Sapiosexuals: The Science of People who are Turned On by Brains

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If you’ve been on Tumblr or online dating apps in the past year, you’ve probably heard the term “sapiosexual.” I have definitely seen it in my various social media feeds, when a friend uses it to refer to themselves, meaning that they are attracted to intelligence. I’d like to start this video off by apologizing to my friends who have applied the term “sapiosexual” to themselves without irony, because I’m about to make fun of you. A lot.

My first thought upon seeing that term was revulsion. Calling yourself a sapiosexual is the ultimate narcissistic way of announcing to the world that you’re better than them. Heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals are all so shallow, because they value physical appearance and genitals over other characteristics. Or, god forbid, they look for spirituality or “heart” in a mate. All of that should be secondary to LOGIC and REASON, the sexiest of traits.

This is stupid for many reasons, not the least of which is that pretty much everyone wants a partner who they consider smart. If you specifically want a partner with the intellect of a bag of dildos, you’re probably an abusive, manipulative asshole.

But by calling yourself “sapiosexual,” you’re suggesting that attractiveness to intelligence is your sexuality. That means that in theory you should be able to masturbate to a person of indeterminate gender recounting their winning chess moves, or whatever your idea of “intelligence” is.

All of that is to say that I was very skeptical when I saw a paper published in a journal called, fittingly, “Intelligence,” titled “Some people are attracted sexually to intelligence: A psychometric evaluation of sapiosexuality.” I was interested, though, because while I was sure that most people calling themselves “sapiosexual” on social media are in fact just trying to look smarter and deeper than they are, I accept that an actual “sapiosexual” could exist — i.e., one who becomes sexually aroused first and foremost by the presumed intelligence of another person, regardless of (or eclipsing) that person’s other physical or psychological characteristics.

Unfortunately, the study is stupid. As a sapiosexual, I was not at all sexually aroused by it.

It probably has some use to some psychologists studying something, but for the life of me I can’t tell what. It involved subjects taking a survey and self-reporting their own attraction to intelligent people, answering yes or no to items like “A very high level of intelligence alone is enough for me to be attracted to someone sexually.” I mean, if someone says that it must be true, right? Right? Honestly, this is no different than someone on Tindr listing themselves as sapiosexual. It tells us nothing, except that people want to believe that they value intelligence over all other factors when it comes to sexual attraction.

Additionally, the self-report study found that people weren’t even attracted to people with very high intelligence (as evaluated by tests). They were only theoretically attracted to people with slightly higher intelligence than themselves, which is true of basically every other metric when it comes to choosing a partner: don’t we all want someone just a little smarter, a little better looking, a little more successful than ourselves? Any more than that and they’re out of our league. Any less and it seems like you’re settling. That’s not sapiosexuality, that’s just being human.

It’s frustrating because this study could have been so good! Take a bunch of people who call themselves “sapiosexual” on social media. Hook them up to some electrodes to study their pulse, sweat, and hell, why not throw in fMRI brain scans as well? Then expose them to stimuli like people of various races, shapes, and genders demonstrating either high intelligence or stupidity. See if they actually have a physical arousal to intelligence that controls for the other factors. Profit!

Like I said, I do think there’s a chance there are people like that out there. Unfortunately, this recent study doesn’t even come close to proving they exist.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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