Asexual Person: 10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
10 Famous Asexual Figures from History

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History

D.G. Hewitt - April 11, 2018

These days, celebrities and other notable figures are, generally speaking, largely open about their sexuality. At the same time, society at large is much more open to different gender and sexual identities, including that of asexuality – or a complete lack of interest in sex. This wasn’t always the case, however. Over the course of human history, men – and, indeed women – who showed no interest in sex were often believed to be secretly homosexual. Of course, such assumptions turned out to be correct. However, some people were genuinely asexual, including some of the best-known figures in the history of art, letters and the sciences.

Some shunned sex for religious reasons, choosing a life of celibacy for themselves. Others may have had celibacy forced upon them. But then there are a few who chose to shun the act of sex because it genuinely didn’t interest them. In some cases, they may have been romantics, in love with the idea of love and happiness in a relationship but uninterested in consummating it. Others, meanwhile, preferred to devote their energies to their work or other calling in life, seeing sex as an unwanted distraction. So here, we have ten of the most notable asexual individuals from history:

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, may have wed, but it’s likely he was asexual. The Guardian.

J.M. Barrie

Sir James Matthew Barrie, better known by his pen-name of J.M. Barrie, was a hugely prolific author, publishing numerous successful novels and plays. However, he will always be best known for being the man behind Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up. The stories of Peter Pan, Wendy and the Lost Boys of Neverland are seen by many as an expression of a common desire to remain young and hold onto a sense of wonder and innocence. And, according to many of Barrie’s biographers, this is exactly what the great writer wanted for himself. When it came to sex and sexuality in particular, he was almost childlike in his innocence, a state that shone through in his much-loved works.

While the exact mature of Barrie’s sexuality is the source of much debate among scholars and fans alike, what is commonly accepted is that he endured a sad, painful childhood. Though born into relative wealth and privilege, his father routinely ignored him, while his mother bullied the young James Matthew. The couple’s eldest son, David, had died in a tragic ice-skating accident, and they never recovered, taking their grief out on their youngest boy. His mother even called Barrie ‘David’ and dressed him in his old clothes. It’s quite likely this psychological abuse scarred him for life.

So, while Barrie did indeed marry – not once, but twice – there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he was asexual. He first got hitched in 1894, marrying the actress Mary Ansell, whom he had been introduced to three years previously. According to acquaintances of the couple, theirs was a sexless marriage and was never even consummated. So, few people would likely have been surprised when Mary began an affair with a fellow actor. Barrie found out about the relationship and demanded Mary bring an end to it. When she refused, the author filed for divorce on the grounds of infidelity – saving himself the shame of an annulment due to the union not having been consummated – and the couple split.

Rather than his wife, it was the Llewelyn Davis boys who were the true loves of Barrie’s life. The writer first met the family in 1897 while out walking in a London park. He entertained their five boys, including young Michael and Peter, and as their ‘Uncle Jim’, he would write stories for them. Was his relationship with the youngsters suspect? Most probably not. Nico, the youngest of the Llewelyn Davis boys stated: “I don’t believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call ‘a stirring in the undergrowth’ for anyone — man, woman, or child.” He also argued: “He was an innocent — which is why he could write Peter Pan!”

Barrie stayed close to the Llewelyn Davis as they grew into young men and was truly distraught when George died in action in the First World War and then Michael drowned himself while studying at Oxford University. Some say he was never the same, and his writing took a darker turn. Barrie himself would die from pneumonia in June of 1937. While he left behind books that children have enjoyed for generations, he never had any sons or daughters of his own, most probably due to his aversion to all things sex-related.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
The writer Emily Bronte was a romantic at heart, but sex didn’t interest her at all. The Famous People.

Emily Bronte

Along with her sisters, Emily Bronte was nothing short of a literary genius. Despite struggling against sexual discrimination, with her gender denying her the fame and fortune a male writer of equal talents would undoubtedly have enjoyed, she nevertheless succeeded in producing a stellar body of work, including poems and essays. But above all, she is known today for her best-loved work, her sole novel, Wuthering Heights. In contrast to the deep passion felt by that novel’s lead characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, plenty of Bronte scholars now believe that Emily never felt such stirrings, with many concluding that the great author was, in fact, asexual.

Emily Jane Bronte was the third-eldest of the four surviving Bronte siblings. She was born and raised in the county of Yorkshire, in northern England. Her father, an Irish church curate, encouraged his children’s literary ambitions. Along with her two sisters and sole brother, Emily read voraciously, and it was this home education that allowed her to gain employment as a teacher when she turned 20. However, the tough life of a country teacher was not for her and she soon quit. Emily then traveled to Belgium to learn French and perfect her German. She was so proficient that she could have stayed on the continent longer, but her aunt’s sudden death prompted her to return to Yorkshire.

Back home, Emily became more reclusive and secretive than ever. She reluctantly agreed to submit her poems for publication and then, in 1847, her great novel was published, albeit under the alias ‘Ellis Bell’. Interestingly, many readers and reviewers believed that, due to its passions and sexual tensions, the book could only have been written by a man. The truth is, Emily herself knew little of love, romance or lust. She was famously reclusive, preferring solitary walks in nature or the company of animals to that of humans.

Emily died in 1848, at the age of just 30. She never got to see Wuthering Heights become a hit. By all accounts, she died a virgin. But, while it’s highly likely the writer was asexual, that doesn’t mean she was aromantic. Indeed, several more recent biographers have argued that, while Emily may have had no interest in the physical act of love, she herself yearned for a romance like that experienced by her character Catherine. Tragically, she died too soon for her wish to come true.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
Literary titan George Bernard Shaw showed no interest in sex or sexuality. The Irish Times.

George Bernard Shaw

The Irish literary giant George Bernard Shaw had many interests. As well as musing on religion and the nature of man, he also had a keen interest in politics, weighing in on fascism and even flirting with both Nazism and socialism in his writings over the years. But sex? Well, that was a topic that hardly came up in Shaw’s many works, though this is hardly surprising. Shaw himself was far from a lady’s man, and there’s no evidence to suggest he was homosexual either. All things considered, he was either willingly celibate, preferring his work over sexual matters, or asexual.

Born in Dublin in 1856, Shaw moved to London 20 years later. For years, he struggled to make a name for himself as a writer. However, he persevered, and little by little became a respected music and theatre critics. Then, after joining the Fabian Society, he developed a skill for drama, penning several politically themed plays. Spurred on by his initial success, Shaw worked every hour he could, and when he was not at his typewriter, he was busying himself in local politics. Soon, the stress and heavy workload took its toll and he had a breakdown. In 1898, a lady by the name of Charlotte Payne-Townshend agreed to nurse him back to health.

Due to the severity of his illness, Charlotte soon moved into Shaw’s London home. Well aware of the scandal this could cause, Shaw proposed marriage, which Charlotte accepted. However, despite now living together as man and wife, the playwright and his partner never lived as a real couple. By all accounts, the union was never consummated. Indeed, while Shaw himself seemed to show no real interest in sex – after all, he had several books to finish! – Charlotte was actively repulsed by it. Despite this lack of physical intimacy, the couple stayed together and, in 1906, moved together to the English countryside to live out the rest of their lives.

On several occasions, Shaw admitted to friends and acquaintances that matters of the flesh simply held no interest for him. He preferred to occupy himself with matters of the mind. Of course, there is the distinct possibility that he was celibate rather than asexual. Some biographers even posit he might have been a celibate homosexual. However, he died childless and a virgin, promoting many scholars to theorize that he was both asexual and aromantic.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
Florence Nightingale’s commitment to nursing meant she had no interest in love or sex. Huffington Post.

Florence Nightingale

The Crimean War was a bloody affair, claiming a huge number of British lives. But the number might have been higher still had it not been for the heroic efforts of Florence Nightingale. Indeed, she not only made a real impact in the field hospitals of the Crimea, but she would go on to revolutionize nursing in general. Today, she is regarded as a true pioneer and many of the practices she introduced are still followed today. There can be no doubting her professional prowess. But what about her personal life? That remains the subject of much debate and speculation. Was the Lady with the Lamp asexual?

Born into an upper-class family in London in 1820, the young Nightingale was, by all accounts, a slim and attractive lady. Certainly, she wasn’t short of suitors. In fact, the politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes pursued her for nine long years before she eventually told him to give up. She traveled widely, though nursing was her real passion. And so it was as a nurse that she, along with 38 other female volunteers, went to join the fields of the Crimean War in October of 1854. She made an immediate impact: her new rules for hygiene saw mortality rates in field hospitals plummet, and she made a name for herself as a kind and compassionate caregiver.

According to some biographer’s Nightingale was simply too busy for a love life of her own. That is, she focused all her time and energy on caring for others and never took the chance to pursue love or marriage for herself. Others, however, argue that she was drawn to nursing by what she felt was a religious calling, and it was this belief that she was doing God’s work that led her to staying chaste. However, there’s a strong argument that the real reason she remained alone all her life was that she simply wasn’t interested in either romance or sex. The Lady with the Lamp carried a torch for nobody, male or female, due to a simple lack of desire.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
The dashing adventurer Lawrence of Arabia died a virgin. The Spectator.

T.E. Lawrence

In many ways, Thomas Edward Lawrence was the archetypal English gentleman: handsome, dashing and equally adept with a rifle as with a pen. He was an archaeologist, an officer in the British Army, an adventurer, a diplomat and an author – often at the same time – and would become immortalized through the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, a work based on his exploits during the First World War. But, despite the fact he wrote all about his exploits in numerous memoirs, essays and poems, his sexuality has continued to be open to debate, with many agreeing with the view of his contemporaries – that he was simply asexual.

Lawrence was born out of wedlock in August of 1888 in Wales. In 1914, his father inherited a baronetcy and, while he took the title, declined to move into the ancestral home. The family did move around, however, including a spell living in the county of Hampshire. It was here that young Lawrence received a strict Christian education, with teachers instilling in him the idea that no respectable woman would ever be interested in a man who was born illegitimately. Did this make Lawrence wary of any romantic endeavors from an early age? Some of his biographers certainly think so.

After making a name for himself as an archaeologist, Lawrence was called up by Military Intelligence when war broke out in 1914. Rather than being sent to the Western Front, Lawrence was sent to assist the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. It was his exploits in the Middle East, breathlessly reported on in the popular press, that made his name. But, unlike many war heroes, Lawrence didn’t care for any female attention. Nor did he appear to have any close male friends or possible lovers. Lawrence’s contemporaries simply concluded that he had no interest in sex at all. In today’s language, he was asexual.

Some scholars go so far as to suggest that Lawrence’s harsh childhood stunted any sexual development he might have had. Others suggest that his wartime exploits might have led to him shunning all sexual matters. In his writings, Lawrence describes how he was tortured and humiliated by the Ottoman Turks after he had been captured. It’s widely assumed he was a virgin at the time. Could this have left him free from any sexual desire? It’s possible Lawrence would have answered the question himself had he lived to old age, but tragically he died in a motorcycle accident in 1935, aged just 46.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
Would Isaac Newton have made his discoveries had his genius mind been distracted by sex? Medium.com.

Isaac Newton

According to popular legend, while on his deathbed, Isaac Newton confessed that he had never ‘known’ a woman. Since Newton did undoubtedly have several female acquaintances during his lifetime, this has generally been interpreted in the biblical sense – that is, that the Englishman died a virgin. Of course, there is a chance that he knew a man, or even several men, in his lifetime. But the general consensus is that Newton was completely asexual, shunning physical affection and preferring to make himself intimate with the workings of the universe than with another human being.

To call Newton a genius is perhaps an understatement. Born in 1642, he was admitted to Cambridge University before the age of 20. It was here where he produced the bulk of his body of work, including ground-breaking studies into calculus and physics, as well as pioneering insights into gravity and planetary movements. While in his later life he received countless awards and much adulation for his scientific discoveries and publications, this didn’t translate into popularity or even love. Newton was famously reclusive and private. If he did interact with other people, it was often to argue with them or pick fights. Fair to say, Newton made a lot of enemies.

According to some biographer’s Newton was simply too busy to pursue romantic liaisons. He himself famously remarked: “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” However, it seems more likely he was simply asexual. For 20 years, from 1663 to 1683, he shared a room with John Wickins, a fellow Cambridge student and later a fellow of Trinity College. There was never any hint of a sexual relationship between them – and, as is often pointed out, if there were any rumors of Newton being homosexual, his many enemies or rivals would have gladly used this to smear his name.

Since Newton never wrote a diary and, unlike many of his peers, wasn’t in the habit of writing personal letters to friends and peers, we can only speculate about his sexuality. However, it’s almost certain he was a virgin when he died at the age of 84 in 1727. The French philosopher Voltaire, who was in London when the great polymath was buried, famously noted that Netwon “was never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common frailties of mankind, nor had any commerce with women – a circumstance which was assured me by the physician and surgeon who attended him in his last moments.” Perhaps it was this lack of passion that led him to become arguably the greatest genius that ever lived?

Read More: Madness of Sir Isaac Newton!

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
Tall, handsome, super-intelligent – and asexual: Nikola Tesla led a fascinating life. Wikipedia.org.

Nikola Tesla

The Serbian-American Nikola Tesla was the archetypal eccentric scientist. There can be little doubting his genius: he spoke eight languages fluently, produced the first motor to run on an AC current, had around 300 patents to his name and made the breakthroughs that would make long-distance radio communications possible. As if that’s not enough, he even claimed to have developed a “superweapon” that would bring all war to an end, plus he believed himself to be on the verge of finding the ‘answer to everything’. Professionally, then, he was almost without peer. And, on the personal level, he was equally as fascinating.

Tesla cut a striking figure in American society, having emigrated to the U.S. from Austria in 1884. The inventor was tall, thin and classically handsome. Unlike many scientists – Einstein for instance – Tesla was always elegantly dressed and expected the same of others. Judging by his appearance alone, you would have thought he would have never been short of company. However, for Tesla, work always came first, before even sleep and definitely before any notions of love or sex.

The engineering genius was very fastidious in his personal life. He liked to dine in the same place at exactly the same time each day, almost always preferring his own thoughts to the company of others. And, while he certainly had his fair share of female attention, he never seemed to be interested. In fact, he often asserted that any thoughts of romance or sex would hinder his creative abilities, and so he never even took any lovers let alone married. Telsa’s numerous phobias certainly didn’t help matters. He was famously afraid of pearls, and so would go out of his way to avoid any woman wearing them. Moreover, his strict personal hygiene regime and fear of germs would have made intimacy impossible, even if he had desired it in the first place.

Summing up his attitude to matters of the heart and flesh, Tesla said: “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” Not that he had much to compare the joy of invention to. Tesla died a virgin – a situation not unnoticed by his contemporaries – and is now widely believed to have been both asexual and also aromantic.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
Cult writer H.P. Lovecraft failed to satisfy his wife – or any woman- sexually. Den of Geek.

H.P. Lovecraft

Though largely unrecognized in his own lifetime, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (better known as H.P. Lovecraft) is now regarded as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. His spooky tales of ghosts, ghouls and alternate worlds arguably kick-started a whole literary genre, and best-selling authors still refer to him and his canon today. But, while he made his readers terrified of things that go bump in the night, there was only really one thing that terrified Lovecraft himself: Sex.

That Lovecraft was no lothario was hardly surprising. After all, not only was he born and raised in the Victorian period – infamous for its atmosphere of prudishness – but his family were strict and suffocating. So, while he did indeed marry, getting hitched to Sonia Greene, whom he met at a convention for aspiring journalists, it wasn’t her physical attributes that first attracted the young Lovecraft. Rather, Sonia helped him escape his hometown and flourish as a writer in New York City. Instead of a loving wife in every sense of the word, she provided him with financial help, moral support and encouragement.

By Sonia’s own account, Lovecraft performed his marital duty, albeit only when asked to, never taking the initiative himself, and without showing any desire, enthusiasm or even competence in the act itself. On his prowess in the bed-chamber, she would later write: “Of course, I did not expect him to be an ample provider, but I did harbor some secret expectations that he might, after all, provide to be normal as a husband and lover. I felt, however, that his inhibitions were provoked more or less by his severe Puritanical upbringing.”

Biographers of Lovecraft largely agree with his wife’s judgment. While he was evidently not celibate, the great writer was almost certainly at best disinterested in the idea of sex or even repulsed by the physical act. There is documented evidence that he hated any talk of sex or sexual matters in general. Unsurprisingly his marriage to Sonia came to an amicable end, with the pair having drifted apart long before they formally separated. While Sonia went on to remarry, Lovecraft remained single for the rest of his life, dying alone and impoverished in 1937.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
Chopin had legions of female fans, but he simply wasn’t interested in any of them. Smithsonian Magazine.

Frederic Chopin

At the peak of his fame and powers, Frederic Chopin was treated more like a modern-day rock star than a classical composer: outside Paris concert halls, for example, female fans would wait to meet him, and everywhere he went he was the toast of the town, praised for his innovative and stirring compositions. Unlike the typical rock star, however, Chopin didn’t make the most of his fame in this sense. Indeed, throughout his life, he showed little to no interest in members of the opposite sex, or of the same sex for that matter. So was the great composer asexual before the world came to recognize this space on the great spectrum of human sexuality?

Several of Chopin’s biographers certainly believe that the composer was “fundamentally asexual”, even if he was linked with several women and even had a seven-year relationship with the French writer George Sand. Suffice to say, theirs was not a conventional partnership. By all accounts, it remained unconsummated; while Sand had had several past lovers and even had children, some historians believe Chopin imposed celibacy on his older partner. For the pianist and composer, it has been argued, the partnership was more one of curiosity and convenience than one of physical attraction.

According to some of his biographer’s, Chopin’s aversion to sex and intimacy had its roots in his adolescence. As a teen, he became infatuated with a female opera singer by the name of Maria Wodzinska. The pair were engaged to be married, and Chopin wrote several pieces of music for his beloved. However, Maria’s father was against the match, worrying that his prospective son-in-law was too sickly for his daughter. So distraught was he by the ending of the engagement that Chopin lost all interest in love and sex.

It could well be that Chopin led a long life of self-imposed celibacy. Alternatively, those biographers may have been right: he was asexual all along, just that after the heartbreak he experienced as a young man ended his interest in romance, too.

10 Famous Asexual Figures from History
His paintings may have been scandalous, even erotic, but there’s no suggestion Dali liked sex himself. Biography.com.

Salvador Dali

While his contemporary Pablo Picasso might have been a notorious womanizer, Salvador Dali was far more complicated sexually. The Spanish artist once famously confessed: “I have tried sex once with a woman and it was (with his wife) Gala. It was overrated. I tried sex once with a man and that man was the famous juggler Frederico Garcia Lorca. It was very painful.” Thus, despite evidently displaying a keen interest in the theme of sex and sexuality from an artistic point of view, many of Dali’s biographers have concluded that the great man himself was asexual.

In his 1942 autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, the artist is notably coy on the issue of sex and his own sexuality. Curiously, while topics like religion, war and politics, as well as his own beliefs and upbringing, are discussed, Dali declined to give any insights into his love life – or lack of it. This is despite the fact that Dali, who was born in the city of Figueres, Spain, in 1904, was a married man for much of his life. He first met Gala, a Russian immigrant almost a decade his senior, in 1929, though at the time, she was married to the French poet Paul Eluard. However, the couple soon got together and they finally married in a secret ceremony in 1934, following this up with a religious ceremony in a Catholic church a year later.

The union between Dali and Gala was far from a conventional relationship. Again, the artist himself revealed that the marriage was only consummated on a single, disappointing occasion. Other than that, he showed no interest in sex, though his wife was highly sexual and continued to take many lovers outside of the marital bed. Some Dali scholars theorize that this asexuality was rooted in his childhood. He himself admitted that, from an early age, he feared his penis was small and underdeveloped and that he was bound to disappoint women sexually. What’s more, while he did find pleasure in his own company, even this caused him great distress, even into later life.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Conversation – Why Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights Is A Cult Classic

The Guardian – The Strange Cult Of Emily Brontë And The ‘Hot Mess’ Of Wuthering Heights

“The Emily Bronte mystery”. The Irish Times, August 1998.

The Guardian – Revealed: The Secret Marriage Of Lawrence Of Arabia, The Lonely Romantic

“The Posthumous Pornification of H.P. Lovecraft”. Philip Eil, Vice.com, August 2015.

“T.E. Lawrence ‘made up’ sex attack by Turk troops”. Elizabeth Day, The Daily Telegraph, May 2006.

“Florence Nightingale: A new biography sheds light on the Lady with the Lamp”. Suzi Feay, The Independent, September 2008.

Huff Post – Isaac Newton Died A Virgin And 9 Other Facts About The Brilliant, Bizarre Physicist

New York Time Magazine – Isaac Newton Revival Seeks Clues to Tortured Scientist’s Genius

“Isaac Newton’s Personal Life”. The Newton Project, University of Oxford.

“The Extraordinary Life of Nikola Tesla”. Richard Gunderman, Smithsonian Magazine, January 2018.

Ranker – Some Historians Think These Historical Figures Died As Virgins

Ranker – 16 Famous People Who Probably Died as Virgins

“A troubled genius: The truth about Chopin”. Michael Church, The Independent, December 2009.

The Guardian – Chopin’s Interest In Men Airbrushed From History, Programme Claims

The Paris Review – When Your Muse Is Also a Demonic Dominatrix

“Salvador Dali disliked sex and was unlikely to have fathered a child in an affair”. Troy Lennon, The Daily Telegraph, June 2017.

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