Why you should care
Because while those around them were getting it on, these folks were getting it done.
Recent college graduates get a lot of unsolicited advice this time of year about what it takes to get ahead in life and what they should prioritize in the years to come. But unless you’re exchanging that graduation robe for a priest’s robe or a nun’s habit, then there’s one course of action you will probably not hear your commencement speaker or proud parent endorse: lifelong celibacy.
While there is no shortage of opinions and theorizing on the Internet about the productivity gains to be had from refraining from sex (personal favorite: good entrepreneurs ejaculate less), science has little to say about the relationship between celibacy and productivity. And what it does say is rather mixed: Sexually frustrated fruit flies, for instance, live shorter, less fruitful lives (pun sadly appropriate), while debauched worms tend to “fornicate themselves into an early grave.”
Still, as the following six All-Star Abstainers from history show, there are many ways to be fruitful and multiply, and not doing it…can mean doing quite a bit.
1. Isaac Newton
Despite popular opinion, Isaac Newton was never actually bonked on the head by an apple. And that wasn’t the only bonking absent from the famous natural philosopher’s life. A workaholic, insomniac and lifelong virgin who was likely somewhat terrified by sex, Newton was a remarkably prolific writer and thinker: In addition to his vast published scientific writings, the scholar penned over 2 million words on the subject of religion and another million on alchemy.
2. Immanuel Kant
One of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant never traveled more than 50 miles from his hometown of Königsberg. Nor did he likely ever take anyone to Pleasure Town. For Kant, who used his sexless, travel-free life to make prodigious contributions to the fields of epistemology, metaphysics and ethics, sexual activity meant using another human being merely as an object, and was only morally acceptable during marriage (when the objectification was sanctioned and mutual). Of course, under the logic of the chaste philosopher’s famous Categorical Imperative — whereby one should act in such a way that his behavior could be the basis for a universal law of nature — Kant’s own abstemious ways writ large would have spelled only extinction and misery for the species.
3. Florence Nightingale
The Lady with the Lamp’s accomplishments are legendary: from ministering to wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, to laying the foundation for the nursing profession, to her abundant writings and public health advocacy. Despite her zest for life, and what she called her “very passionate nature” (she once crawled on her stomach through the passages of the Great Pyramid in Egypt), the graceful Nightingale elected her career, and the single life, over taking a husband, rejecting one poor suitor after a nine-year courtship.
4. Hans Christian Andersen
Believe it or not, the melancholy Dane who wrote such classic tales as The Ugly Duckling and The Snow Queen was an odd-looking, sexually repressed eccentric. According to one recent biography, Hans Christian Andersen was a painfully shy gay man who never acted on his sexual inclinations. Luckily for young readers everywhere, the famous author — who was not particularly fond of children — channeled his frustrations into a productive literary career that included six novels, 36 theatrical works, hundreds of poems, and at least 170 stories and fairy tales.
5. Jane Austen
Of course, for every high-achieving virgin in history who was busy inventing the remote control, there were no doubt dozens more sitting around on their parents’ couches using one. As the famously celibate British rocker Morrissey once said of his own indolence: “Doing nothing gives me great pleasure. And, believe me, I succeed wonderfully in it.”One probable virgin who had a far clearer, and more entertaining, understanding of the sexes was English novelist Jane Austen. Unlike so many of her memorable heroines, Jane remained single all her life, never marrying despite having had several suitors and admirers. But, by the time she died (possibly from tuberculosis), at age 41, the avid reader and writer had penned six novels, more than 3,000 letters and several other literary works.
6. Nikola Tesla
Long before Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk and Virgin’s Richard Branson became good friends, the famed Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla was himself prominently in the virgin camp. The lifelong bachelor, said to have been both asexual and largely asocial, used his 86 years to come up with a few notable contributions to society, including alternating current, radio, X-rays and the remote control. Sorry, ladies, but despite his big brain and smoldering good looks, Tesla was as unwelcoming of women in the office as in the bedroom, once observing that “[w]oman’s determined competition with man in the business world is breaking down some of the best traditions — things which have proved the moving factors in the world’s slow but substantial progress.”