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Sherlock Holmes and sex

Sherlock Holmes is interesting in many ways: his intellect, his observation skills, etc. However, one thing that is rarely talked about, but is an integral part of the character, is his asexuality.

Sherlock is celibate. In the BBC version he is an acknowledged virgin. This is atypical of characters of his age in fiction. In our time sexual experience is a sign of adulthood. An adult who has not had sex is considered somehow inferior to others. There are those who chose to abstain from sex, like priests, but even they probably had sex at one time. Finding a character who not only does not have sex, but does not even want to have sex is quite rare.

Now the original reason for this probably had something to do with the age that the character was written in. The Victorian era was infamous for its sexual repression. (That’s what gave Freud all his material.) As a Victorian character, it is perfectly normal for Sherlock Holmes to eschew sex.

Sex and Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes

In the books Sherlock never marries and never has sex. In A scandal in Bohemia Watson says:

“It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.”1.

This is all fine and good if you live in Victorian England, but when you move Sherlock into the modern-day, it makes Sherlock more odd. People assume that Sherlock must have some kind of sexual desire, even if he is celibate, so I thought that I’d explore that in this Blog.


( WARNING: All the videos in this section contain SPOILERS! for Season 2 Sherlock. If this bothers you, don’t watch them.)

Sex is mentioned quite frequently in the BBC show Sherlock. Mostly it is mentioned by John Watson who must forever deny that he is gay. So let’s begin with that.

Is Sherlock Gay?

Does Sherlock like men, women, or both. Even John doesn’t know.

Sherlock is very close with his feelings. He never admits that he needs or wants anyone, so we must use observation to find out his feelings. One technique for discovering sexual interest (as mentioned in Pride and Prejudice) is to watch the eyes. One person who Sherlock can’t take his eyes off of is Irene Adler. In A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock stares at Irene in every scene that they are in together. Contrast this with the way that he ignores Molly and the way he is repelled by Kitty Riley and you can see that this is a genuine preference.

Sherlock can’t take his eyes off of Irene

In their first meeting, Sherlock is rendered speechless by Irene Adler. Later he stumbles on his words. Something that almost never happens. It shows that he is distracted by her, and challenged by John’s interest in her.

In scene after scene it is obvious that Irene Adler has turned his head. This strongly suggests that Sherlock is interested in women, or at least one of them. He is not comfortable with this attraction though. When John makes a comment about them picking baby names, Sherlock jumps as if he is embarrassed by the comment.

Irene Adler comes the closest of anyone to seducing Sherlock Holmes.

Yet even in this scene he does not seem very strongly interested in sex. He has another motive for touching Irene, and he is able to change the subject and avoid it.

Sherlock and emotions

In the Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock admitted that the thing that disturbed him most was losing control. Emotions were “The grit on the lens” and “the fly in the ointment.” Love, and certainly lust would be to Sherlock extremely distressing emotions. Conan Doyle writes, “But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.” 2.

Sherlock, it appears, does not want to have sex with anyone. To do so would affect his work which he values above all other things. But emotions have a way of showing up even when one does not want them to. What Sherlock wants and what Sherlock feels may be two very different things.

The eyes have it

If you are counting total eye time for Sherlock, John ranks number one.

John and Sherlock

John and Sherlock

Sherlock is constantly watching John. What does this mean? Love, Lust, curiosity? His constant glances are a source of fan girl (and fan boy) excitement. The John / Sherlock pairing is THE major pairing in the Sherlock fandom. Why? Because there is just so much there to see.

Sherlock is intense. Benedict Cumberbatch acts this intensity with his body language, and his eyes. You can see that this is a conscious decision, because in the first pilot his gaze wanders in a much more normal manner. In the regular series, Sherlock stares at people burning them with the intensity of his full attention. Since Sherlock spends most of his time with John, he is largely the focus of Sherlock’s gaze. Does this mean sexual attraction? You decide. (Note: The sex scene was added from another show.)

Is this love?

Now if we assume for a moment that Sherlock is gay, and that he is attracted to John in a sexual way we still must deal with the fact that John is NOT interested in Sherlock that way. One doesn’t have to be as smart as Sherlock to realize that unwanted sexual advances might threaten John and make him leave, and sex or no, it is clear that Sherlock needs John to stay. So Sherlock probably wouldn’t say anything even if he was interested in sex with John.

Sex or no sex it is clear to everyone that Sherlock does have strong emotions for John. We can tell by the  intensity of emotion that Sherlock shows whenever John is threatened. The panic that Sherlock feels is evident in his voice and face.

The shock and fear that he expresses for John is more than for Mrs Hudson or Lestrade. This is passion. It is evident that Sherlock could not bear to lose him. Now there are perfectly logical reasons for Sherlock to wish not to lose John.

  • He is a good man to have at one’s back (He’s saved Sherlock’s life many times now.)
  • He is his first and only friend.
  • He helps him at his work.

But is that enough to explain his tears at their parting on the rooftop? In my mind, the answer is clear.

Will Sherlock have sex with John?


Does Sherlock Love John?

Yes, definitely.

-R 🙂

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, THE SIGN OF FOUR.  Chapter XII .<http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2097/2097-h/2097-h.htm&gt;

2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “A Scandal in Bohemia”, THE ADVENTURES OF
. Chapter I. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1661/1661-h/1661-h.htm&gt;

About rozzychan

Rosalyn Hunter is the principal writer on the series Lunatics. Please support us. http://lunatics.tv


11 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes and sex

  1. Je pense que John et Sherlock s’aiment. Mais il y a différentes façons d’aimer. On peut aimer quelqu’un mais pas comme un amoureux. Je pense qu’ils sont comme des âmes soeurs, dans le sens grossier du terme. ça a cliqué de suite, quand ils se sont rencontrés, une sorte de coup de foudre.
    J’aime à penser que c’est un amour profond et platonique, parce que aucun des deux n’est attiré par l’autre. Ils s’aiment, c’est évident, ils aiment la vie qu’ils mènent grâce à l’autre, ils se complètent. Suis-je claire? Je ne sais pas si je suis compréhensible.

    Bref, quant à penser que Sherlock est vierge, je pense qu’il l’était. Attention, spoilers :
    Je veux dire, on l’apprend avec la réaction de Mycroft, quand il lui demande comment il saurait que le sexe ne l’intimide pas? Clairement, le sous-entendu signifie que Sherlock est vierge.
    Cependant! Dans la saison trois, on voit Sherlock avec Janine, qui aura apparemment une grande importance dans la saison 4. Elle l’embrasse, le rejoins dans son bain et sort de la chambre de Sherlock avec sa chemise.
    De plus, Sherlock empêche quiconque est dans l’appartement d’entrer dans sa chambre, fermée.

    Bref, je pense que Sherlock aime John de manière platonique et qu’il n’est plus vierge.

    Posted by Istu | May 30, 2014, 12:28 am
    • Good points.
      About Janine, I know that there was intimacy between him and Janine, and nudity even.
      They did not, however, have sex because she said in the hospital, “I wish that we had at least once”.
      Sherlock is a very good actor.
      I do think that there was probably lots of kissing and fondling though. He really enjoyed the shocked look on John’s face when he told him that he had a ‘girlfriend’.

      Posted by rozzychan | June 2, 2014, 4:18 pm
  2. Just thinking about the last two sentenses you wrote. That they would not have sex, but that Sherlock loves him. I would rather say care or love like the best friend. Couse we all have that one person in our life we cant live without. The one you would take a bullet for or jump ahead of a train for. I think John is that person to Sherlock. The one friend he would die for becouse there would be pointless living without him. I also think that John does not know how much Sherlock actually care a bouth him either…

    Posted by Sirius | February 8, 2014, 1:03 am
  3. Hi, nice post! I mostly agree with what you say – I mean, I can’t believe we’re actually discussing fictional people’s sex lives, or lack thereof, but it’s Sherlock, and it’d be great to know what’s really going on…

    So, just my two cents:

    I agree that Sherlock must love John, to some degree. If Mycroft is right, amd Sherlock is a virgin, then maybe he doesn’t recognize this attraction for what it is, because there is a big difference between reading about feelings and actually have them. But some things in their relationship are dead giveaways. You talk about the staring, and I’d take it further – Sherlock often gazes at John’s lips! This is something normal friends don’t do, and a sure way to distinguish yaoi series (Arthur and Merlin looked at each other’s lips ALL the time) and non yaoi series where the two men characters still have a strong bond woth each other (see Person of Interest: their never look at each other’s lips). So this is a nice touch. There’s also the fact that Sherlock often asks John to touch him, but he’s very careful about physical contact from other people (I mean, “Fetch the phone from the coat I’m wearing” etc). And the way he wants to make John happy, even if John is ordinary and “an idiot”. The way he steals that ashtray for him from Buckingham Palace, for instance, is very sweet. And then, of course, what you say: Sherlock’s obvious panic and distress whenever John is in danger. Since Sherlock can’t understand emotions, he throws himself off a roof to keep John safe, never realizing that he has just destroyed John.

    I agree less with what you say about John. For a straight flatmate (who has no prblem with gay people), he asks about Sherlock’s sexuality quite a lot. The discussion pops up the first time they meet, and that is weird for an Englishman, asking such personal things so soon. He discusses the matter with Mrs Hudson, also strange; with Mycroft. Sherlock’s mysterious desires are obviously bugging him, and you aren’t disturbed by something like this unless you care for some reason. Then there are the weird comments: he liked Sherlock’s cheekbones, he thinks he looks cool. Again, this kind of compliments may be normal in other countries, but not in the UK. The message is: he can see Sherlock is handsome, and it bothers him for some reason. Then: he rates Sherlock higher than his GFs, and doesn’t care if they dump him as long as Sherlock is ok and happy. Also not normal. They are friends, yes, but they have known each other one year, not ten. Then there was his reaction to Irene Adler. He was clearly bothered and jealous. He left them alone together, just as Sherlock found him a date in The Hound, but these look like perfunctory acts of kindness. There’s no heart in them. In both cases, they clearly didn’t want to do what they did. I mean: John COUNTS the number of texts Irene sends Sherlock, and later throws this in her face (“You surely texted him a lot!”). wHo does that, unless you’re in love? And finally, what Irene herself says:
    John: I’m not gay.
    Irene: Well, I am. Look at us both.
    I read a lot of nonsense about how this offensive to lesbian women, who can be “cured” when the right man comes along. Nobody mentioned John’s silence – how it is implied that John is straight, but is in love with Sherlock all the same. Shitty situation. Because love it is, John doesn’t deny it, and doesn’t go after Sherlock when they both realize he’s there. To say what?, as Irene says. John and Irene both admitted their feelings in that scene. The ball is in Sherlock’s field.

    Franly, against this theory there’s only one thing: Moffat said in an interview that Sherlock is not gay, because if he was, he would never live with an attractive man: too distracting. But I think Sherlock may be in the same situation John is: he’s not gay, per se. He’s not interested in feelings, may even be straight. But he would have a relationship with John, because they have clearly fallen in love with each other.

    Ouf. Sorry for the venting. Let me know what you think about all this!! 🙂

    Posted by anna | March 9, 2013, 10:24 am
    • You’ve raised some very good points. John does value his flatmate above his girlfriends. Sherlock is his most important relationship, as is John to Sherlock. For Sherlock to “kill himself” before John has a chance to understand it all is just awful. That scene where he says. “I know you for real.” Implies a faith in Sherlock goes beyond what is normal or perhaps even acceptable for flatmates.

      What we are on the brink of is the admission of a relationship where they need each other to be happy. This appears to have been demonstrated by the show, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say, and the writers will have to show their hand in season three.

      My fear, of course, is that they will cool the relationship by the addition of John’s marriage to Mary. On the other hand, if John marries, and then goes back to coming over whenever Sherlock calls, then it could, perhaps, bring to light how much John cares for Sherlock and force an admission of some sort, but I don’t think that the authors are quite ready to diverge from ACD canon that much yet.

      As to looking at the lips. I don’t really see that, and the Merlin comparison doesn’t help because fandom added that. The Merlin/Arthur relationship is definitely not canon. As to what British men would discuss, I defer to your wisdom as I am not a British man.

      I think that you are right that John’s jealousy is suspicious. Sherlock’s jealousy is not, as we know how self-centered he is, but friends should be happy when friends find relationships that make them happy. I think that the other interpretation of this, is that John is angry because he knows that Irene is just toying with Sherlock’s emotions, and that he has become a sort of guardian of those emotions. See my post (John Watson as Sherlock Holmes’ substitute mother in the TV show SHERLOCK )

      Posted by rozzychan | March 11, 2013, 8:32 pm
  4. Interesting post. I definitely do think that there is love between Sherlock and John because their friendship is absolutely unique and defines them. But I don’t think that they’re in love with each other. What I think, though, is that the whole crew is playing with the feelings and fantasies of the fandom and planting ambiguous scenes just to see us react and wonder.

    Posted by Méloë | April 30, 2012, 11:00 am
  5. I think Sherlock Holmes was created as a fantasy, a perfect ideal mind, which we all wish to achieve.

    So, if your character has mastered over sexual desires, he is in complete control… That may be the reason…

    Posted by GG | April 21, 2012, 10:21 am
    • Yes, I agree. It also contains the message that having the perfect, ideal mind has a cost, making it perhaps not so perfect and ideal after all.

      Posted by Gwen | January 2, 2013, 5:28 am
      • a blessing can also be a curse, if you remember the drug scene , and then getting slapped for doing drugs and wasting his gift. That’s a lot of weight to carry around on one’s shoulders. I do believe in the rational mind being above the emotional, it’s actually a very socractic philosophy

        Posted by Kahler Nygard | September 3, 2014, 5:01 pm

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