Have you come across the term sapiosexual? You must have noticed it on dating apps. Sapiosexuals are people who are sexually attracted to their potential partner’s intelligence rather than their physical appearance. In other words, they’re more concerned with getting insights into a person’s brain than about how they would be in the bedroom.
A sapiosexual person loves to have intellectually stimulating conversations - it's what excites them. For instance, their foreplay consists of political debates, philosophical discussions on existential questions, or an in-depth analysis of the financial budget for this year.
Unfortunately, sapiosexuals are often misunderstood and criticized for allegedly oozing pretentiousness. Critics also argue - isn't this the case for most people? Isn't intelligence a desired trait in a potential partner by most people? So, why is there a specific word for being attracted to intelligence?
Yes, generally, most people enjoy intelligent conversations and consider people's intelligence before dating them. But sapiosexuals are different as they consider 'sapiosexuality' to be a sexual identity meaning have an intellectual connection is what sparks sexual desire in them. It's not a secondary requirement.
Some people are not convinced 'sapiosexuality' exists
In September 2019, music producer Mark Ronson said that he identified as sapiosexual in an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain, sparking a debate about the popular term. Many were sceptical if it's a real sexual orientation or a pretentious buzzword to feed people's superiority complex.
Several publications labelled the interview as his "coming out" moment which drew criticism from the LGBTQIA community. In response, Ronson said that he didn't, in fact, consider himself part of any "marginalized community" and apologized to those that took offence from his previous statement.
Many sapiosexuals are aware that the term can come off as elitist but in the superficial world of online dating, explicitly stating they're attracted to intelligence puts more focus on their partner's interest rather than appearance.
The term sapiosexual was coined in 1998 by a LiveJournal user known as wolfieboy. When asked what sapiosexual meant, he said, "I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind. I want someone for whom philosophical discussion is foreplay. I want someone who sometimes makes me go ouch due to their wit and evil sense of humor." This is a valid desire and we've all felt the heat when we heard a person talking passionately about an obscure subject. But people are still on the fence about it and think it's an unnecessary word.
The term gained huge traction when the dating app, OkCupid added sapiosexual as a sexual orientation on their website. There was even an app, Sapio, made exclusively for sapiosexuals by Kristin Tynski. In an interview with HuffPost, she said, "For many, defining oneself as sapiosexual has become a statement against the current status quo of hookup culture and superficiality, where looks are prized above all else."
You might think that signing up on this app would require you to take an SAT type quiz. However, the interface works by asking you intimate questions such as “Hopes and Dreams,” “Achievements,” and “Hypotheticals,” so that similar people can match with you. It resembles the topics you’d talk about on a first date to really get to know the person. Overall, there’s a divide on sapiosexuality’s credibility but what do scientists have to say about this?
Is there evidence that shows sapiosexuality is a real thing?
Sex researchers say that sapiosexual may be a sexual preference, not a sexual orientation. Dr. Lucia O’Sullivan, a psychology professor and sexuality researcher at the University of New Brunswick, says that there is almost no academic research on sapiosexuality. However, there are studies that show people value knowledge and intelligence in romantic partners.
A 2018 study, published in the scientific journal Intelligence, found that most people desired a smart person as their partner. A small percentage of them also reported they were exclusively sexually aroused by an intelligent person.
“A lot of research had shown that ‘intelligent’ was a highly ranked characteristic in a partner, but I had my doubts that people preferred a very high level of intelligence in a partner,” explained Gilles Gignac, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia.
Our meanings of intelligence are very subjective
The study measured people's intelligence through an Intelligent Quotient (IQ) test and asked participants to rate them based on the IQ number. This a little problematic since an IQ test is a narrow measure of intelligence and fails to consider neurodiversity in people.
Few researchers believe intelligence is a culture-specific concept. What may be considered intelligent in one culture might not in others. For example, knowledge about farming and trees may be seen as a form of intelligence in hilly or rural areas but wouldn't be appreciated in Westernised urban workspaces.
In the biggest online study on IQ tests concluded that IQ scores may not exactly show how smart someone is. Dr. Adrian Owne, the study's senior investigator and the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the university's Brain and Mind Institute said to the Toronto Star said, "When we looked at the data, the bottom line is the whole concept of IQ -- or of you having a higher IQ than me -- is a myth."
"There is no such thing as a single measure of IQ or a measure of general intelligence," he added. They found that there was not one single test or component that could accurately judge how well a person could perform mental and cognitive tasks.
So, for one person conversations on quantum physics may be considered as intelligent while for the other knowledge about animals would be regarded as intellect, proving that there's no real consensus on what is truly intelligent.
Is everyone a sapiosexual to some extent?
In a way, we're all a little sapiosexual. When we meet someone new, we weigh up intellectual compatibility all the time with questions like - Do we share the same interests? Is our moral standpoint similar? Will they understand my political viewpoint?
This inner evaluation of a potential partner is understandable, it’s how we ascertain if we’re compatible with someone and it doesn't make one pretentious or a super-picky sapiosexual. Most people value intelligence in some form, be it emotional intelligence, academic, vocational, or "street smart" intelligence - knowledge is attractive.
Finding an intelligent partner could also have evolutionary origins. A 2009 study found that men with higher IQs have healthier sperm and are more virile, something women are seemingly able to perceive. And while the brainiacs might be having less sex, another study found that they do have a higher sex drive, which is also a desirable quality in a partner.
Some people view sapiosexuality as an alternative way of people saying, "I value you for your mind and not your body" because they're looking for a meaningful connection instead of a one-night stand. It could be a sign that they don't identify with the hookup culture on dating apps and want to find a romantic partner and build a real relationship. But if that is the case, why don't we just say it as it is or better yet, let it come up in the conversation naturally rather than hiding behind a confusing and slightly elitist label?