If You're Mostly Attracted to Intelligence, Your Moment Has Finally Come


This past fall, OkCupid drew some attention when it rolled out new gender and sexuality options for its members, including one particularly intriguing label: "sapiosexual."

Heard of it? No? You're not alone. "Sapiosexual" is a neologism, a label so new that you can't find it in Merriam-Webster. And the Collins Dictionary outright rejected it. If you resort to Urban Dictionary, you'll find the following definition: "One who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature."

But what does that really mean? Lots of people find smarts to be a turn-on. Is sapiosexuality a sexual identity? A romantic preference? A simple kind of sexual turn-on? 

The definition is murky, made more complicated by the ever-increasing pool of self-identifiers and labels available to us. But our struggle to define "sapiosexual" might actually speak to an important truth about society today: When it comes to modern identity, labels are there for the taking if they help us express something that we feel needs to be expressed.

And there are clearly people out there wanting to express something that "sapiosexual" captures.

A new sexuality? Not so fast. "Sapiosexual" might have "sexual" in it, but don't mistake it for a sexual orientation, like homosexuality or bisexuality, which has to do with the gender you're sexually attracted to. Nor is it a gender identity, a slew of which were introduced by Facebook last year.

Instead, sapiosexual is more of a chosen sexual identity, a label one opts to adopt to describe how they express their sexuality, but not in a way that involves sexual orientation or gender.

"Sapiosexual is not a term used by sexual health professionals. It's not a sexual orientation anymore than being attracted to rich people is a sexual orientation," Marianne Brandon, a Maryland-based clinical psychologist, told Mic

Even as a sexual identity, sapiosexuality is widely open to interpretation. "Since we all tend to associate different character traits to intelligent people, being 'sapiosexual' probably means different things to different people," Brandon said. "For example, some people would associate intelligence with power, others with geekiness, and others with someone who had few emotional needs. In this way, there would still be great variability among folks describing themselves as 'sapiosexual.'"

"But of course," Brandon added, "there is nothing wrong or bizarre about being attracted to intelligence!" 

While this may be true, not everyone is completely on board with this burst of new "sexual identities."

"The equation of being attracted to intelligent people with a 'sexual preference' rubs me the wrong way for a few reasons," wrote Emily McCombs of xoJane. "The implication of sapiosexuality seems to buy that physical appearance and chemistry doesn't matter — that intelligence is the sole ingredient when it comes to sexual attraction. And I just kind of don't buy it. You don't often see anyone fetishizing the homely librarian or the unsightly professor."

The beauty in the arguable silliness: It's all comes down to what you want to call yourself. There are those eager to embrace "sapiosexual," but even they differ when it comes to defining it. The conversations on Reddit vary from people simply posting photos of Tina Fey and Benedict Cumberbatch to those testifying that the term is actually a perfect descriptor for their personalities. Based on divergent definitions happening even among online communities, it's clear that the label "sapiosexual" is what you make of it. 

Which is really, ultimately, what identity labels are for: finding a way to define yourself, even if you're the only one who feels the need to do so... or you're the only one who knows what it really means.