“I haven’t had sex since 2014.”
This is the claim of a woman I met recently, who calls herself an “incel”; a term which refers to anyone who has gone without sex for a prolonged period, involuntarily. If you Google “incel”, you’ll find information on men’s groups who complain they can’t get laid because women are “bitches”. Of course.
But by definition, Alison (whose name I’ve changed for her privacy) is also an incel. She’s a 33 year-old, heterosexual, single woman, and she meets the criteria because she hasn’t had a sexual encounter with another person in four years. And not by choice.
The last time Alison had sex was with her partner of seven years, three months before they amicably separated.
“I was so prepared to go on a single sex spree to celebrate,” Alison laughed.
“But the reality was that I was totally crap at talking to guys. I still am. I’m nervous and weird.”
Alison said she went out regularly with her friends, who were great wingwomen, but she always lost her nerve when it came time to seal the deal. The same thing happened to her when chatting online.
“I thought I’d feel free, but actually, I think I felt overwhelmed with indecision.”
Which meant that Alison began to lose hope of even having a one night stand, pretty quickly.
“When I finally found someone to talk to who wasn’t a total idiot, I’d eventually lose them. I’d excuse it by saying I’m a crap flirt, but really, I’d just chicken out.”
Real talk: How do you have a one night stand? Rachel Corbett, Mia Freedman and Jessie Stephens discuss on Mamamia Out Loud.
Alison believed that body confidence was the main reason for her nervousness, especially as she grew older, and one year turned into two, two into four.
“The world keeps telling us that the older we are, the less attractive we are. That’s what I’m thinking about. Guys all want women in their 20s. That’s their ideal.”
This, however, doesn’t mean that Alison hates herself.
“The strange part is that I feel good in myself. I feel sexy. Alone in my bedroom with sexy lingerie on, I think I’m hot. But I just don’t think men would look at me like that now.”
People, such as religious figures, can learn to live celibate lives, but Alison has found that her interest in sex hasn’t waned.
“I still want it as much as I always have. I masturbate almost every day. I’ve spent so much money on sex toys to try to replicate the feeling – but using them makes me cry afterwards, because it’s just not the same.”
One of the hardest parts of the celibacy has been the disappointment.
"Coming home night after night, alone - it's soul-destroying. I've failed again. I've wasted all this time and money getting dressed up and feeling amazing and still, I come home to an empty bed."
Alison admits she got tired of the high before a night out - shaving her legs, even setting out candles, in the hope of bringing someone home - and then the crash of walking into her bedroom at 2am, "alone again".
The other part Alison has struggled with is, of course, the lack of intimacy and affection.
"There are times when I've woken up in the middle of the night and haven't been able to stop crying, and I know it's because I just desperately need some love. I need someone to touch me."
Alison has, as she puts it, "read every article on the internet about how to deal with loneliness, but there's only so many 'warm baths' you can take."
"Sometimes, you just need a man on you and inside you."
Her frustration has led Alison to recently seek professional help. She asked her GP if there was a drug, such as an anti-depressant, to help suppress her libido, so that she didn't have to worry about not getting any, anymore. The doctor told her that wasn't the solution.
"The doctor told me, 'You're not depressed - you're deprived.' That made me finally realise that I do need help - I need to talk to someone about why I don't have any confidence when it comes to men.
"Because sex is a basic human need, and I can't live like this forever."