men wring their hands that liberating women has left some men without sex and therefore angry. So once again we have to direct our attention to the violent, petulant, angry white man and his problems and see if we can come up with robot sex slaves since owning women is thankfully now out of favor. I'm so tired of white men and their nonsense.
Mary (undefined)
Tip: Scan the globe; it t'aint just white men.
Brer Rabbit (Silver Spring, MD)
Thank you LT. We still live in a Man's World where the solution to men's problems is usually making a woman do something for men.
Tom Smith (Klagenfurt)
"First, because like other forms of neoliberal deregulation the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones" Mary, Douthat threw the first punch. LT is just returning fire.
karp (NC)
Incels don't want sex. They want to feel like they're not losers. They fully believe that being able to "get sex" symbolizes that they're winners. This essay is irrelevant to the problem.
sleepyhead (Detroit)
Hear, hear. Wish I'd said that.
Berkeley Bee (San Francisco, CA)
I'd say incels don't want *relationship.* They do, I guess, want release. Sex for pay would take care of that. Relationships call for an entirely different set of beliefs, actions, attitudes. That takes work. They can make a choice: relationship or sex. Work or throw money at it. But it's a choice and once they make the choice, they need to go with it, follow that path and be good with it. No more anger allowed.
Clark (Florida)
Agreed. I have been trying to sum up what I want to say with marketplace analogies, but more or less "getting sex" is a confirmation of the value. The problem is, they have little to no interest in developing qualities that other people value, and are instead angry that no one seems to value about them what they value about themselves. Neither relationships nor marketplaces work this way. If you want confirmation of value from other people, you must provide value in a way they are interested in. If you are not willing to do this, find some other source of satisfaction. You are not entitled to validation from others, you receive it when you do something they like, and they are not obligated to like what you do.
Noah (Chicago, IL)
Douthat is working on some interesting thoughts here but he badly mischaracterizes Srinivasan. Srinivasan's article is on a syllabus for a college course I'm teaching this spring, and if one of my students said that Srinivasan is an intellectual eccentric who is advocating a "new order" governing the distribution of sex that is fashioned by "revolutionary architects," that student's grade would take a hit. First, this portrays Srinivasan as an ideologue engaged in a political struggle, which is not right. Srinivasan's article is primarily aimed at exposing difficult questions and charting the possible responses to them, along with the peculiar attractions and pitfalls of these responses. Second, I would urge any student who included this thought in a paper about Srinivasan to re-read the final 2 paragraphs of her article. There she is pushing us to consider the possibility of loosening up our aesthetic sensibilities about who is desirable and who is not, and thereby liberating ourselves from pernicious and apparently intractable dispositions to regard as undesirable people who belong to marginalized groups. She indicates clearly that this should be a matter of personal reflection and discovery rather than social engineering. It may be initiated by public conversation of the sort she's engaged in, but the transformation that she advocates will be inward (think of the discovery that some movie or genre of music one was inclined to dismiss is beautiful and vital after all).
Nick (Arizona)
Take a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Sex is at the fundamental physiological level, along with food, sleep, shelter, air, etc. Intimacy is two levels higher. Does the same hierarchy (and the position of sex specifically) apply to woman as well as men? If not, that might explain a lot of our problems. This also reminds me of a piece in the Times last month, "What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity". If you didn't read it, the answer is that while men still love their wives, they are not having enough (or any) sex with them. It sounds like men would prefer to get intimacy and sex from the same person, but they are willing to risk their intimate relationship to satisfy the more fundamental need.
Anne (Portland)
The fundamental sexual need of a man does not outweigh the fundamental right of a woman to safey deny him access to her body. True or false?
Nick (Arizona)
Absolutely true. The first step in solving a problem is proper diagnosis. The fact that the fundamental human need for sex seems to manifest somewhat differently between men and women creates the problem. Solving the problem in a way that is in line with our higher level moral ideals is a real challenge. The issue is inherent to our biology, so being dismissive of it is not productive. The "incels" are just the extreme symptom of the problem. It seems to lead to a lot of stressed relationships and infidelity (see the NYT article I mentioned previously). Let's try to find a solution that works for both men and women and maximize everyone's happiness. Maybe sex robots are the answer, I don't know.
Bill Langeman (Tucson, AZ)
This is an excellent article which brings up an excellent subject. Why are we only concerned about distributions of money and material objects and not about the fair distribution of other needs we all have for a satisfying and fulfilled life? Sadly, the answer is as always which is that we are not willing to take part in a thorough incomprehensive look at what fairness really constitutes. As long as we engage in these dishonest games any kind of a discussion or debate is bound to fail. The truth is some people are advantaged and some people are disadvantaged by this dishonest State of Affairs because of course their advantage is threatened by it honest and probing discussion.
Anne (Portland)
If you distribute sex [women's bodies], more men may have satisfying and fulfilled life? But do you think it works for the human being distributed?
ljm (Overland Park, Kansas)
Soon, China and India will have 70 million more men than women. Girls were not valued by parents. If men who can't pair off with women want a robot, that's their business. Seems to me these men should be considering marriage as an option as men did throughout the centuries. Then again, throughout the centuries, young men died in wars. That could happen again with the obvious coming limitied resources.
wwilson553 (New Jersey)
The idea that only slim, beautiful people are picked as sec partners is at variance with my experience. I know homely people in devoted relationships with "more attractive" partners. I know disabled folks in great relationships. My father, who in his 50s was a very handsome man with all his hair and a trim figure, married a far-from-pretty woman who admired him and liked to do all things he liked to do. I have known very handsome men to marry women because their ideas or sassy attitudes intrigued them. There are folks who ONLY want the young, beautiful and slim, but we can work around them. Niceness and an interest in others is attractive. Everything else is just trimming.
Candelaria (Boston)
I so agree. Thank you for writing this.
AG (Canada)
You have hit on a key point. Men want women who admire them. Women want a man they can admire. The problem is when neither can find what they want...
dick2h (Redmond, WA)
I will thank Mr. Douthat if he stays out of my sex life. The real question posed here is whether or not society has any business in it at all. Of course, as a committed Catholic Douthat has no qualms about claiming that society has a role to play in my bedroom (or wherever else I and a partner choose), in my choice of partners, or the frequency or style of whatever I choose to do -- so long, of course, as it does not result in harm to another. His analysis also suggests that there is some objective test of fulfillment -- yet another example of religion masking as society interfering in personal matters.
Kim Murphy (Upper Arlington, Ohio)
I heard Mr. Douthat tell NPR that in the event he were to divorce he would never have sex again, because he's such a committed Catholic. Mr. Douthat's got enough Issues to deal with; he should probably steer clear of advising others.
H (IL)
I don't think so-called "incels" and "pickup artists" etc. will ever be satisfied by a robot, no matter how realistic. Why? Because like so many other forms of misogyny, it's not about sex at all, but power. These guys want women, real women, to WANT them, to fawn over them, to service them of their own free will (as long as free will means never saying no). That's what rings their bells and makes them feel like "real" men. That's why they fantasize about raping and killing the women who refuse them. And that's why masturbation, or porn, or robots, or even legal sex work will never appease these violent misogynists.
al (boston)
This is a new bottle for the old (as old as sexual form of life) wine. The idea of 'right to sex' (to a wife, more exactly) was floated by communist a century ago. The institution of marriage itself has evolved to establish the 'right' to family. The very idea that people ought to have 'rights' is repulsive to the extreme. Only children have to have rights. Adults must EARN anything they want. Failure to earn must have harsh repercussions in order for us to thrive for success. Winners must be rewarded as generously as losers punished. "Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings, who think themselves good because they have crippled paws!." F. Nietzsche.
Carol (Chicago)
Here is a humorous twist on sex dolls--women carry them around as decoys to avoid harassment by men, and hence can get their work done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUVP4xz4Siw&amp;sns=em
Pegnicholson (Rural West)
Loved it!
Still Waiting for a NBA Title (SL, UT)
Fundamentally I think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as is does not cause direct harm to others. On a grander society level, I think encouraging or at least accepting as normal people who have sex with robots is not a good development. Yes, sometimes sex is just sex and it doesn't need to be more than that. But sex is also a fundamental and essential way humans bond. On one hand if these people would just be masturbating instead of fornicating robots it isn't like they would be bonding with others anyway. But on the other hand if fornicating robots complete satiates ones sexual desire in a way masturbation doesn't. That person is also less likely to ever get the other bonding that comes from having sex with real people. Just being around someone else in a vulnerable state does something to you. I don't think that is a good thing of people never put themselves out there like that. It would be hard not to pity the robot fornicators. But as I said, I also strongly thing people should be able to decide for themselves.
James (Savannah)
How could Ross douthat? I douthat, Ross.
SF Native (San Francisco)
In our society, we have a huge dichotomy when it comes to sexuality. Men who have a lot of sex with multiple partners are labeled as studs, players, lotharios, Don Juans, and playboys. All words that subtly elevate these men as role models and successes in their seduction of women. Because of course, our society believes women have to be coaxed and tricked by smooth talking men into having sex in the first place. We operate under the false premise that women don't like sex. Yet women who do like sex and act on their desire are then branded as sluts and whores. And who does the branding, why men of course? Often the same men who complain about not being able to find a woman willing to have sex with them. Until our society changes to grant both men and women equally the same rights to enjoy a satisfying sex life, there will continue to be an imbalance of demand over supply.
Denise (Boulder)
If you want to understand why there is so much sexual harassment everywhere (including the vaunted Ivory Tower), here's your answer. There are a lot of men who think having status and power entitle them to have sex with any woman they desire, especially those over whom they have power. If Hanson is so outraged over the seemingly inequitable distribution of sexual access, then perhaps he should console himself by remembering that he doesn't live in a society that permits polygyny because the stats show rich men in those societies have as many wives and concubines as they can afford while poor men have none.
MaryC (Nashville)
I see a connection between the neuroses of the "incels " and the extreme and absurd standards of beauty and desirability that form the ecosystem our minds swim in. These men feel ugly and unwanted, at the same time that they impose an unreasonable standard of beauty on others that cannot be met. I am flashing back to a scene many years in my past, an overheard conversation. A group of about 4 men--programmers--sat in a room and viciously trashed the appearance of a female employee (who was their boss). The men, every one of them pale, flabby, overweight, with scant personal hygiene, insisted that they'd never have sex with a woman so fat and they savaged her appearance in excruciating detail. (she was a single woman who was maybe 30lbs beyond skinny, had a beautiful face, enormous poise and talent, and a considerable fortune she'd earned herself.) These guys seemed pretty ridiculous and slightly deranged. Now it seems such young guys have made a movement on the internet. I bet if these incels stepped away from their screens and talked to real women they'd solve their problems, since the conception they have of women is so bogus. No need here of "redistribution" or more tech or a return to the chastity belt. If the religious of the world wish to intervene effectively, why not have a sort of "charm school" for these guys? They could learn, for starters, to wash their hair and be respectful and nice.
purejuice (albuquerque)
Due to fetal scanning and preference for boys, China now has a surplus of 30 to 50 million men. Just saying.
karen (bay area)
Anyone else feeling creepsters about the photo shot for this odd story? Except for the blue eyes, this cyborg looks remarkably like Melania Trump. Before this column and photo I only suspected she was some sort of a fake woman; now I am convinced. Ick. And Ick again.
Peggy Jenkins (Moscow, Idaho)
How dare you Ross Douthat. How dare you New York Times. This is a patently gendered argument with men claiming a right to womens bodies. And not just their bodies -- their love. You can try to obscure this with layers of abstraction but that is the heart of the matter. And trying to attribute this to sexual liberalism is a total sham. This dangerous attitude (dangerous because it kills) is very much grounded in the backwards view of women promoted by Douthat's church and other conservative religions.
Z Bailey (Georgia)
Why does so much op-ed writing these days speculate on something awful about the future, based on something the writer considers awful in the present, but then end with a cynical assumption that there is no hope for any but the awful outcome? This "but it 'feels pretty much inevitable'" is a classic example. Why bother writing op-eds if you are all such nihilists that you are going to let everyone off the hook for trying to do anything what you think needs doing something about, because it's all hopeless anyway? Stop. Consider writing something that at least allows for the mental possibility of our working towards something better, even if you don't dare to try to write inspiringly enough to incite movement towards the something you consider better.
Susan Fitzwater (Ambler, PA)
Two thoughts clamoring outside. Pardon me while I open the door. (1) I hate the phrase "have sex." As if "sex' were a commodity of some sort. Like water in a drinking fountain. Goodness! I'm THIRSTY. And here's a FOUNTAIN. So I walk over--stoop down--refresh myself. I prefer the phrase "make love." Suddenly "sex"--a commodity, a highly enjoyable something or other--vanishes. Instead of "sex", there appears before me--another human being. With needs--wants. With (if you'll pardon me) an immortal soul. A mind. A personality. Which inevitably leads to. . . . . . .the following irrefutable FACT: (2) I can claim no right to the sexual favors of any human being on the planet. None! It should be shouted from the rooftops, Mr. Douthat. If I stood atop the Washington Monument--or the Empire State Building--or anywhere at all. . . . . .. and surveyed the thousands of human beings down below, moving here--moving there--living their lives. . .. . . .there's NOT ONE!. . . . . . whom I could contemplate for a long minute, then say, "I have a CLAIM on this body. I have a right to sleep with this body--to fulfill upon this human body. . . . ". . .whatever my sexual passions prompt me to do." How could anyone doubt this for a moment? This man Robin Hanson. . . . .. belongs in an asylum.
Cal (Maine)
Mr Hansom sees women as commodities, not people.
Donna Nieckula (Minnesota)
If sex workers and sex robots were all these "incels" needed, the problem would already be solved. There are lots of sex workers around, and adult-sized blow-up dolls and a variety of male sex toys have been available for many years! So, it seems that the problem runs deeper into the psyches of these self-described "incels"... maybe we can just call it misogyny and not fool ourselves.
Bob (CT)
Continuously pondering the “Right to Sex” thought experiment and it’s ramifications for gender / class / identity politics in early 21st century America….the greatest thing since the “cold shower”.
Michael Pullmann (NYC)
There is so much nonsense in this that it's impossible to cover it all in a single comment, so I'll stick to just this one thing: Sex is not a fungible (or infungible) good. It's what people do with their bodies. Stop discussing it in economic terms.
Cynthia (Seattle)
Mr. Douthat thinks there should be redistribution of sex? Let him be first in line to offer his wares.
Clay (berkeley)
Why have I not heard any mention of Michel Houellebecq in connection with this controversy? This is a theme that he has treated extensively, under the rublic of sexual pauperization.
Richard Reiss (New York)
Hopefully Douthat continues this exploration. For instance, what of the right of women to a healthy sex life? "Women under Communism enjoyed more sexual pleasure." NYT, 8/12/17 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/12/opinion/why-women-had-better-sex-unde...
Jim DeBlasio (Tulalip, WA)
Their celibacy is not involuntary. They simply refuse to treat women with respect and never even consider women who are as old or as fat as they are as being worthy of their sexual attention.
JoanMcGinnis (Florida)
Why oh why are so called religious people so obsessed with other people's sex life?
Jeff Lichtman (El Cerrito, CA)
The difference between redistribution of property and redistribution of sex is that money doesn't have to give consent.
Terry (California)
Bravo!
DickH (Rochester, NY)
I remember reading a short story where the planet was effectively invaded by a species of grotesque, but incredibly sexual beings, with the result that our entire population did nothing but fornicate with these beings until we all died, with a few exceptions. Perhaps a sex robot would have the same net result - we like the machine better than real people and so die out. Technology is already moving us away from real relationships, a sex robot would be a logical next step.
zee (DC)
The right to sex isn't the real question here. It's about the right to other people's bodies.
Katz (Tennessee)
A "right to sex" that doesn't require consent from both participating parties is called rape. And under the Taliban, which kidnapped Yazidi women and used them as sex slaves; Boko Haram; and the Japanese system of "comfort women," to name but a few examples, we've seen exactly how governing systems that assume all men have a right to sex treat women.
ThinkLongAndHard (PA)
And marriage....
Ted Gemberling (Birmingham, Alabama)
Katz, I could be wrong, but I don't believe incels think they have a right to sex without consent. They are just upset that women won't give them that consent.
RRI (Ocean Beach, CA)
"Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane." Is Mr. Douthat making claims for his own vision? Certainly this column's loopy argument makes a good case, at least for the first part. The supposed prescience of "extremists and radicals and weirdos" is almost entirely based on retrospective cherry-picking. There are always, at every moment in history, so many and so wildly diverse "extremists and radicals and weirdos" scribbling away in varying degrees of obscurity that the pickings are easy. But we should worry about a digital world where the paranoid weirdos of the right "follow" the paranoid weirdos of the left and off-the-grid elsewhere, and vice versa, as closely as Douthat seems to be following Hanson, Srinivasan, and the like. All, in Mr Douthat's case, to avoid having to write critically about Trump and the threat to democracy that is in our face.
Gary (Upper West Side)
No one has a right to sex with an unwilling partner. Prostitution is already widely and easily available. If someone is an involuntary celibate, he must be setting constraints on his sex life. So it is voluntary to some degree.
Jeff (New York)
I don't understand what sex robots have to do with "redistribution" of sex. Redistribution involves taking something away from someone and giving some of it to someone else. Sex robots don't do that - they increase the size of the pie, they don't redistribute it. That said, the sadness of many "incels," as I see it, doesn't really have to do with a lack of sex. Lack of sex is just an indication to them of their lack of self-worth. Why would a sex robot increase their sense of self-worth? They're just see that so-called "more attractive guys" can get real women, while they can only get sex robots. You do sort of address this point at the end of your column - that sex robots wouldn't necessarily lead to greater fulfillment. It's an aspect of this issue that needs more attention.
John M (Nashville, TN)
How do you write an entire article purporting to take seriously heterodox views on the sexual revolution and still manage to misconstrue the leftist approach? A true leftist (i.e. materialist) approaches the problem of "sex inequality" through (of course) the lens of material conditions. Ross, to his credit, clearly links our unhealthy attitudes towards sex with the over-saturation of sex-based marketing/consumption in our late capitalist society. But he stops short of advocating a change in the structure of our economic system that would dis-incentivize this manufacturing of demand for sex. The "leftist" he quotes (in fairness, I have not read Amia's piece so Ross may be just doing a poor job of representing these views) merely applies the left's rhetoric of redistribution to a cultural symptom of capital rather than to capital itself. In this sense, Amia's views on sex are liberal disguised as leftist. No leftist would argue that anyone has a right to sex. They would argue that people have a right to living conditions that produce healthier attitudes towards sex. Ross seems sincere in his desire to take these heterodox views of sex seriously. If so, why not grapple with Marcuse or other writers who offer real leftist alternatives to the creepy (yes, definitely creepy) alt-right takes on the distribution of sex. Anything less is a disservice to the purported goal of this article.
Kelly R (Commonwealth of Massachusetts)
To Robin Hanson and Ross Douthat, it's complicated. But, really, it's very simple. Women are not objects. They get to choose their distribution, just as men do. Honestly, libertarians are blind in the weirdest ways.
hammond (San Francisco)
If redistribution means requiring people to offer their bodies involuntarily--or at least as involuntarily as we pay taxes--I don't think this will happen in any society that we'd want to live in. It's a silly argument as far as it goes. But culturally, we certainly have created a sexual hierarchy that disfavors much of our populace. As a straight male teen back in the 70's, I certainly felt social pressure to have a girlfriend that was attractive by conventional standards. A friend once noticed a picture of my high school sweetheart from afar and said, 'Wow!' But upon taking a closer look, said, 'Oh, never mind.' I've never forgotten that incident. But even at the time, when I was quite the athlete and had no problem dating very good looking women, I just found this woman to be especially attractive. It was no issue that my friend didn't. And that's the thing: So long as we use our romantic partners as centerpieces of our public personas, we'll perpetuate sexual inequality. We'll also never be satisfied for any extended periods of time. Even the best looking people get old. I think a key piece in making sex more available to those who want it is to cultivate a broader range of qualities that we find attractive. For me, I was attracted to my high school girlfriend's brilliance; attracted sexually, not just intellectually. It's great being sapiosexual--the mind just gets more beautiful with age.
Kingston Cole (San Rafael, CA)
A great deal of tongue in cheek here....Missed by most of the comments below. Ironies abound, dear NYT readers!
CAL GAL (Sonoma, CA)
The word, "entitlement" figures into this situation. All people are not equal. Some people are smarter than others, some more physically attractive, and some have more pleasing personalities. The spoiled little boys want the reward without analyzing why they aren't getting it. I believe this is why prostitution survives through the centuries. We should be wary of people who feel entitled and unfulfilled. Envy is a dangerous emotion.
Dr. M (SanFrancisco)
Douthat writes about women as objects: "redistribution" of stuff. He discusses how controlling women's options (aka "traditional life ") might be good for petulant men who can't individually control sexual submission. In addition, he totally ignores women's thoughts, emotions, or sexual pleasure. If women all wanted to go back to 'traditional" roles, they wouldn't have began lobbying for the right to vote, go go law or medical school, get credit in their own names or not being catcalled on the street. That horse has left the barn, Ross - and thanks be for that.
Harpo (Toronto)
"Sex" is not a quantity that is measured and distributable. "Celibacy" in the sense of the essay is distorted to mean a lack of dominance of another person. The ready availability of pornographic media distorts reality of normal human relations. A person perceiving a lack of friends could demand distribution of friendship and learning that "all you need is love" would demand that it be supplied at the expense of others whom they feel have too much of it. The real trouble is the belief that there cam be any justification in compensating for imagined imbalances by violent or abusive actions.
Jerry Engelbach (Mexico)
"All kinds of phenomena ... have made more sense in the light of analysis by reactionaries and radicals ..." ========================================== Douthat is stating one of his characteristic false equivalencies. Reactionaries do not analyze, not in the sense of evaluating new phenomena with an open mind. A reactionary by definition is one seeks to re-establish what has been rejected by material and/or social progress. That's based on bias, not analysis. Radicals, on the other hand, are the most forward-looking of progressives, analyzing what exists and seeking better solutions. Douthat is forever trying to put a human face on an undeserving Right and tarring the Left as "extremists."
Christine (OH)
Is it because men are mostly the ones doing the talking about sex that, aside from discussion of STDs, nobody talks about, or has ever bothered to investigate, the bodily harm that results from the very fact of penetration? With our increased knowledge of the immune system and its connection to the brain, not looking at the consequences of receiving foreign DNA through sperm seems like a natural thing for empirical study. It is because of the consequences to one's body that engaging in sex should always be a voluntary choice. Incels and anti-abortion people don't recognize that women have this right to protect our own bodies. As in the case of continuing with a pregnancy, government ordering someone to do it would be legal slavery.
Genevieve Guenther (New York City)
It is deeply shocking that nowhere in this column does Mr. Douthat notice that, unlike property and money, women are not objects.
Tom Smith (Klagenfurt)
Mr. Douthat, I find this piece beyond the pale. I am not being snide when I say that I am sorry that white men have lost status. Nevertheless, turning back the clock to a 1950's, pre-Vatican II society will not be our salvation. As stated by others, much of what you describe is not new. However, recently it has become okay for ne'er-do-wells to lash out at the general public because of their shortcomings.
LM (NE)
There's a reason women don't go for the genetically flawed, physically or mentally unappealing men. It's called natural selection and I believe Darwin had this one right. The more desirable traits are reproduced more readily, not the ones we don't like, want or need. Like it or not that's the way it is with human nature. Ugly or unattractive men must over compensate themselves with money to attract partners. And we obviously know who those people are.
richguy (t)
You might be right, but that's not Darwin. In Darwin, random mutations become favorable for survival due to haphazard changes in the ecosystem. A trait that might be favorable in one environment might not be favorable in another. Being a big predator might be favorable in many ecosystems, but in a time of scarcity, body mass might be a liability. Women seem to select for height, good hair, and good teeth, but those things don't guarantee a good SAT score and a high salary. I'm Jewish. I know PLENTY of short, balding Jewish guys with super high SAT scores and high incomes. If a woman wants a short cut for selecting a man with a good chance of having a high income and low chance of alcoholism and physical abuse, she should put Jewish at the top of her list of traits (and not any physical traits). If women want physically attractive men (conventionally speaking), it doesn't have much to do with long-term projection of life success. There are plenty of very handsome men in jail and rehab. How many Jews are in maximum security prisons?
Michael Kubara (Cochrane Alberta)
"If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?" This is a totally ridiculous question. ALL property (especially money) is a creation of polities--property, tax and labor law. "Re-distribution" propaganda ignores facts about distribution in the first place. Just as Don't Steal, ignores how it got to be yours or mine--private property. Corporations are also creatures of statue, not natural "persons" Sex play and sex appeal are not creatures of statute. They are natural. However Darwin knew that sex appeal--while not a legal creation--is partly a cultural one. Cultures always have traditions of "gender art" and artistry--ways of enhancing sex-play appeal. Culture and biology (life style and bio life) are in symbiosis. Of course polities can influence culture and thus sex appeal and the distribution of sex play. Power has always been a feature of male sex appeal; polities influence that by distributing money power. Disgusting but powerful men assume they deserve sex play-- women have duties to provide it. Gender bias in the distribution of money-power does determine "sex-play play". distribution--in the sex-trade industry. "Sex trade" covers a continuum from fee per trick to manorial rights per entire sex life. But often (not always) sex trade is not sex play--done for the sheer fun of it. Orgasms are not creatures of statute.
Sean (Massachusetts)
It seems plausible that the "incel" terrorist of today represents not the evolution of the happy family man of family-oriented yesteryear, but rather, say, the evolution of the wife-murderer of family-oriented yesteryear. I'm not so uncritical of the terrorists' explanations for their behavior as Mr. Douthat is, is what I'm trying to say. Some people tell the truth about their motivations, some people lie, and some people lie to themselves. All of the article's contemplated solutions to these terrorists' problems - whether giving them more wives in traditional family arrangements or building them a bunch of sex robots - rely on them being the first kind of people. But are they? Citation needed!
Nik Cecere (Santa Fe NM)
Among many other antiquarian notions nurtured my Mr Douthat is this one: "like other forms of neoliberal deregulation the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration." The privileging of beautiful, rich and socially adept is something neoliberal? Where have you been for the last 5000 years? Perhaps you were asleep. Or perhaps not yet born with a congenital aversion to history when it suits your "argument"?
SC (Erie, PA)
Ross Douthat seems to see American sexual mores through the lens of the news feed on his server, i.e, the most sensational, if infrequent, examples. I have a feeling that for most of us sex is much more prosaic and unsalacious. Nor does he distinguish between sex and love, which we all know, however interwined, are not the same. However, he brings up an interesting point. Some people get sex and others don't, and people who don't often resent the fact, which can lead to certain societal problems and crimes. Sex involves a balance (or perhaps struggle) of power. Generally, women hold the power of whether or not to have sex. It's left for men to charm, coax, entice, pay for, or in the case of what we're now hearing as a result of the Metoo movement, use physical or professional force to get what they want or need. It's no coincidence that rapists are all men. And while Mr. Douthat rightly cites the unattractive and the disabled, this is primarily a male problem. So what is the solution? The normalization of prostitution and the moral acceptance of prostitutes? (Which, incidentally, is not inherently a liberal vs. conservative idea.) I really don't know. But I'm sure that the proliferation of pornography in print and electronic forms can only fan the flames of desire and entitlement which lie at the root of the problem. But because of that and the growing reach of social media, this is an issue that we as a society will increasingly need to deal with.
Cal (Maine)
Why is it an 'issue' that our society must deal with? We have enough real problems, like climate change, pollution, threats to democracy and separation of church and state to deal with. The 'incels' referred to could obviously patronize prostitutes even today, if they wanted to. However, perhaps they resent that the women they are interested in don't want anything to do with them. This seems to be more of a mental health issue than anything else.
rumpleSS (Catskills, NY)
Excellent article, Ross. Excellent discussion of the unequal distribution of physical relationships with the winners taking a greater and greater share of the rewards. A close mirror of income inequality and the two are, no doubt, connected. In an age were networking is often seen in terms of economic advantage, the anachronism is pretending that who you pick for your friends has nothing to do with the economic benefits they provide. Particularly true of sexual relationships. There is also the excellent discussion of how radical ideas are often more fruitful than "common sense" orthodoxy. Of course, for every insightfully eccentric idea, there are 10 or 100 that are just plain wrong. Still, orthodox thought will typically fail to explain the changing human environment just as conservative thought has totally failed to explain climate change. Seriously. What is the alt-right explanation for climate change? That climates just change "naturally"? Pathetic. Utterly pathetic. Speaking of pathetic, no doubt there will be many comments here suggesting that everyone just needs to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and "win" the relationship game, while ignoring the fact that having platonic friends and having physical relationships are very different standards. Anyone want to bet how many of these same people believe income inequality is not their fault? Or are willing to recommend personal responsibility instead of national health care insurance?
HH (Rochester, NY)
On the matter of sex between "humans" and robots, we should clarify whether there is a distinction between the two. . Modern science - for the last 350 years - has shown that everything in the universe is mechanistic. The things called "humans" and robots are equally mechanistic. The only difference is the number of parts. . Thus we are only talking about sex - itself a mechanistic activity - between two machines. . Who cares?
Ivan Light (Inverness CA)
"People I know" is quite a limited universe. How about opening up to the external world and all the people you don't know? There are many more of those.
Deirdre (New Jersey )
Women have a lot more choices now and some men are being left behind We read about Japan and the infatuation with tiny, childlike and submissive women - about men having fantasy relationships with pillows or images of these women rather than real women. The birth rate is less than 1% Then in China there is a women shortage and guess what- they are picky and only want educated and wealthy men And then we have this incel group- which is comprised of men who have a myriad of issues and are lonely and angry and blame women for their problems It’s always our fault- except we have more choices now and we are not going to settle
Lee Rose (Buffalo NY)
It seems to me the "incel" problem should be solved with therapy, not sex workers or robots. Incels seem to be people, mostly men, whose behaviors and attitudes towards others are so offensive and off putting that other humans are repulsed. When I say therapy, I don't mean Internet chat rooms that reinforce aberrant behavior.
Mark Plus (Mayer, AZ)
An incel doesn't need "therapy." He needs a girlfriend. If a nerdy, socially awkward guy can stumble across that critical first girlfriend early enough in life who wants a sexual relationship with him, the experience will teach him skills so that his inadequacies will either start to improve on their, or else they won't matter as much. And he gets an added bonus: When other women see that he has a girlfriend, they will revise their evaluation of him in a positive way. and that increases the odds that he could have relationships with other women later on. But he needs that first girlfriend's help to prime the pump, so to speak. The incel phenomenon shows that women really have the veto power over who belongs in society and who doesn't. The incel feels evicted from society because of women's say-so, though they will allow him back in if at least one woman disagrees with their consensus.
Katz (Tennessee)
I don't know if any amount of therapy could resolve the issue of a man who believes he is entitled to have sex with anyone he deems worthy of his attentions, regardless of her feelings. There really is no bigger turn-off than to sense a man views you only as a potential sex partner for the purposes of meeting his needs.
Josh Hill (New London)
Mark, I don't think this has anything to do with being nerdy and socially awkward. Most of the nerdy, socially awkward guys I know (and as a nerdy, socially awkward guy I know many) end up happily married.
Observer (Pa)
Absent from Douhat's discussion is the role of US culture in shaping this state of affairs; the obsession with youth, the professed desire not to judge behavior, the "affirmations" (everyone is beautiful and a winner) scattered like confetti, and the belief that anything is possible if one wants it badly enough and tries hard enough.Finally, the naive optimism that opens the door to ever-changing advice and opinion from self-interested "experts" on what is "normal" and the extreme sensitivity to and concern with being accepted.When we pretend not to judge, are openly self-absorbed and feel self -entitled, we provide the perfect setting for more and more delusional thinking, expectations and tolerance for extreme and unhealthy ideas and pastimes.
Joe Gilkey (Seattle)
There is not that much respectable, moderate, or sane, being left behind as the last vestiges of winter fall of that great wheel of time. All that is left to do is turn on the fan, and with great relief, walk away.
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
Ross should note that use of the emotionally-charged word “fornication” (sex between people not married to one another) suggests that he’s against it. That could damage his credibility. Prof. Srinivasan also is full of it: “who is desired and who isn’t is a political question” suggests that the state has legitimate interests in and power over such a matter. It doesn’t, at least not in any state that embraces liberal Western values. A hefty proportion of the ills to which humans are heir can be traced to the curious notion that an impositional society properly has such control over the individual. May those who believe so be condemned to the sole recourse of interaction with sex robots, as Ross believes is inevitable for some. Related arguments presuppose that EVERYTHING is a commodity, that all commodities come from a universal ether that is the shared property of all humans and, therefore, that all have an equally legitimate right to partake of them on their terms – in the words of Congressman John Lewis (when speaking of healthcare), “It’s a human RIGHT!” It’s not. Sex is obtainable, unless one’s standards are confined to eye-candy; and “incels” should take note that NOBODY has a “right” to eye-candy, John Lewis’s convictions notwithstanding. However, if one insists on access to eye-candy, then save your money, buy a chin, a nose job, whatever – and by all means consider anger counseling … and just get on with it. You certainly have the “right” to take a shot.
Vanessa Hall (Millersburg, MO)
There have always been weirdos in the world. As the population has increased the number of weirdos that can be catagorized has grown. That 'incels' have reached a critical mass of sorts isn't really surprising. Islamic countries where men can have multiple wives come to mind. One man gets up to 4 women, leaving 2-3 men without a partner. Oversimplified, maybe, but only a bit. What Mr. Douthat wants isn't more sex, just 'better' regulated, preferably by his Catholic church, where vows of voluntary celibacy are a dwindling thing. More voluntary celibacy regulated by a bunch of guys who wear dresses and don't - in theory - have sex. Uh huh. ...." There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate. " What Ross is saying is that if we would just all of us play by *his* rules, which come from the Catholic Church, then all this incel silliness would not be a problem. He doesn't quite come oput and say that because if he did he would have to recognize how utterly ridiculous his whole idea is. Because in spite of what he believes, That Church of his does not have the answer, not even for the population of plain vanilla heterosexuality, much less the rest of everyone else.
Ryan (Philadelphia, PA)
Drawing a line of equivalence between an inanimate, non-sapient object and a sex worker is dehumanizing and unjust. I don't know why I expected better from Mr. Douthat, but I suppose I enjoy disappointment on some level. There is probably a German word for this feeling that will come up on the crossword one day. As an educated person living in America, it was my understanding that no human being has the right to command another human to provide sexual gratification for them. I believed that the idea of affirmative consent before sexual congress was something ordinary folks in America had come to common cause on. I imagine this too is another place I will be disappointed. Mr. Douthat should look into the history of ideas of monogamy, chastity and 'permanence' in the history of human relationships. He may be surprised to learn how relatively recently these ideas were adopted in the Western world. As a student of history, Mr. Douthat is also well aware that even when society more stridently enforced these ideals that many people still fell short of them. The difference between then and now is mainly that people, particularly but not exclusively women, have more recourse to address ill-treatment in relationships now than in previous eras. I would ask that Mr. Douthat consider the humanity of all persons more closely before writing ill-informed editorials.
Jim (NY)
I don't suppose that I am the only one never to have heard of incels until this week. This is another of the things that I would not have been able to imagine if I was attempting to write a dystopic futuristic novel. With the current lifestyles outlined in the piece, in which we do not interact with each other nearly enough, we have created a dystopic current reality. Auden wrote "We must love one another or die." He changed it to "We must love one another and die." We don't seem to have gotten the loving one another part down, but the incels are concentrating on the death part.
Purple Patriot (Denver)
It is a tragic state of affairs when people choose porn or sex robots in place of real relationships with real people. It is those connections with real people that connect us to the world and give life meaning. Otherwise, what's the point?
bronxbee (the bronx, ny)
and if, involuntarily, depressingly, sadly, one is celibate ("by popular demand" as a friend of mine puts it), are these people then "to blame" for their condition? no one has the right to demand sex from another person, but everyone should have the right to an outlet or some form of release. sex is a biological function, no less than eating. one can survive on a bland, nutrient rich diet (soylent green, for instance), or by being celibate, which is not fatal, but it brings no satisfaction to the "soul", however one perceives it. surely, between the "incels" committing murder, and the loneliness of the longtime celibate, there must be another option. sex workers, sex toys and visual stimulus is a possibility.
Alan Einstoss (Pittsburgh PA)
Real people ?If you want to call them that.It's a tragic state of affairs when you discover that mates or intimates will interact with others ,like animals ,at the slightest suggestion leaving you to ,"go figure". Many never even realize the charade.
Allan Hansen (Reno, Nevada)
Have you ever met a real person? Very overrated.
Mark Plus (Mayer, AZ)
I find the discussion of the incel problem frustrating because it overlooks another important issue: Men live in a world full of women, and we need what I call the Adult Man's Skill Set to live competently among women. When a man has sexual experiences and relationships with girlfriends starting at an appropriate age, the skills he picks up don't exist in isolation. They play a role in knowing how to deal with women in other areas. Women just respect a man more when they can see that at least some of them feel attracted to him and want to spend time with him. This has practical consequences for men in business who have to work alongside female employees, for example; these women will feel more comfortable around straight men who have current or previous sexual relationships than they would around sexually inexperienced adult men. The latter will more likely do something inadvertent that interferes with getting good employee evaluations, raises and promotions. For example, even if incels work up to company standards, their evaluations tend to criticize them for '"laziness." I have heard about this criticism often enough that I think it shows something about the discrimination that conscientious incels face in the workplace because of the absence of women in their personal lives. The HR department apparently doesn't like incels, in other words. And notice that experiences with escorts and "sex robots" can't substitute for this kind of personal development.
M. Johnson (Chicago)
The HR department and the top executive level don't like single men. This was the experience of gay men for years. They didn't pay them less or move them to advancement tracks with glass ceilings because of their failure to relate to women on the job (most gay men do it better than most str8t men - generally less threatening). They did and do it because single men have not taken on "adult responsibilities". By that, what they really mean is that single men can't be as easily controlled. They don't have to worry about supporting a wife and children, paying a mortgage for a house or large apartment, buying term life insurance in large amounts to take care of dependents if they die, paying for private school or for tutors or putting together college funds, and many other "family" expenses. None of that is the real problem, however. The real problem is that the company can't "get a saddle" on single men. They are much freer to leave taking their skills and experience with them. It is one reason employment contracts were invented.
Seth Cagin (Telluride CO)
I usually disagree with pretty much everything Douthat writes. But this is a fascinating essay. But how incredibly dystopian! Either direction he posits, liberal or conservative, is a scary future.
Joanna Stasia (NYC)
Douhat says that the "neoliberal deregulation" of the sexual revolution created winners and losers, privileging the beautiful, rich and socially adept, as if this is some sort of recent phenomenon. Read Jane Austen. Actually, my list of books going back centuries is too long to type here, but it is hogwash to say that neoliberalism is the cause of the fact that beautiful people with charm and money have an easier time attracting lovers and partners. There are indeed many modern habits that seem to work against people, such as the propensity of many young males to spend their lives gaming in their parents' basements and the absurd airbrushing and photoshopping in the women's fashion industry that created an idealized icon of women as thin, blonde, pore-less, and elongated, to name just a few. However, the huge male-female population imbalances in China and India are truly frightening, and thinking ahead to plan for the inevitable frustrations and isolation of 70 million men without life partners or access to a sexual relationship is prudent. I do not have the answer for the sadness I feel when excellent, smart, warm people with disabilities or ordinary looks never seem to be given a fair shot in the dating pool. Like many foolish prejudices, the snobbish aversion to even considering such a person can hurt both ways, as many good-looking people bemoan the dearth of available partners who meet their asinine standards. Their loneliness is self-inflicted.
Lisa (Texas)
I agree that a lot of loneliness is self-inflicted by people who set their standards based on ridiculous models or porn stars. And these ‘incels’ need to do things the rest of us did to meet potential mates. Talk to other people, volunteer, join a group that hikes or plays cards, etc. I really agree with your statement that Douhat’s premise is hogwash! But then, almost everything he writes is...
M. Johnson (Chicago)
Perhaps if these societies stopped discriminating against LGBT people, part of their problem would be solved. Studies consistently show there are about twice as many gay men as lesbians. Estimates run from 3% to 10% of population for gay men. Maybe they should be encouraging LGBT relationships.
MadelineConant (Midwest)
It is an interesting question to ponder whether men who cannot get laid are as deserving of sexual reparations as poor people are deserving of economic reparations. It is ostensibly designed to question whether confiscation of your money against your will (through taxes) is any more fair than confiscation of a woman's sexual service against her will (through rape). In Mr. Hanson’s case, however, his examples seem to hint that some men never stop daydreaming of ways to subjugate women and own their bodies. Like Mr. Hanson's false equivalencies of likening cuckoldry to rape. He says, “I’d prefer to be raped rather than cuckolded.” Really? One suspects he is visualizing being “raped" by a beautiful female. How about visualizing a violent Deliverance-type rape, which he might find more disquieting (and a more honest comparison). As for the male pain of cuckoldry, women have endured serial womanizing by their husbands for time immemorial, so why doesn’t he use that as his comparison to cuckoldry? Because he is intellectually dishonest. Mr. Hanson is not the first man to wish for a sexual slave (“quiet, gentle rape), but the concept is still obscene. Ask the Korean “comfort women” what they think about the idea.
LFC (Tallahassee, FL)
It all looked so, well, reasonable. Almost. Until Douthat defined Socialism as political eccentricity (because the entire EU counts for nothing in the Western world) and women as politically disposable (because going backward into enforced monogamy and false notions of 50's sexual mores will only lead to their sacrifice just as it did then). That's where Douthat lost me. Any guy who can't figure out why God made his arms long enough deserves his frustration, and no HUMAN (female or otherwise) should have to fill another's sexual needs. But Douthat is too busy looking in a distorting rear view mirror to see what's right in front of him.
Sipa111 (Seattle)
A lot of the comments are fixating on the phrase 'right to sex' specifically aimed at men. But according to Maslow' s need hierarchy, sex is one of the fundamental physiological needs (food, water, sleep) that is fundamental for our well-being. The point here, I think is that if certain groups, both men and women (disabled, overweight, conventionally unattractive) are not able to realize a fundamental need with consensual partners, then new approaches through technology and the market (sex robots, sex workers) will become realized. After all haven't women used vibrators for decades now and nobody seems to have an issue with that.
MadelineConant (Midwest)
Exactly. Douthat's the one who is going to disapprove of sex robots when they appear, not you and me. He believes in the "virtues of monogamy and chastity" and that that we "owe special respect to the celibate." As for the comments, are they actually objecting to sex robots, or human female exploitation? There's a difference between a need for sex and a right to sex; most particularly where it intersects with taking sex by force from another living person.
Cynthia (Seattle)
Sex appears nowhere on Maslow's hierarchy."Intimate relationships," under "Belongingness and Love Needs" does. But Maslow doesn't specifically call out sex in the pyramid.
joe (atl)
I can foresee a future in which a subset of straight men purchase extremely realistic female sex robots instead of trying have sex with real women. After all, these robots will tell them how great they are, will never nag or demand more attention, etc. Feminists, of course, will be outraged at this development and perhaps lobby that such robots be banned. I'm glad I'm old and happily married so I will never have to deal with this coming problem.
Apparently functional (CA)
If a person, male or female, wants a machine to obey him/her, why shouldn't they have such a machine? I personally think it's creepy, so I'm not going to be writing any checks to Sexbot Inc, but my tastes or fears shouldn't be the basis of law. I would be concerned for the emotional and psychological health of a person resorting to sex bots, in the same way I'm concerned for the physical health of the person riding a motorcycle sans helmet or the addict whose compulsions destroy his/her life. But making self-destructive tendencies illegal is not generally effective. Better to treat the suffering person, promote safety, and mandate insurance.
Paula Anderson (Minneapolis, MN)
The men whose comments I've read regarding their "right" to sex were more disturbing to me than this opinion piece addresses. The comments I read were demands for women to make themselves available for men as sex objects. No one gets that "right." I don't believe these men want relationships. They say they want the power to use women for their own pleasure and that women have no "right" to deny them.
Danny (Mesa AZ)
Is a "right to sex" really so absurd? Depends on what it entails. If it means that others have an enforceable duty to provide me with the sexual gratification I want from them, then no one aside from a few deranged "incels" could support it. But if it means a right not to be prevented by a virtue police from pursuing sexual gratification in standard or nonstandard ways that don't wrongly harm or exploit others (including animals--no bestiality!), that's something else. This right would protect masturbation and gay sex between consenting adults. It would protect sex with robots, yucky as it may be, as well as sex for money exchanges between consenting adults. (That wouldn't require legalizing prostitution if many real world prostitutes would be wrongly exploited). Isn't a "right to sex" likely to induce the moral panic that Douthat thinks it should induce, only if these two senses of the right are conflated?
Apparently functional (CA)
Well said!
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
I think that you're describing the "right to have sex" ... that is, the right to engage in consensual sex with other adults. That right doesn't necessarily mean that one WILL get it. Just as the right to free speech doesn't mean that anyone will actually listen to what is being said. Of course, there's been nothing to suggest that any outside authority is preventing the "incels" from having sex. They seem to be responsible for that themselves.
Jerry Engelbach (Mexico)
The left’s increasing zeal to transform prostitution into legalized and regulated “sex work” will have this end implicitly in mind. ============================================ Prostitution already is legal in many places, including some in the United States. Why put quotes around "sex work," Ross? That's what it is. And sexual disfunction therapy has been around for a long time as well. People voluntarily involved in sex work deserve the same benefits, safety regulations, and fair pay as those in other industries.
ed connor (camp springs, md)
My sister-in-law told me this joke: "What do you call a woman who has no feeling below the waist?" "Wife." Fortunately, MY wife doesn't subscribe to the NYT.
Scott (Charlottesville)
We think we ought to be happy. Ha! Happiness and unhappiness are both products of our evolution and we own them in equal measure. Darwin is not nice, and he is laughing his head off right now to think that anyone has a "right" to sex, or to happiness. Such talk may make for employment at the NYTimes, but it has no basis in biology. Selective breeding and natural selection are evolution and if that entails unhappiness, Darwin shrugs. Using the language of political manipulation (feminism or maleism or whatever) to rationalize a quintessentially biological process (sex) is, well, ignorant, and pointless. People will not be tricked. If a robot was going to make you happy, your hand would have done so long before.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
There is way too much breeding, STDs, and sex, on this planet, someone should find a way to cure people of sexual desire. After all, greed and hoarding and overeating are frowned on, why do we still celebrate horniness? If there is an appetite suppressant pill, why not one to suppress desire? Go for it! If you can sneak it into the reservoirs, all the better.
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