If you are a Very Online person, odds are you've heard of sapiosexuality. A term that has been both lauded and revered by different corners of Twitter, sapiosexuality gained extra special attention when Mark Ronson said he resonated with the term in 2019 (before taking it back) and then again in 2020 when a Twitter thread on the topic went semi-viral.
Still, even if you've heard the term, you may not know what it means. That's why we called up gender and sexuality educator Eli A Scriver, founder of Pillowtalk, a queer-inclusive column and radio show. Below, he answers questions you might have including 'what is sapiosexuality' and 'am I sapiosexual?'.
Sapiosexuality, according to Merriam Webster, is the sexual attraction to intelligence. It's marked not just by some attraction to intelligence, says Scriver, but by being more attracted to intelligence than other traits, including sense of humor, family-orientedness, or empathy, for example.
Typically, sapiosexuality is considered a supplemental sexual identity. "Most sapiosexuals primarily identity with another sexual orientation like gay, straight, or bisexual, and view their sapiosexuality as added clarification as to who they're attracted to," he says. That's why while some people consider sapiosexuality a full-blown sexual orientation, others say it's better described as a 'type'.
Remember: Intelligence is subjective. When we say intelligence, it's important to note that we're talking about perceived intelligence. "Intelligence is not something that can be accurately measured because it comes in a variety of forms," says Scriver. There's emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, linguistic intelligence, and logistical intelligence, to name just a few. The type of intelligence someone most values is highly dependent on how they were raised, as well as their religious upbringing, political beliefs, and the media they consume.
One sapiosexual, for example, might find themselves attracted to doctors because their parents taught them that medical professionals are more innately intelligent than people in other professions. Another sapiosexual may notice attraction to someone only after they've had a philosophical conversation.
The Controversy Around Sapiosexuality
Sapiosexuality is a new(ish) term to the sexuality lexicon — Marriem Webster says that the first recorded use was in 2004, while other sources say it was used a few years earlier in 1998 in a LiveJournal post by a user named wolfieboy. Regardless, for as long as the term has been in circulation, it's been controversial.
The main claim against sapiosexuality is that it is at best pretentious and at worst inherently ableist and classist. "It excludes those with learning disabilities and neurodiversity," explained Jenn M. Jackson Ph.D., an abolitionist, writer, and columnist with Teen Vogue on Twitter. "It [also] privileges traditional markers of intellect like degrees and passport stamps which are often less accessible to poor folx," they say. Considering that sapiosexuality can manifest as a preference for people who read a specific type of literature, or have obtained a certain degree or attended a certain pedigree, this pushback makes sense.
Further, because the term mostly exists in online spaces, even identifying as sapiosexual suggests a level of access to technological resources that not all people have.
How Common Is Sapiosexuality?
"There's not a huge amount of research on sapiosexuality, so our knowledge about things like how many people are sapiosexual is limited," says Scriver. The estimates that do exist, however, vary pretty substantially.
For instance, OkCupid, a dating site that has allowed users to add 'sapiosexual' to their dating profile since 2014, reported in 2017 that 0.5% of their users identify as sapiosexual. Of course, a sample of people who are actively looking for mates — and therefore actively seeking words to describe what they're looking for in their mate — is not representative of the entire population.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study published in the journal Intelligence found anywhere between 1 to 8% of the population could identify as sapiosexual. What's tricky here is that the only criteria for being sapiosexual is self-identifying as sapiosexual.
However, that same study found that at least 90% of people desire a partner who is smart, which suggests that the percentage could be even higher than that. To be clear: Caring if a partner is smart is not the same as being explicitly aroused by intelligence. So how do you know if you're sapiosexual? More on that below.
Am I Sapiosexual? 5 Ways to Tell You Might Be Sapiosexual
"It can be confusing to know if you're sapiosexual or simply appreciate intelligence in a partner," says Scriver. Luckily, there are a few signs you're sapiosexual and not just an appreciator of smarts.
1. You connect with this article.
Did you hum and haw reading what sapiosexuality is? Does the definition resonate with you? If so, you may be sapiosexual! As with other identify markers, the only item you need to check off the list to be sapiosexual is the following: "I identify as sapiosexual".
2. You think "smart" is the best compliment.
"Sapiosexuals are most drawn to intelligence," says Scriver. For sapiosexuals, intelligence is far more important than style, sense of humor, integrity, or maturity.
So if the first thing you'd say about your crush is something like, "They're so smart!!" or "I could talk to them for hours about X", you may be sapiosexual!
3. You became attracted to someone after seeing their intelligence.
Quick: Noodle on your history of attraction. Can you think of a time when you felt indifferent or 'meh' about someone until any of the below happened:
You saw them read a book you value, or have also enjoyed.
You had a thought-provoking conversation with them.
You learned what their occupation or hobby is.
You found out where they went to school.
You read their thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or their blog.
"If you've ever noticed a change in how turned on you are by someone after learning about or having an interaction with them that solidified their intelligence, you may be sapiosexual," says Scriver.
4. You've lost interest in someone after noticing a lack of intellect.
On the flipside, because intelligence is the essential ingredient for arousal for sapiosexuals, if you've ever lost interest in someone after having a political, philosophical, or spiritual conversation with them, or reading their work, you may be sapiosexual, too.
5. You've felt compelled to have sex after an intellectual conversation or event.
Ever felt the urge to masturbate after debating about who killed Jenny Schecter or watching a Netflix documentary? Ever grinding against your zipper in the middle of a lecture or stimulating convo? Ever bee-lined it home to your boo after a trip to the bookstore?
All of these suggest that, for you, being intellectually stimulated is closely linked to being sexually stimulated, which is common amongst sapiosexuals.