Mass shooters who show signs of sexual frustration have more victims, on average, compared to other mass shooters, according to new research published in Homicide Studies. The findings provide evidence that sexual frustration is an important contributing factor to gun violence, and that these perpetrators differ from other mass shooters in terms of their psychological profiles and the types of attacks they carry out.
The motivation behind the study was to investigate the relationship between sexual frustration and public mass shootings in the United States. The researchers noted that recent concerns have focused on mass killings by involuntarily celibate men, commonly known as “incels.” While the vast majority of incels do not commit violent acts, the researchers hypothesized that sexual frustration may contribute to a social climate that increases the likelihood of mass killings.
“Mass killings by people who claim to be involuntarily celibate (i.e., ‘incels’) have received a tremendous amount of attention in recent years, and they appear to be a growing threat,” explained study authors Adam Lankford and Jason R. Silva, a criminology professor at The University of Alabama and an assistant criminal justice professor at William Paterson University, respectively.
“As a result, the U.S. Secret Service published a 2021 case study on a man who opened fire at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida and shot six women. That perpetrator identified with incels, complained about the male ‘virginity burden,’ and had a history of sexual misconduct. But we suspected the problem of sexually frustrated mass shooters is far more extensive than most people realize, so we wanted to study it as rigorously as possible.”
To conduct their study, the researchers examined a database of public mass shooters in the United States from 1966 to 2021, consisting of 178 cases. They developed criteria to identify shooters who had sexual frustration problems, based on indicators such as explicit complaints about sexual frustration, failure to find an intimate partner, solicitation of sex workers, stalking or harassment of desired partners, and engagement in illegal or inappropriate sexual behaviors.
The study aimed to answer four main research questions. First, how common are sexual frustration problems among mass shooters? Second, do sexually frustrated mass shooters have a different profile than other mass shooters? Third, do sexually frustrated mass shooters behave differently than other mass shooters? And fourth, is there a difference in the victims sexually frustrated mass shooters choose to kill?
The findings of the study revealed that approximately one-third of public mass shooters in the United States had sexual frustration problems. These individuals exhibited various indicators of sexual frustration, such as explicit complaints, stalking, harassment, engagement in illegal sexual behaviors, and interest in minors or violent fetishes. Sexually frustrated mass shooters were more than six times more likely to have a history of sex offending and also tended to have a stronger desire for fame.
“We were surprised to discover that sexually frustrated perpetrators committed so many of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, including attacks at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, and Uvalde. These cases had already been studied so closely that it seemed difficult to imagine there was anything new to learn,” Lankford and Silva told PsyPost.
“But when we examined the overall issue of mass shootings through this new lens, we realized the Columbine shooter’s statement that, ‘Maybe I just need to get laid. Maybe that’ll just change some shit around,’ the Virginia Tech shooter’s attempt to hire a sex worker shortly before his attack, and the Parkland shooter’s internet searches for Asian mail-order brides, ‘little teen pirn (porn),’ and ‘how to get a girlfriend’ might all be part of a much larger pattern.”
Lankford and Silva also found that sexually frustrated mass shooters were more likely to be young, male, unmarried, childless, unemployed, and misogynistic compared to other mass shooters. They exhibited behaviors associated with relief-seeking, power-seeking, revenge-seeking, and displaced frustration.
Regarding the victims, sexually frustrated perpetrators killed more total victims compared to other mass shooters. They also were found to kill a higher proportion of female victims. This finding was attributed to their misogyny, power-seeking, and revenge-seeking tendencies. These individuals were also more likely to carry out attacks at schools.
“There is no single factor that explains why someone commits a mass shooting, but sexual frustration can help explain why some men who are not struggling to survive in any literal sense – they’re not starving, homeless, or desperately poor – are so dissatisfied with their lives,” Lankford and Silva said.
“There are many things people can buy to meet their needs, but long-term sexual satisfaction or a meaningful romantic relationship are more difficult to obtain. When profound sexual frustration is combined with access to firearms, psychological issues, lack of empathy for others, and toxic masculinity, the risks of mass violence may be particularly high.”
The findings highlight the need for future research to explore the topic further, including using different analytical approaches and incorporating specific measures of romantic rejection. Additionally, understanding the timing of events and behaviors in mass shooters’ lives could provide insights into their decision to attack, the researchers said. Future research could also focus on strategies to reduce sexual frustration and its potential impact on aggression and violence.
“We suggest that sexual frustration is far more complex than most scholars have recognized in the past,” Lankford and Silva told PsyPost. “It is not only experienced by virgins or ‘incels’; it can be experienced by sexually active people as well. And it is not merely biological or measured by how long since someone last had sex – it is also psychological and affected by people’s expectations, entitlements, embrace of healthy or toxic gender norms, and more.”
“This is why sexual frustration is difficult to measure, and why masturbation (which sexually frustrated people often engage in) is no perfect solution. Any time there is a gap between what people want and what they have, that can create dissatisfaction.”
“Being less frustrated does not necessarily require having more sex,” Lankford and Silva added. “If society could make significant progress in scaling back toxic factors that lead some men to assume that women are obliged to have sex with them, these individuals might have more realistic expectations and therefore feel less frustrated.”
“We also recognize that mass shooters’ sexual frustration problems may interact with other variables that are difficult to differentiate, such as their desires for love and companionship or their experiences of rejection or isolation.”
The study, “Sexually Frustrated Mass Shooters: A Study of Perpetrators, Profiles, Behaviors, and Victims“, was authored by Adam Lankford and Jason R. Silva.