I truly didn’t expect the “sapiosexual” discourse to flare up again five years after OkCupid added the term to its list of categories — thus inflicting it upon the mainstream dating world — and two years after the New York Times finally got around to their trend piece. The word itself may date back as far as 1998: that’s when a LiveJournal user known as wolfieboy claims to have coined it. And although the category is generally defined by an libidinal attraction to intelligence over physical qualities, wolfieboy had a longer, more philosophical explanation of the identity. I say it’s worth reading in full, especially if you remember that he was likely wearing a top hat when he wrote it:
You’re turned on already, aren’t you? But wait — there’s more! The very good reason we’re once again weighing the definitions and purported value of sapiosexuality as an idea is that it came up on a British morning chat show, and a guest, music producer Mark Ronson, though previously unfamiliar with the concept, said it accurately described his sexuality. Cue both mainstream and queer media announcing with awkward fanfare that he had “come out” as sapiosexual, implicitly drawing a link between this dubious brand and the LGBTQ community.
Cool, cool, cool. Ronson could be forgiven for not realizing that he’d aligned himself with a rather pretentious group of horny dweebs — amusingly, the Latin verb “sapere” means to know, learn or be informed of something, so the literal translation of “sapiosexual” is closer to “I’m aware of sex” than “I’ve got the hots for high IQs.” But either way, he’d reignited a long-sizzling roast, and Twitter was quick to establish that the whole sapio scene is a sham:
The root flaw in sapiosexuality, most critics would agree, is the attempt to exoticize an ambient, unremarkable aspect of romance — most of us want a partner who stimulates the mind as well as erogenous zones — in what feels like a declaration of superiority. Putting aside for a minute the abstraction and subjectivity of human intellect (let’s hope sapiosexuals aren’t going around asking for people’s SAT scores), you’re left with these assertions: Not only do I seek to date someone particularly smart, whereas others, I presume, are happy to fuck a gorgeous dimwit, but I myself am smart enough to need and deserve the company of a genius.
That is, on its face, a smug, unwarranted form of self-congratulation. It also attempts to raise a weird compartmentalizing of desire to the level of sexual orientation. A straight dude who goes for well-endowed women might call himself a “boob guy,” but at least he does us the favor of not insisting he’s “tittysexual.” Moreover, the sapiosexual’s avowed thirst for brilliance over mere beauty never results in anything but relationships that look depressingly conventional.
Like an insufferable subset of polyamorists who believe they’re more evolved than (and under attack from) traditional monogamy, the sapiosexual wants to be special, different, futuristic. This makes it all the more embarrassing when they trip on their own shoelaces. Poly folks have actually adopted a behavior that challenges norms in tangible ways; the sapios are doing the same old shit but slapping an elitist label on it. Maybe when one of them marries an AI program or disembodied brain in a vat, we’ll be able to talk about what it means to prize raw thought without concern for appearance or carnal action; right now, it’s a painfully dumb shell game. In 2019, a sapiosexual is quite simply a person of aggrandized ego and middling introspection.
Yet the movement, such as it is and however misguided, does offer a single hope: that society is increasingly open to, or even enthusiastic for, the notion of fluid sexuality. We’re working harder than ever before to understand and classify our erotic lives. At moments, yes, we fail by creating unnecessary jargon that has the effect of further marginalizing or diminishing queer experience in the name of hetero-colonialism, and it’s important to call out these vanity trends for what they are. If the sapiosexuals are frustrating, that’s in part because their intentions are so close to admirable — they want to find their place in the expanding constellation of recognized sexual identities.
Such eagerness isn’t wrong, exactly, but it may cloud the truth: In the final analysis, some of us are boring straights, and we don’t merit a pride parade. Do go ahead and figure out what wets your whistle, just don’t presume it’ll earn you a fancy title.
And by the way? Show a little love to the dumbasses. They’re usually a lot more fun.