If an intense debate, a stimulating lecture, or a deep conversation gets you going, you may be sapiosexual.

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It’s no secret that we humans are often drawn to smart people, whether it be friends or potential partners.

Evolutionarily, it makes perfect sense. Choosing a mate who could identify poisonous berries and problem solve their way out of a pickle made successfully rearing children more likely, and meant that their “good genes” could be passed on.

One 2011 study found that intelligence was among the top three traits people look for in a mate. So even though the types of intellect we’re attracted to have changed with time, the evolutionarily roots have clearly remained strong.

But for some people, finding a smart or inquisitive partner isn’t just about facilitating some emotional and intellectual fulfillment. Those who identify as sapiosexual seek intellect in others for sexual arousal.

The word “sapiosexual” is derived from the Latin verb sapere, meaning “to be wise” or “to have sense.” It makes sense, then, that sapiosexuality is a sexual identity describing those who are aroused by intelligence.

While for many people the status, wealth, and power associated with intelligence is the turn-on, for sapiosexuals it’s the intellect in and of itself that creates sexual excitement.

Sapiosexuality is often referred to as sapiophile personality, though they do have slightly different meanings.

Kathleen Clark is Chief Learning Officer at Identiversity, a nonprofit organization providing educational resources that foster inclusion, equity, and diversity. She tells us, “The terms sapiophile and sapiosexual are sometimes used interchangeably, but sapiosexual tends to emphasize the aspect of being sexually attracted to intelligence.”

But she also clarifies, “…the definitions for these identities — like all gender and sexual identities — can shift over time; definitions and meanings can also differ somewhat from one individual to the next… It’s always important to pay attention and be respectful of individuals and how they identify and what their identity means to them!”

Unlike other sexual orientations such as straight, bi, or gay, sapiosexuality doesn’t describe a place on the spectrum between those romantically, emotionally, or sexually attracted to people of a different gender and those attracted to people with a gender identity similar to their own. Rather, it describes attraction to intelligence independent of gender, and can coexist with other sexual orientations and gender identities.

But along with other sexual identities, sapiosexuality does exist on a spectrum. While some people list intelligence as one of many possible turn-ons, others absolutely need intellectual stimulation for sexual arousal.

What’s the difference between sapiosexual and demisexual?

According to GLAAD, demisexuality describes people who only experience sexual attraction to someone else when a significant emotional bond is formed.

Initial impressions like physical appearance matter little or not at all to someone who is demisexual.

For sapiosexuals, on the other hand, impressive intellect can be arousing even in the absence of an emotional relationship. Watching a stranger give a lecture could be sexually stimulating for someone who’s sapiosexual, but probably wouldn’t be for someone who identifies as demisexual.

However, as Clark explains, “Demisexuality and sapiosexuality are similar in that persons who identify as demisexual or sapiosexual can be gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, or some other sexual orientation — in other words, these are identities that cut across gender-based sexual orientations.”

Wondering if you or your partner fall on the sapiosexual spectrum? This might be the case if:

  • intellectual conversations or debates are sexually arousing
  • bookstore hangouts, documentary screenings, or museums are your idea of a good date
  • physical foreplay doesn’t get you excited, but deep, exploratory conversation does
  • you reject potential partners who aren’t intellectually stimulating, even if they have other redeeming qualities
  • you like having your positions challenged
  • you’re attracted to emotional intelligence

Remember that sexual identities mean something different for each person. Just because you don’t identify with something listed above doesn’t mean you’re not sapiosexual, and vice versa.

If you, your partner(s), or both identify as sapiosexual, here are some possible effects on your relationship.

It changes how you and your partner turn each other on

There is no universal way to turn on sapiosexuals, so the first step is communicating what works and what doesn’t for both of you.

Foreplay will look a little different. While for others foreplay could mean dirty talk, nude pictures, or physical touch, the best foreplay for sapiosexual people could be intense, stimulating conversation or debate.

Try reading an intellectually stimulating book out loud or discussing an intellectual construct with your sapiosexual partner.

If you’re not a sapiosexual yourself, try finding a book or topic that’s stimulating for both of you — your partner from an intellectual point of view and yourself from a sexual point of view. Maybe you can discuss the origin of eroticism or read a book about erotic art.

The relationship might move slowly

For people who just need physical attraction, moving quickly onto the sexual stuff might work fine. But getting to know someone on an intellectual level often takes longer, and can delay sexual arousal until you’ve fully connected.

Try showing genuine curiosity in their personal interests by asking questions and paying close attention. Just because someone is sapiosexual doesn’t mean they enjoy every single intellectual activity. Maybe you or your partner hate science fiction books, but are aroused by a trip to the museum.

Share your own passions, too. Many sapiosexual people desire reciprocal intellectual stimulation like a conversation or respectful debate.

The partner might feel pressure to be a genius

One 2018 study on sapiosexuality did find that, on average, people are most attracted to those in the 90th percentile of IQ scores — a score of around 120.

So if you’re the partner of a sapiosexual, it makes sense that you’d be worried about not meeting their intellectual needs.

But higher education, credentials, or fancy degrees aren’t the only indicators of intelligence and intellectual curiosity. Having strong passions and showing an interest in theirs is most important.

You don’t have to be a Harvard graduate or have a PhD in aerospace engineering for a sapiosexual to be attracted to you.

You don’t have to be afraid to say, “teach me.” They’ll likely jump at the opportunity to impart their knowledge onto you. Letting them show off their smarts and expressing interest in learning from them can be a turn on.

The word “sapiosexual” is a relatively new addition to the broader sexual identity terminology, but that doesn’t mean it’s a new phenomenon.

The online dating site OkCupid added “sapiosexual” as a possible sexual identity in 2014. You can even join a sapiosexual-specific dating app appropriately named Sapio.

If you or your partner fall somewhere on the sapiosexual spectrum, you’re not alone. Consider some of the tips above to get the most out of your romantic and sexual life.

You can also check out the Identiversity glossary to learn more about common and lesser-known sexual and gender identity terms. It’s good to remember that just because an identity is lesser known, it doesn’t make it any less valid.