Health

What is a Sapiosexual? We Talked to a Psychologist

“Sapiosexual” seems to be online dating’s new, go-to buzzword. Urban Dictionary defines it as “one who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature.” Redditors have dedicated /r/sapiosexual to the discussion and discovery of “sapios” (page title: “I love your brain”). Emily McCombs of xoJane even went on her own anti-sapiosexual tirade.

It’s clear that online daters seek to project and attract intelligence. But is a term like this really helping? What does putting “sapiosexual” on a dating profile really say about what we’re projecting online, what we’re hoping to attract, and what types of dating scenarios and relationships we’re potentially creating?

I e-mailed a few sapio questions to Jill P. Weber, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C. and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy-Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. She also writes relationship blogs for Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

ATTN: What are your first impressions of sapiosexual and its meaning?

Dr. Jill P. Weber: I think the term “sapiosexual” is similar to “pansexual’ and “demisexual.” I’m hearing more and more of these nuanced labels that people use to describe themselves in an effort to find the right match -- perhaps with the idea that if they get the “right” label, it will be easier to find love and avoid relational rejection.

Why do you think sapiosexual has become a popular word?

JW: These words give nuance to a personality and help people feel less overwhelmed by the dating world so they can specifically focus on what they truly want from a partner.

Do you ever see intelligence being frowned upon in dating?

JW: Intelligence is typically valued in dating, but I think with online dating sites, people become overwhelmed by the multitude of options at their 24/7 disposal. People are spending more time getting to know people over the Internet or social media. These terms offer a way to separate people they may be interested in from the masses.

Is intelligence valued differently in different age groups?

JW: Certainly as people become more serious about long-term commitment or marriage, they tend to think about intelligence or achievement as positive indictors of relational success. Intelligent men and women want to feel challenged when it comes to their romantic partners. Intelligence attracts intelligence.

Does using sapiosexual in a profile make someone more attractive?

JW: Not necessarily. It’s kind of like going to a restaurant and asking if they have food. It’s a given for most people that traits like a sense of humor, intelligence, and a good personality are valuable, highly desired characteristics in a potential mate. Highlighting only intelligence with the term sapiosexual may bring a flock of folks who see themselves as highly intelligent, but simply turn out to be arrogant or have an overly inflated idea of themselves.

Is there something about online dating that dumbs us down or hurts our chances of intimacy?

JW: Yes, absolutely. Intimacy is real-to-life interaction on a consistent basis. It’s those spontaneous moments of shared humor or stimulating conversation or feeling deeply understood that promote intimacy. Terms like “sapiosexual” may be an attempt to find this, but in reality may bring a manufactured, phony kind of intimacy to the relationship or date. I’m imagining two people who both want a sapiosexual sitting down to meet thinking, “OK, I think I’m smart and she thinks she’s smart. Now what?”

What role do you think gender plays in all of this [regardless of sexual orientation]?

JW: Traditionally, women have put greater value on intelligence because of the evolutionary idea of a male breadwinner needing to be smart and powerful. I think nowadays, women and men both want intelligence. Men no longer feel they are somehow less if they date a smart woman -- in fact they often feel proud when dating successful, intelligent women. I think people in general, men and women who have less confidence socially or with dating, may be more likely to use rigid labels in hopes of getting what they want.

The truth is one personality characteristic does not bring about true intimacy. There is no substitute for merely putting yourself out there in real-to-life encounters.