Alix Fox | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sapiosexual: A Real Thing Or A Stupid Word Used By Clever Dicks?

Sapiosexual: A Real Thing Or A Stupid Word Used By Clever Dicks?

The Debrief: What’s the deal with folks identifying as #Sapiosexual?

The name for ‘a new word or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been accepted into mainstream language’ is a ‘neologism’. I’ve always thought that a new word connected to sex should be called a ‘neolo-jism’ – which in itself is a neologism (so meta!) – but hey ho, on with the show. One new sex-related term a lot of people are getting their knickers/knackers in a twist about lately is ‘Sapiosexuality’.

According to the Urban Dictionary definition, a ‘sapiosexual’ is a someone ‘who finds intelligence to be the most sexually attractive feature’ in others, and gets aroused by displays of cleverness and smart interactions. Sapiosexuals claim to find brains more alluring than beauty – some say that looks don’t play a part in their choice of partners at all. Certain of them state that they’re not worried about a lover’s gender either. They’re not necessarily fussed about what’s in an individual’s undies, and they don’t fancy folks based on their faces; it’s all about what’s between a potential playmate’s ears. High quality grey matter is supposedly what gets sapiosexuals red hot. 

The word comes from the root ‘sapiens’, meaning ‘discerning, wise, or judicious’. A LiveJournal user named Wolfieboy claims to have invented it in 1998. However, the number of people self-defining as sapiosexual has soared since late 2014, when dating site OKCupid introduced it as an option that users could list on their profiles to characterise their sexual orientation. 

Now, the hashtag #Sapiosexual appears everywhere from Twitter biogs to Tinder blurbs. Humongous numbers of human beings have adopted this label to describe themselves, all apparently alleging that nothing gets their nethers more in need of a squeegee than bulging Mars Attacks-style brains. Mmmm-mmm, cerebral PHWOAR-tex, amirite?!

But not everyone is a fan of the so-called sapiosexual trend. Some slam it for being pretentious and braggy: in their eyes, anyone who brands themselves sapiosexual must inherently rate their own intellect pretty highly, so they view it as a snooty, smug, superior way of overtly proclaiming 'I’m oh-so clever and I only want to get jiggy with other oh-so clever people; duh-brain dates need not apply. Unless you can queef out Einstein’s theory of relativity, I don’t want to have sexual relations with you, plebeian!'

Others question how one can precisely determine who and what is ‘intelligent’, anyway. Popular online quizzes devised to test whether or not someone is sapiosexual largely revolve around judging people on stereotypical markers of academic ability, such as high IQ and eloquent speech. Quips tagged #sapiosexuality on Facebook and Instagram frequently seem to reference reading a lot of books, having impeccable grammar, and debating literature whilst mutually appreciating the subtleties of fine wines (or 'the subtitles', as one post misspelled it, with irony heavier than the second day of a giantess’ period). 

As a result, sapiosexuality has been accused of being both ableist and classist – because, for example, someone with dyslexia from a cash-poor background and a shoddy state school may not feel confident navigating either a library or a posh wine cellar, even though they may be enormously talented and bright in other ways. 

The vision of ‘intelligence’ ostensibly revered by lots of sapiosexuals does appear to be rather narrow, constrictive in its traditionalism, and arguably more shallow than the puddle of saline in an ant’s contact lens case – even though I suspect in its original incarnation, the concept of declaring oneself to be more interested in another person’s thoughts than in their body was probably intended to be progressive. It doesn’t seem to take into consideration or place value on things like practical, creative or emotional intelligence, despite the fact that someone with a PhD in Statistical Physics might have all the conversational flair of a squished PB&J sandwich, and people exist with whole alphabets of letters following their names who still have so little everyday common sense that you could stuff it into one of Barbie’s socks and still have room for her foot. 

Other criticisms levelled at sapiosexuals include that they are liars, liars, pants on fire about what…um…sets their pants alight. Cynics say they just don’t believe that most self-professed sapiosexual people truly are as immune to appearances as they claim to be – surely there must be some degree of physical attraction involved in their erotic relationships? Supporters counter that yes, some of them are genuinely entirely blind to a potential mate’s looks – and for those who aren’t, if someone turned out to be an Easter egg (a delicious yet hollow shell with nothing going on inside), they’d instantly lose interest. 

But can 'not wanting to date people one deems to be dim bulbs' truly be justified as a fully fledged sexual orientation with its own special term? As a single person, does putting the buzzword ‘Sapiosexual’ in your dating profile really weed out the boner-killing boneheads and help you find someone smarter and sharper than David Cameron reckons his sodding suit is?  

To get some further opinions, I put the question out to a mixed group of people whilst enjoying a cuppa at Coffee, Cake and Kisses: a café and events space in London that specialises in holding workshops, talks and open discussions on sex and sexuality. Here are some of the comments I got back: 

• 'I’ve used the "sapiosexual" tag on dating apps, and it’s helped me make some wonderful connections with women who, like me, are searching for deep understanding with another human being, not just a physical fling. I do find though that while some use the word authentically, for others it just seems tokenistic – something they think makes them sound impressive or hipster, or that they want people to ask them about so they can show off. Lots of straight people seem to use it without knowing about the "I’m not bothered what genitals you have" pansexual connotations the term originally possessed – in my understanding, at least - which has lead to some awkward chats...' 

•'I quite literally don't care at all about someone's looks or body. Every single one of my partners have been COMPLETELY different physically, but have all had the same thing in common - they've all been incredibly smart. I wouldn't entertain the idea of being romantically nor physically involved with someone unintelligent. I even find bad spelling enough of a turn-off that it wouldn't matter how attractive he or she was, I just couldn’t go there. Some of my exes I probably wouldn't notice across a crowded room.... it was only when I started speaking to them and realised that they had got a lot going on upstairs that a lot started happening downstairs for me! I wouldn't call myself a 'Sapiosexual' though. I do think that's pretentious. To me, it makes no more sense than just making up a word that means you prefer brown hair to blonde, or curvy to slim, and calling it a sexual orientation. 

It would be really interesting to find the opposite to a quote-unquote 'sapiosexual': someone who deliberately sought out partners that were "stupid". I have a female acquaintance who routinely dates very beautiful but very empty (and a lot of the time, not very nice) men. I think she'd willingly admit herself that she's rather shallow and quite vain, and definitely likes to wear the trousers... perhaps her desire to remain in control, coupled with her obsession with presenting a certain persona to outside world would make it impossible for her to date anyone that might challenge this.' 

• 'I’m a male fetishist. I usually get labelled submissive or a masochist, but 'sapiosexual' might actually be be more accurate for me in some ways. I’m aroused by women I admire or respect a lot. Principally, they are competent females, powerful in some way, socially or otherwise. The fetish world labels them "dominant", but I find that a clunky definition. You’re only truly dominant in human terms if you’ve got a lot of influence and power, and intelligence is usually a prerequisite for this. So: at the heart of it, I have a fetish for intelligent women. 

'Sapiosexuality' seems to assume shared intellect though, whereas I crave women who can run rings around me intellectually. My first love at 12 years old was a high flyer at school. The only way I could get to be near her was to break into the top stream for maths. Sadly she rejected me, but she did wonders for my education! It’s been the same with most of my girlfriends: I’ve had the good fortune to have benefited from their cleverness. Trying not to bore them means I have to try and raise my own game. Although admittedly, I get off on them talking down to me if I don’t make the grade…

So many labels are tricky, 'sapiosexual' included. I do think that very often people us it that an "I’m an intellectual” badge. They say they like clever partners, but really they’re saying they think they’re clever themselves.'

• 'The word ‘sapiosexual’ is patronising - as if everyone else is only attracted to dumbasses. It's usually used to signify a certain narrow definition of intelligence. I see this term used by people who have quite a lot of privilege, perhaps including educational privilege. It can be a (sometimes unintentional) euphemism for nasty things such as excluding those who are differently abled or have mental health issues.' 

•  'I recently heard a podcast featuring Walter O’Brien, an IT whizz with a sky-high IQ of 197. He mentioned that many people with incredible IQs often, but not always, have a low ‘EQ’, or ‘emotional quotient’ – they lack ability to recognise and express nuanced feelings. So what type of intelligence does sapiosexuality refer to? And who are any of us to judge who is intelligent and who isn't? Brian Cox might be able to explain the intricate workings of atmospheric pressure, the theory of force and leverage and how rubber is produced, but can he change a flat tyre?! I question whether all but the purest supposed sapiosexuals pay zero attention to looks, too – in a room full of people, how do they choose who to approach and ask for their views on the geo-political strategies of Russia?!'

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Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock, Sex Ed, Relationships