Online dating has come a long way since its inception. Case in point: When you sign up for an OkCupid account, you’re allowed to pick your orientation from a long list of options. Aside from familiar labels — like straight, gay, and bisexual — there are also some less frequently discussed terms, including sapiosexual.
What is a sapiosexual, exactly? A few different definitions exist. OKCupid defines it as someone “who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature; behavior of becoming attracted to or aroused by intelligence and its use.” One user takes a more straightforward approach: “Sapiosexual means that I’m attracted to smart people — people just as or smarter than I.”
Courtney Geter, LMFT, certified sex therapist, defines it similarly as “finding intelligence sexually attracting or arousing.” She says, though, that what someone finds attractive or arousing can vary. “Some people only need the other person to have a [certain] level of intelligence, whereas others find attraction when the intelligence is mutual.”
How do you know if you’re a sapiosexual? Geter says it’s simple: You prefer “brains over beauty and brawn.” She explains that if you’re turned on by intelligence and drawn to people with good conversation skills, rather than those with good looks, then you’re a sapiosexual. This doesn’t mean that physical appearance isn’t important at all, she says, but you will supposedly be more attracted to someone who can stimulate you intellectually than someone who cannot (though one could argue that this is true for most, if not all, people).
The question is: How valid is “sapiosexual” as an orientation? Is it different than simply being attracted to someone who can have an informed conversation about books and art? Geter thinks so. She says that many people simply appreciate intelligence, while sapiosexuals are sexually aroused by it.
According to Debra Herbenick, PhD, a sexuality researcher and associate professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, “People describe themselves in many different ways, and sapiosexual is certainly one valid way to describe one’s attractions.”
That said, based on her own experience and studies, Geter hasn’t found sapiosexuality to be its own standalone sexual orientation. “It’s hard to fit this into [a] category, as anyone of any identity or orientation could be aroused by intelligence,” she says. Instead, she describes it as a sexual preference, similar to being attracted to dark hair or a certain race. Obviously, you don’t have to identify as a sapiosexual to value intelligence in sexual partners, but it may be useful for you to pinpoint what exactly you find attractive.
“Understanding yourself and what turns you on, sparks your interest, and what traits are non-negotiables are important in the dating process and choosing partners,” Geter says.
But the thing is, saying you’re sapiosexual can strike potential partners as elitist or even sexist, and often rightfully so. Intelligence is subjective, after all — not everyone’s going to agree on what counts as an intellectual pursuit (who says the Real Housewives franchise can’t spark stimulating discussions?), and what’s considered high brow is often skewed in men’s favor.
Of course, someone simply expressing that intelligence is attractive to them isn’t inherently elitist, so like all preferences, it should be interpreted on a case-by-case basis. “If someone tells you they are sapiosexual, then honor their ability to understand and define their own identity,” Dr. Herbenick says.
It’s equally important, though, to not put up with arrogance. While it’s good to be open-minded about the many ways someone identifies, it’s just as crucial to balance that with self-respect. It’s okay if you feel turned off or insulted by an attitude of superiority. Snobby is never a good look.