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Sapiosexuality: The Bogus Orientation Where You Prefer Smarts Over Looks

Sapiosexuals claim to be attracted to nothing more than intelligence in others. But is this actually a good thing?

I've met several people who've told me they're sapiosexual, and I must say it's an incredibly interesting thing. But it's not without its confusing definitions and troublesome implications. So, what is sapiosexuality and what do people mean when they call themselves sapiosexuals?

What it is

Sapiosexuality is when a person finds intelligence to be the defining feature of their sexual preference. In other words, a sapiosexual is someone who's sexually attracted to high levels of intelligence more than anything else.

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Unlike heterosexuals or gay people, sapiosexuals do not necessarily prefer one gender over another. They don't really care about gender at all (at least ideally, though this is one of the points at issue). And unlike pansexuals, they don't like just about anyone: they only like smart people. And that's that. It sounds like a good preference at face value, of course: when you're into smarts, you're into one of the most intimately defining features of a person. You like what's on the inside rather than liking a shallow shell, and you are ultimately turned on by a rather profound ability that could have really positive effects on the world. 

There's also the general belief that having brains leads to other skills or features that are highly desirable in a partner. People tend to think that high intelligence is directly correlated with a good sense of humor, for example. Also, a smart person is usually defined as one who has a level of emotional maturity, right? How could an emotionally immature person ever be considered intelligent?

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So, it all sounds well and good for the sapiosexual. They seem to be onto something. But, of course, there's a catch.

What's the problem with sapiosexuality?

There are many worries surrounding the notion of sapiosexuality: some moral, some technical. Let's start with the latter.

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From a clinical or even psychological perspective, sapiosexuality is not a well-identified phenomenon on the same standing as homosexuality or asexuality. In short, we're talking about a rather vague preference. Defining it is an issue, because intelligence can amount to many different things. Are you interested in emotional intelligence or in mathematical one? 

Despite what you might otherwise think, the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. It's perfectly common for a mathematical or musical genius, for example, to be emotionally unstable to the point of mental illness. There's no guarantee that a smart person will have a sense of humor, either—or at least not your sense of humor. 

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So, it's difficult to know what sapiosexuals mean by intelligence in the first place. If it's just high IQ, that's no guarantee that any other desirable personality traits will be present—for all we know, we could end up with a brilliant psychopath who lacks empathy and emotional intelligence altogether. 

In my experience, not many self-defined sapiosexuals are actually interested in high IQ per se. Most seem to be interested, rather, in a very subjective definition of intelligence that's ultimately very hard to pin-point, and which thus varies from individual to individual. 

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If that's the case, then it's hardly surprising that the scientific community hasn't been able to identify sapiosexuality as a proper sexual orientation. Unlike bisexuality, heterosexuality, or homosexuality, which are directed at objective traits, sapiosexuality has very loose attraction parameters.

There's another area where sapiosexuality doesn't have the same standing as other sexual orientations. Many sapiosexuals are not exclusively so: they're heterosexuals who're attracted to smart people of the opposite sex, for example. In that case, they're sapiosexuals and heterosexuals. Others are gay and sapiosexual. And so on. It doesn't matter whether all sapiosexuals have an additional orientation, it just matter that some seem to.

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But self-defining sexual orientations, as traditionally understood, can hardly intersect and overlap. They're most often mutually exclusive. A gay person cannot be both gay and straight—that would be a bisexual. And a bisexual cannot be exclusively attracted to any one gender. Likewise, asexuals cannot both be and not be sexually attracted towards someone. 

Sapiosexuality doesn't work like that, though. At least not in most self-described cases. In this regard, sapiosexuality is more like a preference than an actual sexual orientation: just like a heterosexual might like green eyes over brown ones, they might also prefer smart people. It might even be a crucial characteristic: a gay person might prefer smarts over almost any other quality in someone, and still be gay.

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Then there's the moral problem. Even if we could actually and straightforwardly define sapiosexuality, many worry that the term is inherently elitist and can easily end up being unacceptably discriminatory against vulnerable populations.

Many people are not identified as intelligent not for a lack of cognitive talent, but because of lack of education. Sapiosexuals are therefore often accused of discriminating against the poor, or even against people with cognitive disabilities (like Down syndrome).

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In itself, intelligence can be incredibly attractive, but perhaps we should wait for more studies on sapiosexuality before officially declaring a sexual orientation rather than an individual preference. Still, it's interesting, and it's not difficult to see why smarts are more important than looks for many people out there. Just like talent or kindness, intelligence is often more than a bonus: it's an absolute requirement for someone to be attractive in the first place.

Take a look at these other articles:
Snowballing: The Popular Practice That Can Actually Put Your Health At Risk
Why Dating Apps Are The Best Place To Find Real-Life Unicorns
Why A Sex Journal Is The Best Thing You Can Do to Improve Your Relationship

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