Sex & Relationships

Forget About Looks: Being Smart Is the Latest Sexual Turn-On

Sapiosexuality is a new term that refers to being sexually attracted to intelligence.

When cruising through Tinder the other day, my friend turned to me and asked, “Hey, what’s a sapiosexual?” Luckily, I had already started my research on this piece. So I turned to her and explained, “It’s a person who’s sexually attracted to intelligence in others.” She replied, “Isn’t that most people?” You would think. But there are those who think their attraction goes beyond thinking “smart is sexy.”  

Sapiosexuals don’t just link intelligence to attraction; they link it to carnal attraction. And while the term isn’t quite as familiar as, “heterosexual,” “homosexual” or “bisexual,” it does have a place on the sexual orientation spectrum.

Most recently, OKCupid updated the vocabulary available to its 4 million users when specifying their gender and sexual orientation. The term “sapiosexual” now appears alongside the likes of “demisexual,” “pansexual” and “heteroflexible.”

Sapiosexuality hasn’t been around very long. Yes, people have always been attracted to intelligence, but they didn’t always have the terminology to help articulate that attraction. Darren Stalder (also known as “Wolfieboy” on Live Journal) claims to have invented the term back in 1998. But it wasn’t until around 2008 that the term really took off as a self-identifier.

The community can in part thank erotic author Kayar Silkenvoice for helping popularize the term. Silkenvoice bought the domain Sapiosexual.com back in 2005. There, she explains, “Sapiosexual is a recently constructed word (neologism) that has come into common usage, particularly on social networking sites where people are self-identifying as sapiosexual. It is a concatenation of the latin root sapio- from sapiens meaning wise or intelligent (itself derived from sapere which means to taste, or rather, to discern) and the latin root -sexualis as it pertains to sexual preferences.”

Silkenvoice describes herself as a “bisexual polyamorous female,” massage therapist, sex educator, ordained minister, hypnotist, domme and published author. When reading through some of her erotic literature, it’s hard to understand if sapiosexuals find intelligence alone sexy. Like would they immediately get turned on if a potential lover started reciting the “I Tell My Sorrows To The Stones” monologue from Titus Andronicus (a friend of mine has this down, and it does turn me on). Or maybe what sapiosexuals find so erotic is the way their partners can get them all twisted up sexually, using their wit to manipulate their way around the bedroom.

Another question comes up when talking about sapiosexuality: does it leave room for looks? According to the “Sapiosexuality Quiz,” not really. One question, which was to be answered on a scale of 1-5, asked if “Being able to speak eloquently is more important to me than having a fit or sexy body.” Another took it a step further, asserting “I would much more likely fall in love with a highly intelligent cripple than a dull-minded athlete.” That one kind of burns. Especially because I know incredibly attractive, dull-minded cripples.

In a podcast titled “Geek Fetish,” Silkenvoice describes a potential conquest, saying, “His blonde hair was receding a little and cut too short. He was heavy set, carrying an extra 30 pounds or so and his broad shoulders had that disk jockey slope characteristic of most geeks.”

AlterNet reached out to Silkenvoice to help us work through some of these questions. 

Carrie Weisman: How do you define sapiosexuality?

Kayar Silkenvoice: One of the interesting things about the label is it’s one people describe themselves. It’s a really personal definition, based on your personality or whatever. There are so many levels of ability, or genius.

Just being able to sit down and have a conversation that can be wide-ranging and far-flung and watch how they think critically and their mind works and they problem solve and things like that. That to me is a very attractive thing. But someone else may decide that sapiosexual means something entirely else to them. So it’s a very personal definition in a lot of ways.

It’s really easy to say “I’m sapiosexual, I’m turned on by intelligence,” but how do you define intelligence? It’s a very nuanced kind of orientation. As we meet more people we’re attracted to under that label, our definition usually broadens.

CW: Why do you think the term has gotten so popular lately?

KS: I think it’s just a critical mass. When I first bought the domain, no one had ever heard of the word, so I kind of made it a mission personally to get it out there. Because I know a lot of people who were more the nerdy or geeky types or more the intellectual types who had a really hard time explaining what attracted them to other people. So the word probably hit the mainstream probably around 2008, around 10 years after Darren first invented it.

Since about 2010 it’s been really building up steam. It’s interesting watching it as a phenomenon. I remember Googling it and the only hits I found were mine, the stuff I put out there. It’s interesting now because there are some real interesting discussions going on about the word.

CW: Does sapiosexuality only refer to linguistic intelligence?

KS: For some people, yes. The people with college educations sitting around a coffee shop having these highly fluent, intellectual conversations. You know, it’s mental masturbation. And some people think that. And there are lots of people who do that. And that’s okay.

I live in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area and I am surrounded just by big beautiful brilliant minds. And a lot of it is the passion, which is why I focus on the geeky-nerdy type because not only are they smart, but they’re passionate about something. And I find that energy, that passion to be a turn-on. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a "book smart" type of thing.

CW: What happens if the sex is bad?

KS: That’s a good question. I’ve never really had really bad sex with really smart people and the reason is when I have sex with someone for the first time I come at it like “I don’t know anything.” I’ve never had sex with this person before so… I don’t just jump on a cock assuming I know how to give a blowjob.

The point is people who are intelligent recognize that you don’t have to be good at everything, but if you’re comfortable coming from a place of what you’re ignorant about, you can have really good sex. Because you’re comfortable with admitting where you’re ignorant, and you’re interested and passionate about learning. So, think “I want to learn you,” “tell me what you like” or “show me” … it’s like opening up a really good book; one you’ve been wanting to open up for a really long time, and you’re really excited about it. Every person is different, and there are things you have to discover about that person.

CW: Does being sapiosexual mean looks aren’t important?

KS: For me, I don’t find carrying around an additional 20 pounds unattractive, it’s not always the sexiest thing, but there are so many more aspects to that person. I don’t find it repulsive. I mean, I may not necessarily find it attractive, but it’s not something that repels me.

So I think with the physical thing, as soon as someone opens their mouth and starts speaking, that’s the hook for me. I have a type, but I also dated people who were not my "type." Let’s see what you got, bring it on. I’m one of those people who tries to find something to love about everyone I meet. So when you start from that point, there’s a lot to find attractive about people.

CW: Do you have to be smart to be sapiosexual?

KS: It’s an orientation. So therefore, if you are drawn to people who are intelligent or intellectual, or passionate, or whatever, it’s a label you define yourself. So you don’t necessarily have to be a smart person, you just have to be a person who is attracted to smart people, who finds intelligence attractive. And again, this is a spectrum.

I don’t think a person has to be a certain way in order to find that attractive to others. I don’t have to be a lesbian to find lesbian women attractive. You don’t have to be a homosexual man to find homosexual men attractive. You don’t have to be a smart person to find smart people attractive. It’s an internal, intrinsic thing.

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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