Are You Sapiosexual?

By Nathaniel Scharping | January 4, 2018 4:27 pm
(Credit: InnerVisionPRO/Shutterstock)

(Credit: InnerVisionPRO/Shutterstock)

When turns you on? When responding to the question, most people turn to physical attributes, and we can probably all guess what the answers might be.

But for some, sexual attraction stems not from the assemblage of flesh and bone that carries us through life, but from what resides within. No, it’s not the soul — it’s the mind.

Or so they say. So-called sapiosexuals claim to be attracted to intellect, and many say that it overrules the physical characteristics that underpin sexuality for most people. The term has caught on recently — OkCupid now allows users to identfiy as sapiosexual, and an entire dating app, Sapio, is devoted to helping sapiosexuals meet.

A crucial point to make here is that for sapiosexuals, intellect isn’t just nice to have, it’s a legitimate turn on. It’s not a stretch to say that most people value intelligence in a long-term partner; indeed, a host of studies backs that up and it usually ranks second just behind “kindness and understanding” as a desirable trait. But sapiosexuals claim that their preferences go beyond that. They react to intelligence the same way others might to, say, chiseled abs.

As is perhaps inevitable with a sexual identity that prizes intelligence above all, the concept has met with both ridicule and criticism from those see the concept as pretentious, or who worry that it disadvantages those with disabilities. Some doubt that sapiosexuality is even a legitimate phenomenon. It could simply be a manifestation of an attraction to other characteristics, or perhaps simply an identity adopted by those who wish to see themselves a certain way.

Smart and Sexy

To get to the bottom of the question, Gilles Gignac, a psychology researcher at the University of Western Australia conducted a survey of both undergraduate students in Australia and participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. He and his co-authors had them complete a questionnaire that asked whether they found high levels of intelligence attractive, in addition to more general questions about intelligence. Examples included “Listening to someone speak very intelligently arouses me sexually,” and “very high level of intelligence alone is enough for me to be attracted to someone sexually.”

Gignac also asked them directly whether they would find people with varying levels of intelligence attractive, ranging from well below the 50th percentile to the very top end of the intelligence spectrum. His study was published in the journal Intelligence, natch.

Tallying the data revealed that for most people, intelligence isn’t a significant factor in deciding whether someone’s hot or not. While it wasn’t totally insignificant, it’s likely that other characteristics override brains for most people. For a select few, however, it appears that a prodigious intellect did indeed serve to stir desire. Eight percent of the participants scored a 4 out of 5 on Gignac’s test, meaning they responded strongly in the positive to most questions that asked whether they were turned on by intelligence. He interprets this as evidence of sapiosexuality among a small subset of people.

Interestingly, it seems there’s a limit to how much intelligence people can handle. When asked to rate what level of intelligence they found attractive, most people stopped at an IQ of 120, which corresponds roughly to the 90th percentile of intelligence. Gignac, isn’t sure about why this is so, though he suggests that portrayals of extremely intelligent people as socially awkward, as well fears of compatibility problems, could come into play.

In addition, the participant’s own level of intelligence, as measured by a few common cognitive tests, didn’t seem to make them more attracted to smart people. In other words, sapiosexuality doesn’t seem to be relegated solely to the brilliant.

Let’s Be Intelligent About It

It’s not time yet to rush to any conclusions about this study. First off, there are the general shortcomings of self-reported studies, which don’t always reflect what people really think about themselves. At worst it means that Gignac’s study just found some people who want to be sapiosexuals, at best, it means that further work is needed. Future research looking at whether intelligence actually correlates to greater success at dating or finding sex partners could be helpful, as well further studies into those who claim to be sapiosexual.

A larger sample size would help, as well. Gignac’s study only considered about 500 people, and when looking for something that’s presumably rare, it’s helpful to have a lot more participants. The study demographics could also be a factor. A bit more than half of Gignac’s study were university students, who might have a bias toward intelligence already, and who don’t reflect the true demographics of the world.

Why humans might be attracted to intelligence, though, is certainly a question for future studies to answer. It’s not a stretch to imagine that brains — like the bulging muscles and full lips that connote physical strength and reproductive health — could also confer evolutionary benefits.

But, as is also apparent to most any adult, sexuality is a fascinatingly complex subject. Getting to the roots of what turns us on is no easy task.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Folks with 5+ sigma IQs are unsociable. They live within themselves. Ladies, you could grab a mate at a Mensa Gathering for a farthing. What would you do with him? Besides that.

    • Sc0tt

      That farthing would get you a man who has absolutely no real experience as to how to pleasure a woman. ^.~

      • Uncle Al

        They are highly educable, really good at literature searches, and obsessive-compulsive. Man-child on Monday, Joanna Lark by Friday.

        • Sc0tt

          Man is eminently obedient and trainable, if the prevalence of war is any indication.

    • Erik Bosma

      You know there’s a great reply just screaming to be said about these people being f***ed in the head but I won’t say it. That would be below my standards.

      • OWilson

        I think it’s a New Year joke!

        We always shorten the names for these more sexually esoteric dabblers.” and what do you get? :)

  • OWilson

    We know that there are people out there who get sexual pleasure from all manner of odd practices.

    We would run out of names, if we tried to give them all legitimacy. :)

    New York State is already up to 31 gender catagories, alone!

    • Uncle Al

      32!!! Heterosexual.

  • TiggyTiger

    Why? It’s obvious why! So that person isn’t boring to be with, to converse with, so they understand you when you talk about the history book you’ve been reading or the profound play you saw. For me it’s not about IQ tests but what the person is interested in, how articulate they are and whether they respond intelligently to things I and others say. I have not the slightest interest in ‘abs’, but a nice voice is very attractive and what I see in someone’s eyes. I live in a university city in England and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find intelligence in a partner attractive and extremely important.

  • Charlotte Hunter Copper

    Thank goodness for sapiosexuals. There’s an obvious evolutionary advantage to being smart. Without us, we’d all be as stupid as our current US president. Enough said.

  • Frodo Baggins

    What is the purpose for ignorant and biased pseudoscience on the blog for Discover Magazine?? This phenomenon is making me less attracted to the magazine.
    Any so-called intelligent person using an app to meet other so-called intelligent people is an idiot and they show they are being stupidly manipulated into a new paradigm of special interest groups and multicultural fascism.
    Smart people meet other smart people in church, volunteer activities, school or clubs for chess, literature, computers etc. We do not need apps where BSers enjoying lying about themselves so other fools will pay attention to them.


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