What Is Sapiosexual Preference? 6 Signs You’re Attracted to Intelligence
A chiseled jawline. Well-defined abs. Full lips. The hourglass figure. No matter which way you swing, when it comes to sexual attraction, there are certain cliches that stand out in terms of qualities people look for. Those mentioned are, admittedly, superficial. But beyond an obsession with physical appearance lies an attraction to the mind. Someone who finds intelligence sexually attractive is termed a “sapiosexual.”
Rooted in the Latin “sapere,” sapiosexual wasn’t added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary until 2020. The concept is integrated into society, however; some dating apps offer it as a clickable preference. (In 2014, OkCupid listed sapiosexual as an option when choosing sexual orientation and mate preferences.)
But what’s behind the trend? Does the thought of intelligent conversation turn you on? Are you sexually attracted to someone who prefers reading books to hitting nightclubs? Are you a sapiosexual person, and is sapiosexuality truly on par with other sexual orientations?
What Is Sapiosexual Preference? Talk Nerdy to Me
Sapiosexuality is being “sexually attracted to highly intelligent people.” It speaks to those who view intelligence as the most important trait. The term’s Latin root, sapien (the same as Homo sapien), means wise or intelligent.
In 2019, Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for equality, described herself as sapiosexual, and singer Mark Ronson apologized for “coming out” as sapiosexual during a TV interview. That same year, OkCupid decided to remove the option from its app.
Why the uproar? Sapiosexual people self-identify. And, as with most online trends, it is more superficial than meets the eye. What’s more, sapiosexuality has been criticized for its potential to be ableist or discriminatory, and that it’s a sexual preference, rather than a sexual orientation.
The Controversy of Sapiosexuality as a Sexual Identity
The language to describe sexual orientations has evolved. In addition to the traditional labels of heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality, there are a multitude of orientations, most added within the past decade. They include:
- Pansexual: attraction not related to sex or gender identity
- Demisexual: sexually attracted to someone based on emotional connection
- Asexual: someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction
- Androgynosexual: attraction to someone with an androgynous appearance
These sexual identities go beyond desires or fleeting experiences. Although, in the past, different sexual interests wouldn’t define someone’s identity, the trend is growing. “The model of sexuality as an inborn thing has become so prevalent that people want to say ‘this is how I feel, so perhaps I will constitute myself in a particular way and understand this as an identity’,” William Wilkerson, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, told Quartz in 2018.
That can result in “identifying” with preferences, or seeing certain qualities as part of a wider personality. It’s not easy to define intelligence, either. Is sapiosexuality related only to academic achievement or intelligence in fields of science, literature or math? And what about other forms of intelligence, like emotional or creative?
Online quizzes add to sapiosexuality’s problematic nature. Questions on sites like BuzzFeed ask readers whether they’re “repulsed by the idea of having sex with someone who had never gone to college, or had no interest in higher education.”
With that in mind, it’s best to take the term with a pinch of salt. But that doesn’t mean a sexual attraction to intelligence isn’t a reality for many people.
The Psychology of Sexual Attraction
The first scientific study into sapiosexuality were published in 2018 in the Intelligence journal. Although most people look for intelligence in a partner, the study found that a small percentage reported sexual arousal to high degrees of intelligence. In ranking desirability in a partner, intelligence was second, behind “kind and understanding,” and ahead of “exciting personality” and “easygoing.”
Interestingly, the desirability of smart people reached a peak with an IQ of 120 (people smarter than 90 percent of the population). And it dropped between 120 and 135 (people smarter than 99 percent of the population. In other words, according to the study, there’s a limit to the connection between attraction and intelligence. An ability to quote Nietzche or to wax lyrical about sociopolitical issues might be a turn-on, but being a misunderstood genius? Maybe not so much in the same way.
Again, human attraction is complex. Certain animals are sexually attracted by certain traits, but human attraction includes multiple factors. Yes, it involves physicality, along with biological cues like pheromones — chemical signals that are detected unconsciously. Still, we’re the only species attracted to personality traits.
The Difference Between Attraction and Romantic Love
There’s a distinction between attraction, intimacy and romantic love, too. “Probably the most unexpected discovery, and the one that really changed my own thinking, was the fact that sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily ‘orient’ one’s capacity for romantic love,” psychologist Lisa Diamond told the Association for Psychological Science.
“In my research,” Diamond continued, “I found that lesbian women sometimes fell in love with their close male friends, even when they weren’t attracted to them, and heterosexual women sometimes fell in love with female friends. I soon found that this has been true throughout human history, and it led me to investigating the biobehavioral independence of sexual desire and romantic attachment.”
Why is that relevant? There are different types of intimacy, and not all are sexual. The common forms include emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, spiritual intimacy and, of course, connecting on an intellectual level. That means intellectual intimacy can be enjoyed and experienced. But what makes a sapiosexual different is that intellectual intimacy, or even witnessing intelligence, leads to arousal.
Signs That You’re Sexually Attracted to Intelligence
“Like any sexual orientation or preference, [sapiosexuality] exists on a spectrum,” Dr. Tari Mack, a psychologist and relationship expert, told Bustle in 2015. “Some sapiosexuals are purely attracted to people based on their intelligence and some find it simply one of the most attractive qualities in a potential partner.”
So, how do you tell the difference? How do you know if intelligence is part of your sexual preference, or if you’re a fan of intellectual intimacy?
1. Deep Conversation Is a Turn-On
Small talk probably won’t cut it, at least not if it’s the default with your romantic partner. The desire for intellectual intimacy and deep conversation is common, but if you’re sapiosexual, rich dialogue with a smart person is essentially foreplay. That involves sharing yourself through conversation, but also through the way you feel while witnessing your partner talk. Does their articulation draw you in?
2. Intellect Is More Important Than Physical Appearance
It’s difficult to place concrete categories or hierarchies of attraction. That said, for sapiosexuals, intelligence is a priority of attraction. That doesn’t mean physical appearances aren’t important. But someone who displays a high level of intelligence may catch your attention, even if they don’t look the way you may have envisioned.
That point has drawn some criticism. In a fairly unforgiving take, Rajvi Desai wrote in The Swaddle, “[Sapiosexuality] is […] a trait that’s less about a peculiar attraction to intelligence in others, and more about staunchly positioning oneself as someone not swayed by conventionally beautiful people, or not looking to have a mindless one-night stand.”
Harsh words, but helpful guidance. It’s tempting to feel above certain primal desires, attaching to the idea of only being attracted to intelligence. Being able to discern between ego-based superiority, or dating-app posturing, and a genuine attraction to intelligence, helps to reveal where your true sexual desires reside.
3. Your Dating Rituals Center Around Intellectual Stimulation
Favor poetry slams over picnics? Prefer browsing someone’s bookshelf to scrolling through their Instagram photos? Your dating rituals provide insight into your level of sapiosexuality. If your idea of a good time involves an environment that is intellectually stimulating, it says a lot about your attraction. That’s not to say fun is off the table (these activities are fun, for those who enjoy them). But there’s a certain level of importance when it comes to bonding.
A sapiosexual will want to bond in a way that prioritizes intellectual stimulation. However, there can be a mix, too. And it’s not necessarily the only way you will court a potential suitor.
4. Building Rapport Includes Sharing Intellectual Likes
In addition to dating, when two people get to know each other, they find common ground on which to build a connection. For sapiosexuals, a large part of the bonding process will involve recommending books, art or music. It’s a way to display intellectual flair. Conversely, receiving well-thought-out recommendations can be a powerful way to discover deeper levels of compatibility.
5. You Appreciate a Partner Who Is Self-Aware
Like all things, even the topic of sapiosexuality circles back to self-development. One reason sapiosexuality is so difficult to define is that intelligence itself is difficult to define. It depends somewhat on perspective. According to a famous quote, usually attributed to Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
There are many forms of intelligence. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are one; you may find yourself attracted to a partner who is willing to learn and grow. That doesn’t only mean reading or gaining knowledge, but also working to create a deeper understanding of communication and human interaction. When it comes to relational harmony, it doesn’t get more intelligent than that.
6. Your Level of Attraction Grows Over Time
Humans are infinitely rich. The process of “getting to know someone” is never-ending. Even couples that have been together for decades can learn new insights about each other. For sapiosexuals, that’s great news. It means attraction levels continue to build as you get to better understand someone’s mind.
Physical attraction doesn’t have to be superficial. However, it can fade, especially after the honeymoon period. When sexual attraction is linked to multiple areas, you’re more likely to keep the fire burning, and keep the passion alive.
What purpose does all of this serve? Considering the controversy around the term sapiosexual, and the debate surrounding whether it’s an orientation or a preference, it’s best to use this knowledge skillfully. It comes down to self-awareness. Whether you’re on the dating scene or looking to deepen understanding and intimacy with a current partner, having an idea of your own likes and dislikes allows you to communicate what you need, and what works for you.
If you realize you have a strong attraction to intelligence, it’s something not to overlook, especially if that is a deal-breaker. Get practical, and consider the ways in which you can invite this into your romantic life: Participate in a book club with your partner, or look for new lovers who explicitly display an interest in intellectual pursuits you enjoy.
Keep in mind, though, Cupid’s arrow is largely mysterious. You can’t plan to whom you’re attracted. What’s more, it’s likely what attracts you will evolve over time. So, above trying to identify qualities, or creating rigid labels about who, or what, attracts you, remain true to yourself. And from that source of truth, you’re much more likely to experience true attraction, and deep love, as the rest of the jigsaw pieces fall into place.