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:
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.