What Does It Mean To Be Sapiosexual? 5 Telltale Signs
If you're confused about sapiosexuality, you're not alone. Even as people gain more awareness of LGBTQ+ identities, this one rarely enters the common conversation. Here's everything you need to know about being sapiosexual.
What is sapiosexual?
People who are sapiosexual are physically and emotionally turned on by intelligence. Sapiosexuals think that intelligence is the most attractive trait and value it more than a potential partner's looks or even personality.
"Sapiosexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by sexual and erotic attraction to potential partners who are, first and foremost, intelligent," sex and relationship therapist Casey Tanner, LCPC, tells mbg. "In these cases, intelligence is the genuine 'turn-on,' not the status, job, or financial benefits that might accompany intelligence."
Signs of sapiosexuality:
You are drawn to a potential partner's intelligence more than looks or personality.
Sapiosexuals are most drawn to or turned on by another person's intellect, according to Kryss Shane, LMSW, dual-licensed social worker and LGBTQ+ expert.
"A sapiosexual person may be more interested in discussing books or politics with someone on a first date rather than trying to begin a sexual relationship immediately," she says.
If you find yourself most drawn to someone's intellect, this is a very good sign you are sapiosexual.
Intellectual conversations turn you on.
Sapiosexuals are not only drawn to a potential partner's intellect—they are often physically turned on by intelligence. If political debates or long discussions about literature really get you in the mood for sex, this is another sign that you are sapiosexual.
"For sapiosexual folks, intelligence isn't just icing on the cake for an already attractive partner; it is intelligence itself that drives arousal," Tanner says. "Sapiosexual individuals not only enjoy intellectual conversation; they might also feel aroused by it."
You care a lot about professional or academic success in a partner.
According to Shane, a sapiosexual person may be particularly focused on academic or career excellence, both in their own life and in terms of what they're looking for in partners.
"They may have an online dating profile that focuses more on their career or their academic goals than on trying to find someone to engage in sex with," she says.
To the sapiosexual, these achievements may be looked at as a stand-in or barometer of a person's overall intelligence.
You need to have an intellectual discussion before sex crosses your mind.
For most sapiosexual people, it's impossible to feel comfortable dating or getting intimate with someone before you've had a good, long cerebral chat.
"Sapiosexual people might find that it's difficult to connect sexually with a potential partner until they've engaged in some form of intellectual discussion," Tanner says. "Intellectual connection may be considered far more effective foreplay than even physical touch."
If you struggle to connect with a potential partner before chatting about their favorite books or political views, this is good sign you might be sapiosexual.
Intellectual spark is more important to you than even the emotional spark.
Often, sapiosexuality can be confused with demisexuality, an orientation characterized by only experiencing sexual attraction to someone after making an emotional connection with them. While there is some overlap between the two orientations, there is also a distinct difference.
"Sapiosexuality is the need to build an intellectual attraction before a sexual attraction will occur, while demisexuality is the need to build an emotional connection before a sexual attraction will occur," Shane explains. "For a sexual attraction to begin, a sapiosexual person is seeking someone on the same intellectual level they are on, whereas a demisexual person is seeking someone who will share their feelings and emotions."
Is sapiosexual a real sexual orientation?
Despite sapiosexuality entering discussions about sexual identity more and more, there are many who still do not view sapiosexuality as a real sexual orientation. Some queer people have argued that sapiosexual people should not be included in the LGBTQ+ umbrella because it's not related to gender preferences in the same way identities like pansexual, heteroflexible, and others clearly are.
However, some sexuality experts advocate that sapiosexuality is a valid orientation and should be considered as such.
"Sapiosexuality is not an orientation in that orientation is about the gender identity of the partner or potential partner," Shane explains. "A sapiosexual person can identify as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, or greysexual. Sapiosexuality is how the person develops their attraction to someone. It is the how, not the who, of their attraction experience."
In that way, sapiosexual may more closely resemble demisexuality, which describes when someone only experiences sexual attraction after an emotional connection is established first. However, demisexuality is considered part of the asexual spectrum, whereas sapiosexuality is usually considered a separate micro-label of its own.
"As a sex therapist, I make it a priority not to yuck someone's yum, so to speak," Tanner adds. "And as a queer person, I know what it feels like to have my orientation invalidated. I just don't see a need to devalue something that is true for someone else."
Sapiosexuals in relationships.
In relationships, sapiosexuals usually highly value engaging in intellectual activities together with their partners. That might include analyzing the news and talking politics, watching documentaries or taking classes together, or simply having deep conversations as a couple.
"Intellectual conversation, exploration, and gaining perspective are all qualities that contribute to a sapiosexual's level of attraction and connection," certified sex therapist Michelle Herzog, LMFT, CST, previously told mbg. "Plus, exploring questions like these really allows two people to get to know each other on a more meaningful level."
It's probably easiest to date a sapiosexual if you're personally interested in this sort of stuff, too. As sex-positive counselor Ashley D. Sweet, M.A., LPC, LMHC, CCRC, previously told mbg, "Performative intelligence will fall flat and likely turn your beloved sapiosexual right off."
That said, everyone has topics that they know and care a lot about. "If you're really passionate about a topic, show your passion while you discuss it," says Sweet. Sapiosexuals also appreciate general intellectual curiosity, and having a partner who is willing to participate and show interest in the same topics the sapiosexual is interested will go a long way.
What does it mean when someone is sapiosexual?
A sapiosexual person is sexually attracted to highly intelligent people. Intelligence is the main factor in whether they're attracted to someone, rather than attributes like appearance or personality.
How do you know if someone is sapiosexual?
Common signs of sapiosexuality are being turned on by intellectual conversation and prioritizing intelligence when choosing romantic or sexual partners. However, like with any aspect of someone's sexual identity, it's really just about whether or not a person personally identifies with the label.
Is there something wrong with identifying as sapiosexual?
There's still some ongoing debate about the term sapiosexual and whether it's a valid sexual identity or simply a description of a personal preference. Some people have criticized the term as elitist or ableist as well. Others say all identities are valid, including sapiosexuality.
How do you attract a sapiosexual person?
Common ways to attract a sapiosexual person include having intellectual conversations with them (think subjects like science, politics, psychology, or literature), doing activities that require some critical thinking and strategy (ex. working on a project together or playing a strategic board game), and showing deep knowledge about a passion (or deep interest in their passion).
Ultimately, labels are only helpful if they allow you to feel more comfortable and confident in your sexuality. If the term "sapiosexual" feels right and valid to you, then you should use it.
Mary Retta is a freelance writer covering culture, identity, sexual politics, and wellness. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, The Nation, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Bitch Media, Vice, Nylon, Allure, and other similar outlets. When she is not writing she can be found scheming, watching cartoons, or sending unnecessarily long emails. To see more of Mary’s work and adventures, follow her on Twitter (@mary__retta).