Let’s play a fun game called What’s My Sexual Orientation? I tell you what I’m attracted to, and you tell me what my orientation is. Ready? I don’t care about looks or intelligence, but if someone is really really rich, it turns me on like crazy. What is my sexual orientation? Okay, let’s try another one: I’m not remotely moved by money, intelligence, or looks, but if someone can make me laugh, I will become aroused, even if they look like a common green bottle fly. What is my sexual orientation? Okay, one more: If someone is a good cook, they could be destitute, incurious and have the face of a jackal, but I will still leap into bed with them. What is my sexual orientation?
If you answered what the hell is wrong with you, you are correct. You can’t tell my sexual orientation because these are simply mate preferences that have nothing to do with gender or sex. Now let’s all go tell that to the sapiosexual, a self-described sexual orientation for people who want applause because they claim to not care about looks if a potential partner can bust out some quantum physics or has read a lot of books.
The much-mocked term has been kicking around on the internet for some years, but now The New York Times has finally covered the phenomenon, which means for all intents and purposes it has gone full mainstream press. This means it’s time for us to Form an Opinion.
What is a sapiosexual?
It’s a person who is attracted to intelligence more than looks.
Can you give me an example of a real sapiosexual?
Sure thing! In the Times piece, a 23-year-old named Aboubacar Okeke-Diagne who lives in Brooklyn says it’s like this:
For Mr. Okeke-Diagne, being sapiosexual means intellectual conversation is a key part of dating and sex. While some couples might exchange racy photos or texts, he once sent a woman he was seeing a multipage erotic story he had written that included references to the Julian calendar, the decimal system and global climate change. Writing the story was such a turn-on for him that he tried to find similar erotica online — with little success.
Does it sound like he just needs a likeminded person to have a nice back-and-forth with to be interested enough to date? Yeah.
Or take Jacqueline Cohen, a 52-year-old woman who lives on the Upper West Side:
She has had relationships she describes as purely sapiosexual, in which there was no sex, just intense conversation. One man was nowhere near her physical type, but the first time they met, he began reciting poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke. “I was so amazed at how fluid the whole conversation was,” she said. “I could feel something happening inside me.”
The next time they saw each other, he took her to an art exhibit and gave her all of Rilke’s books. Since then, Rilke has been one of her favorite poets. In such relationships, she said, “I access my wisdom and love and ability to analyze in this incredible way, and they do, too.”
Does that sound like the thing where you have something in common — liking poetry, which, hey, doesn’t make you a genius — but no romantic chemistry? What’s that called? Oh right, friends.
One more example?
Teresa Sheffield, 28, a comedian, tells the Times that someone “just has to have a sense of humor. If you don’t, I’ll be attracted to you as a I am to a Border Collie.”
Okay, but sense of humor is not the same thing as intelligence. Dumb people can be funny as hell. And the Border Collie reference is a weird one, since sexual attraction to dogs or other animals (zoophilia) is considered by some to be a sexual orientation.
Then how is sapiosexual a sexual orientation?
Hard to say. If it is, why isn’t there one for people who are turned on by money or fame or resourcefulness or the ability to do spot-on celebrity impressions, for instance? I am sexually aroused by men who can fix a flat tire, but this is not a drop-down on dating apps for some reason.
Doesn’t sapiosexual sound more like a fetish than a sexual orientation?
Yes. Yes it does. Or at least more like a traditional mate preference or desired value. Sense of humor is sexy! Not an orientation. Being good with kids is sexy, too! Not a sexual orientation. We all are attracted to a mix of things that typically involves some combination of looks, interests, values and brains. No one is perfect, so we’re always tweaking those numbers, and yes, certainly some people are completely shallow lookist dolts, but even they probably want someone as smart as they are, whatever that means to them.
Then why are people using the term?
In fairness, maybe really smart people are tired of wading through a bunch of dum-dums to get to the Pulitzer winners on Tinder or Bumble, so they came up with a good shorthand. Another person in the Times piece says they only use the term to mean “I need to really get to know somebody intellectually and emotionally before I get to know them physically,” which just sounds like what most people who want actual relationships would say.
All we know is OKCupid introduced it as a drop-down option on their site in 2014 because they said their crowd tends to skew intellectual. Since then, there’s a Buzzfeed quiz to find out of you’re a sapiosexual, and a slew of pieces tracking or mocking the rise of this curious “identity.” In a piece for Broadly, MEL contributor Steven Blum reports that OKCupid has 9,000 users who identify as sapiosexual. Blum writes:
The sexual “identity” also boasts a Facebook page and numerous photos on Tumblr that seem to link sexual and intellectual pleasure — one image hashtagged “sapiosexual” shows a brain being fingerbanged; another depicts a man reading a book while doing it doggy style. Other users post quotes like, “It’s beautiful when you find someone that wants to undress your conscience and make love to your thoughts.”
He also spoke to evolutionary psychologist who says the term’s invention, usage and adoption could be attributable to the rise of nerd culture.
So is it real or what?
If sapiosexuals feel that the whittling down of their preferences to a specific trait improves their chances of finding other people like them, and they do no real harm by doing so, it really doesn’t matter if the rest of us morons think it’s real or not. Lots of people won’t date anyone who isn’t Jewish, or conservative, employed, physically fit, etc. There may very well be a set of people who literally can’t be turned on by a physical form if that physical form does not know how to explain string theory, looks be damned. But if that’s the case, why does the dating app for sapiosexuals, Sapio, use pictures, and tell you to first swipe on people you find attractive?
An evolutionary psychologist told Blum that valuing intelligence in a mate is as old as time across all cultures and species and is not in fact a new or highly specific thing. From the Broadly piece:
According to Lora Adair, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Lyon College, men and women have always craved intelligence in mates, whether they go out of their way to identify as a sapiosexual or not.
“When it comes to identifying traits we perceive as ‘necessities’ when searching for long-term mates, men and women of varying sexual orientations tend to put intelligence and kindness above other sexually attractive attributes, such as physical attractiveness,” Adair said.
This is true across species, although in non-human animals, “intelligence,” or cognitive ability, is “measured morphologically,” she said.
So it’s ironic that a fake orientation describing only getting off on smart people is, in actuality, kinda dumb, huh?
I’m a product of public schools so I’m not smart enough to parse such a heady concept, but it’s an excellent hunch. You’re not the only one with an impulse to mock this concept. Earlier this year, Tom Miller wrote a piece at Your Tango calling sapiosexual “a self-fellating term that says substantially more about YOU then what you’re attracted to.” Miller writes:
Telling people that you’re only attracted to smart people is a slightly more subtle way of declaring your own brilliance than wearing a Mensa cloak. And that’s fine, man. If your expertise in 19th-century Russian literature rarely comes up, it’s reasonable that you’ll need to remind people you went to college in Massachusetts, Boston, and then Cambridge.
And we get it. You’re great at your job. You’re “well read.” You recently got a shout-out from Will Shortz in Cruciverbalists Monthly. The practice of calling oneself a sapiosexual is particularly loathsome from guys. It’s another “look at me” way to say #NotAllMen. I keep a tack in my shoe that I can stomp on when I hear the phrase “men are visual creatures” so that I may focus on the pain in my toe rather than my ears.
What does the internet think about sapiosexuals?
Get it?!?? It’s a reference to a famous poem by William Carlos Williams. If you didn’t know that, a sapiosexual will NOT be fucking you. Whew.
So, aren’t sapiosexuals being elitist and shitty?
Arguably, yes. Saying you won’t be with anyone who isn’t smart enough or well-educated enough is just as pompous and limiting as saying you will only fuck supermodels. Intelligence is about as controllable as looks, which is to say, you can certainly learn more and get smarter, just as you can wear well-fitting clothes and eat better and work out. But most of us will only peak so high in either category and it’s largely out of our hands. You’re still a fascist of some kind, you just think you’re the progressive kind. A sapiosexual is a liberal blowhard. It is Bill Maher.
In conclusion, sapiosexuals are a small breed of people who, like most of us, in some way or another have certain qualities we want to be met in another person that make us attracted to them sexually. I think we’ve all met people who might not drive us crazy in the looks department, but who we’ve come to know and love because of their personalities or intelligence or skill or talent or kindness or whatever.
While that is laudable, what isn’t laudable is basically screaming, “No morons!” on a dating profile. Sure, it makes someone seem very intellectual in the moment, but you still look like a braggart. And funnily enough, pretty much no one thinks that’s a turn-on.