We’ve come to expect that most people are turned on by pornography or youth or heaving breasts falling out of too tight tops or big packages in small pants or any one of a thousand obvious visual cliches. But for some people, this isn’t the case at all.
“I’ve always known that the one thing that gets me very excited and aroused is the intelligence, and sometimes even the mystery around someone’s intelligence.”
That’s how 52-year-old Jacqueline Cohen described her sexuality when speaking to the New York Times for a recent feature titled: The Hottest Body Part? For a Sapiosexual, It’s the Brain.
A sapiosexual, according to definitions in popular culture, is someone who finds intelligence or people’s minds to be the most sexually attractive feature.
For Cohen, her first husband was a magician, and she found herself enamored by his tricks. “I called it his magic foreplay,” she said.
Cohen told the New York Times she’s had relationships in the past that have been devoid of sex – focusing only on intense conversation. She said she was with one man who wasn’t her type at all physically, but when he recited poetry to her, “I could feel something happening inside me”.
Similarly, 28-year-old comedian Teresa Sheffield identifies as a sapiosexual. “What I connect most with and value most as a sapiosexual is emotional intelligence and comedic intelligence,” she said. If a person doesn’t have a sense of humour, Sheffield says she’ll be “as attracted to you as I am to a Border collie”.
While the profiles in the Times gave faces and names to sapiosexuality, the term first entered the mainstream in 2014 when it was included in OKCupid's pre-generated list of sexual orientations. More recently, an app called Sapio has been designed specifically for those who want to find a smart romantic partner. "Sick of superficial hookup apps?" reads the description. "The time has come for something better. Sapio is an evolution in dating apps, where physical and intellectual attraction are put on an equal level."
Identifying as sapiosexual has also become trendy on social media, with a Facebook page dedicated to it and countless memes describing the sexual pleasure that comes from intellectual stimulation.
But the 'newly-created' sexual orientation has sparked significant backlash online, with many claiming it's ableist, pretentious, and reductive.
An article featured on Broadly argues that it's really a way to discriminate against people - both the disabled and the poor. The story quotes a Tumblr user who wrote, "Sapiosexuality/romanticism is a bunch of ableist bullsh*t[.] You're not attracted to intelligence[,] you're repulsed by disability."
Indeed, 'cute' online quizzes about whether or not you're sapiosexual ask questions about whether you'd date someone who didn't have a university qualification - even though intelligence comes in infinite forms, and having a degree is only one (privileged) measure.
Sapiosexuality has also received criticism for its label as a 'sexual orientation' because part of attraction has always been about peoples minds. It's not rare or worth defining as a separate category. Of course many of us find ourselves drawn to people who are smart and quick-witted and motivated and driven - that's just a quintessential part of who they are.
But perhaps the most disconcerting part of this so-called unique sexual preference is that it might trivialise the idea of sexual orientation and the discrimination some groups face.
Yeah, I do like your physical appearance. But I'm way more turned on by your brain and your creativity! #Sapiosexual
— Photaddiction (@photaddiction) December 3, 2016
— Nerd Square (@nerd_sq) November 19, 2016
If you are a #Sapiosexual and you know it clap your hands ????????????????
— Héctr (@ChapinXute) November 19, 2016
— Tara Gellman (@Dolma_Lotus) November 19, 2016
Putting 'sapiosexual' among categories like androgynous, asexual, questioning and genderqueer (as appears on OKCupid) seems a bit odd, doesn't it?
It doesn't seem like an orientation that should crucially affect your dating habits. But perhaps our perception will evolve.
What do you think about the idea of sapiosexuality?
Listen to Mamamia's podcast all about sex: The Prude and The Pornstar.