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We Asked Sapiosexuals What Turns Them On

Signs of intelligent life are spreading among young singles.

Mandy Stadtmiller

Image: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty

You might be a sapiosexual—someone who sees a person's intelligence as the most valued trait in romance—and not even realize it. The term only gained prominence in 2014 when OKCupid included it as a new choice amongst its sexual orientations. Since then, it's been quietly spreading to other corners of the online dating landscape: Last October, a swiping app called Sapio ("The Intelligent Dating App") launched that caters specifically to the intellectually aroused. Young sapiosexuals are suddenly coming out in larger numbers than ever. But how difficult is it to find true love in a world that frequently criticizes the orientation as nothing but pure snobbery? We asked a few of them to give us a lesson. 

Katie, 32, New York, NY, Strategy for a Startup Investor

Was there a turning point for you in terms of finding smarter men more attractive?
College, when seemingly out of nowhere intelligent boys appeared and I realized I was only attracted to boys who could manage a feisty and logical argument in class. I've tried dating guys who weren't very bright but were ridiculously good looking, and I was bored within a week. One guy I was off and on with for three years used to ignore me after romantic dates because he found an algorithm that made the fan on his computer go faster. I thought it was a turn-on, but in hindsight that was one of many red flags.

Do you have a top turn-on?  Photographic memories are really sexy to me, but they can be a massive annoyance in a relationship.

Some people say that sapiosexuals are just snobs. What do you think about that? I think it's true. I am a snob about it.

Tanoya, 23, Salt Lake City, UT, Hemocompatibility Study Director

What turns you on intellectually? I am black, female, 23, have a BS in microbiology, am adopted, bisexual, and an atheist in an extremely religious society. In my experience, being all of these things makes it hard to have relationships. Being sapiosexual has been the best way for me to develop these relationships, romantic and otherwise.

When did you realize you were sapiosexual? I was 18, very tired, and waiting outside a classroom for a philosophy of science class. This guy was scrawny looking. I told him I was trying to get into a lab and he told me he already had a lab job. He was telling me all about this bug that was found on this kind of tree in the Amazon and how it was his job to count all the different kinds of bugs. Physically he's not attractive, but I started to become attracted to him. It was then I realized I was more interested in conversation about science and things.


Amir, 29, Orange County, CA, Physician

Why do you identify as sapiosexual? I've always been fascinated by science and knowledge. I have a masters and a medical degree and I'm doing my MBA. I like [to date] people who have the same mindset and who can carry on a conversation.

There's a lot of negativity online towards the designation—people saying this is just a way of being pretentious. If you say you're against someone who went to school and is smart, that should say something more about you rather than smart people who are attracted to smart people. 

Are looks still important to you? Looks are a starting point, but after five minutes of conversation, they can fade away completely. Okay, it was great meeting you, I'll think, but I'm never going to talk to you again.

Megan, 29, Grand Rapids, MI, Sexologist

When did it click that you were primarily attracted to intelligence? I think I really became aware of my sapiosexual nature when I told myself I had to stop hooking up with this smoking hot guy. Good dick is hard to quit, but I was just feeling this total lack of brain attraction. The sex was stellar, but we didn't have anything of substance to say to each other.

What is the most exciting thing about dating someone smart? I love the idea that my partner is stroking my brain. Whether he is making me think or just dropping impressive knowledge bombs, that feeling has a whole-body effect. I love witty quips and word play, or situational observations. Anything that makes me say 'Oh! This dude came to play.'


Stephen, 29, Dearborn, MI, Researcher and Grad Student

What's the hardest aspect of identifying as a sapiosexual? It was being introduced to the word, as opposed to the process of discovering how important intelligence is for me when determining what I find attractive. 

Do you have one particular thing you look for in a partner? 
A woman who can actually win debates against me is unbelievably hot. Oh, and yes, a library is a turn on as well, as long as at least one classical work exists in it.

Steve, 28, New York, NY, Online Dating Consultant

When did you first hear the term sapiosexualI first encountered it in the profile of an OkCupid user in August of 2012. Her profile had blown me away, so I was curious whether that "sapiosexual" term was the strongest explanatory variable for why I found her so compelling. I quickly discovered that many of my top matches on OkCupid identified as sapiosexuals, and that I could reliably find highly compatible individuals simply by searching that keyword. 

If every sapiosexual has one particular quality they look for, what would yours be?
I seek out people with limitless curiosity and generativity. If you put them in an empty room, they'll create a game out of it.

Mariana, 28, Brooklyn, NY, Full-time Psych Student

Have you identified as a sapiosexual for long? Not until fairly recently—maybe a couple of months ago. It all started with a couple of older female family members telling me that I should start lowering my standards; according to them, I could not expect to find an attractive man who met my tastes and who also happened to be smart. That, they claimed, did not exist. It was then that I realized just how important intelligence and knowledge were to me. That, by definition, I was a sapiosexual. 

How does that choice play out for you day-to-day? It plays out terribly! Meeting guys is not difficult per se, but the novelty wears thin quick, even more so when you realize that the guy you are with has no idea what you are talking about half of the time, or that they hold no interest in picking up a book or learning anything new outside of their comfort zone.

So how much do looks matter to you? Oh they do matter! We are humans after all, so attraction and sexual desire works the same way for us. The only difference is that they don't take the main stage. Someone who turns on my brain is far more enticing and desirable than someone who only turns on my girly parts.

Mark, 29, Asheville, NC, R&D, Sales, Customer Service

So when did you even realize sapiosexuality was a thing? Not until I saw it on OKCupid. When I saw it, my first reaction was, "That's so pretentious!" But then it occurred to me: If people cared more about my brain and less about my face, I'd probably get to go on more dates.

Why do you think there is often such negative reaction? Part of the backlash here has got to be from people who are just having a meltdown over the dissolution of the traditional gender and sexual binaries. Also, I think declaring you're a sapiosexual is an inclusive and body-positive way to signal that you're open to people who may not consider themselves conventionally attractive.

Do you tell people that you consider yourself sapiosexual? I don't, but I can understand why others would. If it's a dealbreaker for you that someone self-identifies as sapiosexual, then you're probably just as insufferable as you think they are.


Zack Baazov, 32, New York, NY, Medical Massage Therapist 

When was the first time intelligence affected your decision to date someone?

I must have been 19 or 20. I was dating a pretty young blonde from school and I was pretty blinded by her beauty. I still remember how turned off I was when she and I were discussing the upcoming election, Bush versus Kerry. She told me she was voting Kerry, which was fine to me, but her reasoning for it was that she'd heard the Bush family eats children. At first I thought she was being facetious—but no—she  actually believed that nonsense. Since then, I haven't been able to bring myself to have a one night stand with a woman who is lacking in intelligence, no matter how physically attractive.

How you would describe the type of intelligence that you look for specifically? I am by no means considered educated, but I am confident in my own intelligence. Intelligence and education are two very separate categories. I've met highly intelligent bums and slackers and highly educated imbeciles, some of the latter having graduated from Ivy League universities.