Sex Advice

A Sapiosexual Person Is Attracted to Intelligence—Here’s What To Know About Dating One

Photo by Getty Images/Emir Memedovski
Every person is quite different, and our individual preferences and identities extend to sexuality. There are at least 18 different types of sexuality, and in addition to those orientations, there are also certain sexual identities a person might have, like being sapiosexual. By definition, sapiosexual is a sexual identity characterized by being sexually attracted to a person's intellect.

Before going on to explain the sapiosexual definition, though, it's key to understand the difference between a sexual orientation and a sexual identity. Sexual orientation considers culture, sex, and gender presentation, whereas sexual identity focuses on how we move through our sexuality, says Roger Kuhn, PhD, an Indigenous (Poarch Creek) AASECT-certified sex therapist.

"There are a lot of similarities within [sexual orientation and sexual identity], and there's a lot of difference as well," says Dr. Kuhn, who adds that a person's identity within any orientation is highly personal. When it comes to sapiosexuality, for instance, "whether you identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bi, pan, or demi...[members of] those groups can be sapiosexual," says Dr. Kuhn. "[Sexual identity] is more a recognition of who I'm attracted to within the orientation."

The definition of sapiosexual, according to sexual health experts

“‘Sapiosexual’ is a term that refers to an individual being attracted to another individual based on their intellect,” says relationship and dating expert Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist for the dating apps Tinder and Bumble. “This attraction to intellect supersedes their preferences for physical attraction and other characteristics that are deemed important among individuals when evaluating potential romantic partners.”

“‘Sapiosexual’ is a term that refers to an individual being attracted to another individual based on their intellect.” —Jess Carbino, PhD

According to Shamyra Howard, LCSW, a sexologist with sexual-health brand Lovehoney, sapiosexuals value intellect over other traits because that intellect is deemed the most attractive, alluring trait. “A sapiosexual is someone who finds intelligence erotic, sexy, and attractive," she says. "People who value intellectual intimacy identify as being sapiosexual.”

Intellectual intimacy refers to the idea that people can have good, stimulating conversations, even when they don't agree on the topic, adds Howard. This, of course, will vary from individual to individual, but the best marker is that you're "comfortable, free, and, most importantly, stimulated by the mental connection shared with another person," Howard says.

That said, it's important to point out that a strong intellect is broader than high test scores and knowing all the Jeopardy questions. A 2018 study published in the scientific journal Intelligence found that sapiosexuality "appears to be influenced by non-intellective factors,” too. Essentially, this means that there’s more to intelligence than IQ. The way that a person deals with their problems and how they treat others may also point to emotional intelligence, which may matter to a sapiosexual person as much as if not more than cultural and academic intelligence.

While this form of sexual identity has likely been experienced by many for countless years, it hasn't been officially recognized for quite so long—think: less than a decade. “Sexuality has long been studied by psychologists and sociologists, but the emergence of 'sapiosexual' as a term in the cultural zeitgeist is a more recent development,” says Dr. Carbino, who says she first encountered the term in 2014. Also in 2014, dating platform OkCupid added sapiosexual to its list of personal identifications from which to choose. With this term entering the cultural zeitgeist through dating apps and pop-culture examples like producer Mark Ronson publically identifying as sapiosexual in 2019, we stand to benefit from learning more about not only what it means but also what a sapiosexual might look like in action.

What it means when someone identifies as sapiosexual

Of course, “the primary and defining characteristic of being considered a sapiosexual person is related to being attracted to individuals whom they deem intelligent,” says Dr. Carbino. “This attraction to intelligence among sapiosexuals is considered to be the primary and most critical criterion in romantic partner selection.” (Read: if you think someone isn’t intelligent, you’re probably not going to pursue a romantic relationship with that person.)

Again, it's important to point out that a sapiosexual person is attracted to someone who they feel is intelligent, which is not necessarily an objective measure. For instance, let’s say a sapiosexual person is a huge movie buff. If they meet someone who is also a cinephile and enjoys long conversations about film, they may be turned on by and attracted to this person's cinematic intelligence.

"People who consider themselves sapiosexual determine what intelligence is, and whether that's attractive to them," says Howard.  For example, movies might not be something you particularly care about. Instead, you might find it arousing that someone can solve an algebraic equation—and someone else might be attracted to someone who's reading their favorite book.

If you think you might identify the with the sapiosexual definition, Howard suggests you introspect on a few questions to determine whether it might be the case: "Does your body tingle all over at the thought of having a stimulating conversation with someone? Are you turned on when someone eloquently teaches you something new? Do you find it's easier for you to be sexual with someone who is highly intelligent?” she says. If the answer to any (or all) of these questions is “yes,” Howard says you may identify as a sapiosexual person.

She adds, though, that“being sapiosexual does not mean that someone is only attracted to people if they're intelligent.” In reality, the term actually points to the fact “that we're most attracted to intelligence versus physical appearance or other attraction factors.” Also, perceived intelligence is, by nature, highly subjective, so there will inevitably be a varying degree to which someone identifies as sapiosexual.

What to know about dating a sapiosexual person

The experts agree that there isn't a blanket answer to this question because, since the term itself is relatively new, researchers are still looking into evidence-based answers. But, according to Howard, someone doesn't have to date a sapiosexual just because they're sapiosexual themselves. This means your relationship isn't necessarily doomed if all parties involved don't all identify as such.

That said, if your partner identifies as sapiosexual and you don't, Howard suggests you be mindful to not put up an intellectual front—whether intentionally or subconsciously—just to try to stimulate them. Because it's likely that your partner will sense the lack of authenticity, Howard says overcompensating might damage the intellectual intimacy you've worked to establish. Furthermore, not presenting yourself authentically does a disservice to you in the relationship, as well; in a healthy relationship, you should feel comfortable being yourself.

To avoid situations like this, Howard suggests sticking to conversations focused on your mutual interests. Sapiosexual or not, if you are in a relationship with someone, there must be certain delights and enjoyments you share.

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