Books over Looks: the Psychology of Sapiosexuality

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The chemistry between two people plays a huge role in attraction, but have you ever wondered what makes you feel connected to someone on a deeper level, even after just meeting them? 

When we assess our dating potential with a mate, we think about lots of different things: how they look, how they present themselves, how they treat us, what kind of personality they have...often intelligence falls into that list, too. 

Most of us love quick wit and curiosity...but just how much does intelligence play a role in sexual chemistry? 

The answer is surprisingly controversial: you see, some people believe that knowledge and intelligence are just fundamentally admirable and sexy traits to have...and others believe there’s a bit more to it than that. 

What is Sapiosexuality? 

In a world full of dating apps, oftentimes the physical attributes of people fall to the wayside and we’re left to draw people in with our personalities (after all, photos will get them to swipe right but carrying on a conversation and arranging a date is another story). 

If you’ve found yourself thinking non-stop about someone you just met (or haven’t even had a face-to-face date with, yet)...sapiosexuality might be the reason. 

“Sapiosexual” is the term used to describe people who are aroused by intelligence.

More specifically, you’re attracted to the inner-workings of someone’s mind - how they think, their thirst for knowledge, how curious they are. This goes beyond simply finding intelligence attractive - it’s more like there has to be a certain level of intellectual connection for you to be stimulated and satisfied with the relationship.

This also translates to your sex life: you might find it difficult to have one-night stands or flings with people who haven’t proven to be intellectually equal or superior to yourself.

People who identify as sapiosexuals often: 

  • Are not only aroused by stimulating and intelligent conversation but actually derive inspiration from deep, meaningful conversations with potential partners. 
  • Are aroused and stimulated by debates and sometimes tend to be drawn to people who have different views and feel comfortable expanding your mind to allow for someone else’s thoughts and opinions. 
  • Aren’t interested in “small talk” or “surface-level conversations” and will often jump into asking personal or philosophical questions on the first date. 
  • Find it very difficult to be attracted to people who are close-minded and “set in their ways” - you want someone who has a passion for something...but more importantly someone who encourages you to pursue deeper knowledge and understanding of things you’re interested in. 
  • Are attracted to people who aren’t just book-smart but are emotionally intelligent and self-aware. You admire people who can think rationally and problem-solve. 
  • Are always looking for partners who enjoy challenges, who have a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity about how things work - you find this to be one of the best qualities in a potential partner and it’s one of the first things you notice on a date. 

Sapiosexuality is pretty simple: if quick wit, clever banter and a thirst for knowledge appeal more to you than the broadness of a guy’s shoulders or how short your date’s skirt is...and if lacking that certain intelligent something could be considered a deal-breaker for you - you might fall under this category. 

What is it like to be sapiosexual? 

Well, Cosmo interviewed 6 people (three men and three women) who identify as sapiosexual…

“Sapiosexual is a way for me to label and understand myself and what I want in a romantic relationship. I appreciate intelligence to a degree that it’s actively arousing” says Woman A, in the interview. 

Man A chimes in with: “Being sapiosexual (to me) means that it’s really hard for me to have one night stands because generally speaking, I’m not really sexually interested in someone until I’ve seen that ‘spark’ in their personality, regardless of their level of physical beauty.” 

Is Sapiosexuality a Fetish or Sexual Orientation? 

Let’s talk definitions for a hot minute…

Sexual orientation is described as an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction. While this is rather vague, once I lay down some examples you will start to see a pattern emerging...

The most commonly known sexual orientations are: 

Being attracted to persons of the opposite sex (heterosexuality), being attracted to persons of the same sex (homosexuality), being attracted to both sexes (bisexuality) or being attracted to someone regardless of their gender (pansexuality). 

In regards to sexual orientation, we often talk about genders (your identity) and sex (your biological functions and capabilities). 

While people can identify as “sapiosexuals” - this often does not indicate their sexual orientation, the same way identifying as a submissive or dominant doesn’t indicate sexual orientation. Just because it’s something you identify as doesn’t mean it impacts your sexual orientation. 

You could say (given these definitions) that sapiosexuality is first and foremost a sexual desire - which would categorize it as a fetish, not a sexual orientation.

However, under the definition of “sexual orientation”, if your dating history reads like a who’s who of English literature majors and Ph.D. candidates - then maybe you could consider that “an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction” - in which case it would fit the “sexual orientation” definition quite well. 

What is a fetish?

A fetish, on the other hand, is described as a form of sexual desire where gratification is directly linked (often to an abnormal degree) to a particular thing (part of the body, sexual activity, etc). 

So...what is sapiosexuality?

Well, the truth is there is still some debate on how to classify this sexual attraction to the mind. 

According to clinical psychologist Marianne Brandon, sapiosexuality shouldn’t be described as a sexual orientation because it just simply doesn’t meet that criteria and sexual health professionals don’t use the term. 

According to Brandon, “it’s not a sexual orientation any more than being attracted to only rich people,” - which makes total sense. Take the Queen of Spades, for another example: we recently did a story on women who exclusively date black men. This would be considered a kink or fetish, not a sexual orientation.

This is the same story: you’re attracted to this specific demographic of people and you might even say you exclusively date according to fulfill this sexual desire and need - but this is a fetish or kink that you have that doesn’t need to have something to do with your sexual orientation. 

If we really look at the core of this sexual desire: you can be a sapiosexual but also identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. This leads us to believe that sapiosexuality is more of a fetish, personality trait or identity, rather than sexual orientation. 

“Aren’t We All Attracted to Intelligence?”

Sapiosexuality has come under fire for being “a made-up” fetish because aren’t we all attracted to intelligence? I mean, don’t we all want dates where we are intellectually connected and challenged by our partner? 

Well...yes. This is a valid point: most people like to have a romantic partner who is competent and smart. 

According to a 2017 study (which you can find on Science Direct) the most sexually attractive IQ was 120. This would be considered on the high end of “average.” 

To put this into perspective, Marilyn Vos Savant has one of the highest recorded IQs (which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records) at 220. A fun fact...she was 10 at the time of her record-breaking IQ test...crazy, right? 

In this Very Well Mind article, it’s explained that around 100 IQ is considered “average”, with 68% of the population falling within the 85-115 range.

It’s considered that scores under 70 represent the presence of some sort of developmental disability, and scores above 130 may indicate some form of giftedness. 

Now that we know about averages...let’s talk about people who are sexually attracted to that intelligence. 

For some people, a high IQ is just a bonus. Something they are looking for but not a deal-breaker.
“You’re smart? Great! You’re also kind and funny and insanely attractive - let’s go back to my apartment and have sex.”

For others, though, the intelligence and wit of a person are things that are not only important, but they are also deal-breakers. Without a deep intellectual connection, the person finds it extremely difficult (or impossible) to be attracted to or physically aroused by their partner - and this is what sets sapiosexuality apart from simply just finding intelligence attractive. 

You can be attracted to smart people and not be a sapiosexual…

One of the most commonly questioned things about sapiosexuality is the question: what even is it? If you find intelligence to be an attractive quality, are you sapiosexual? 

Not exactly. 

The key difference is…

You can be attracted to smart people and still not be a sapiosexual because intelligence really is an attractive quality for most people. 

However, sapiosexuals often find it difficult (if not impossible) to have a partner who doesn’t challenge them mentally and doesn’t match their thirst for knowledge. 

Some people need to be with someone who is dominant because they prefer to be submissive. Some other people choose to be with people who are logical and rational, to balance out their impulsivity. Sapiosexuals need to be with someone who matches (or even exceeds) their wit and intelligence, or else the connection just isn’t there. 

Are There Any Stats on Sapiosexuals?

How common is this fetish? 

While not much research has been done on sapiosexuality as a whole, there is a ton of research on why people find intelligence an attractive quality in a partner. 

Gilles Gignac, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia wanted to change that. “Because much of the previous research in the area had used rank measurements [to measure IQ and attractiveness], it was impossible to tell what level of intelligence people, on average, preferred. A different type of study needed to be conducted to find out.” 

Gignac and his colleagues surveyed 383 adults and asked them what traits they valued in a romantic partner and how attracted they were to people with various levels of intelligence. 

  • “Kind and Understanding” was the highest-ranking attribute people looked for in a romantic partner. 
  • “Intelligent” was second.
  • “Exciting personality” was listed as the third most attractive quality in a partner. 
  • “Easygoing” ranked number four. 

In this study, researchers found that people rated those with a higher intelligence level as “more attractive” but only to a certain level. The association between desirability and IQ of the partner peaks at around 120 IQ, and then tends to drop if the potential partner’s IQ is higher (120-135). 

In other words, people were less attracted to a partner who was “too smart”...the individuals surveyed found the highest attraction to people in the 90th percentile (smarter than 90% of the population) and started to find people in the 99th percentile (who are smarter than 99% of the population) to become less attractive. 

This is where it gets interesting…

Gignac and his team actually found a way to quantify sapiosexuality by asking participants how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as:

  • “Listening to someone speak very intelligently arouses me sexually.” 
  • “It would excite me sexually to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with a potential partner” 

The results? 

Up to 8% of people (ages 18-35 in this case) could be classified as “sapiosexuals”, based on the answers to the questions given. 

You can read the entire study here - it’s extremely know, if that kind of thing turns you on. 

The Smarter the Man, The Better His Sperm? 

There is a theory that the smarter the man, the healthier his sperm is. But is there anything behind this or is it just mere speculation, and something sapiosexuals are desperately wanting to believe? 

Well...there may be something to it. 

Research out of the University of Mexico has linked high IQ with healthier sperm being intelligent starts to get really attractive if you’re into the whole baby-making thing. 

This study (which consisted of 400 men) was conducted by putting the men through intense mental testing. Those with higher IQs directly correlated with having healthy sperm. It didn’t seem to matter what physical condition the men were in (if they had a history of smoking or obesity) - their sperm counts were just better. 

Why could this be? 

Well, intelligent people are generally healthier people - this is one explanation. Scientists have suggested (in multiple studies) that people with high IQs are likely to attain less stressful jobs in safer places which may allow them to make better lifestyle choices - which in turn helps their sperm to stay healthy. 

How Do I Find My Ideal (Intellectual) Match? 

You want someone who challenges you, who is passionate about learning and understanding how things work and want someone to have heated debates and even more heated pillow talk with. 

Short of dropping by your local library and striking up random (and intense) conversations with total do you even begin to find someone who is a good intellectual match for you?

Well...there’s an app for that. 

Sapio is an app for people who are just done with superficial hook-ups and looking for a place where physical and intellectual attraction are equally as important. 

According to their description: “Sapio gives you the tools you need to find someone that stimulates your mind and makes your heart skip a beat. Romance is more than just physical attraction - true matches are also an attraction to how someone thinks…” 

If I was single, I’d be saying sign me up. But since I’m not...someone give this app a try and let me know how it goes - I’m intrigued. 

And it’s not just an app...but dating sites are getting on board with this! 

OkCupid now allows users to identify as “sapiosexual” on their bio, meaning you can draw in (and find) people who consider themselves to be of a similar mindset to you. 

The Brain is the Largest Sex Organ...For Good Reason

Whether you’re simply turned on by intriguing conversation or “capable of witty banter and heated debates that will probably end in sex” is on your check-list for finding an ideal partner - there is no doubt that the brain is just pure sex-appeal. 

How we experience pleasure has so much to do with our physical bodies: how we like to be touched, where we like to be kissed, the tingling sensation you get when your lover drags his fingertips along your chest...but there is so much more to sex than just that. 

A large part of our sex lives (and the satisfaction we get from sex) comes from what we learned about sex, how we think during sex and what we believe about relationships and intimacy. 

As such, when there is a problem in our sex lives, although there are several medical issues that become physical roadblocks to sex, many of the challenges we face in our sex lives come from our minds rather than our bodies. 

According to Dr. Logan Levkoff, a clinical sexologist, and sex educator, “there is a great deal of sexual implications that come from our psychology, our education, our upbringing and the messages we get from culture and the media [about sex]...these things contribute to how we see ourselves as sexual beings and how we understand sexuality, consent, and relationships.” 

Levkoff isn’t the only one who believes the brain plays a huge role in our sex lives...Diana Rabb, who has a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology explains: “as foreplay, sapiosexuals may crave philosophical, political or psychological discussions because this turns [him or her] on.”