E&M looks into the idea of sapiosexuality. If you have never heard the term, this article is for you. If you have, it’s also for you.


According to the Cambridge dictionary, sapiosexual is an adjective used to describe ‘a person who is sexually attracted to intelligent people.’ The term, unknown to many of us, recently made the news when Marlène Schiappa, the French Secretary of Equality between men and women, declared she was a sapiosexual.


Well, there is little to go on here.
But let’s start with Wikipedia, which rightly states that the term comes from the Latin sapio, which means ‘I understand’ (and which you may recognise from the term used to define our species: Homo Sapiens). Wikipedia also states that sapiosexuality first gained mainstream attention when dating website OkCupid added it a sexual orientation to chose from, that women are more likely to identify as sapiosexual than men, and that it’s most common among people aged 31-40.

This New York Times article also explains that it is not a sexual orientation but rather an identity, which helps people stating their preferences when it comes to activities and character traits that turn them on. However, the introduction of this term in the mainstream also came with a backlash: many people find it pretentious, or even offensive as it may promote a single fixed idea of intelligence.


To better make sense of all of this, E&M went to ask around and collect some reactions and insights from passers by around cafés, offices and other places in Europe we like to hang out at.

To some we asked: ‘Do you know sapiosexual means?’ and to others: ‘What do you think about sapiosexuality?’ Below is a little anthology of what we heard, you’ll see we are kinda running in circles here.

We all are a little sapio.

A German E&M Sex editor

We all are a little sapio, or like admire people who are intelligent; and sapiosexual if applied rigidly also means it goes beyond gender and sex preferences right? And that’s crazy but exciting!

An American criminologist

What is it?
[After a short explanation:] I half get it, I also half identify. I get attracted by emotions and that’s often associated with brains but it’s a combo and looks still count. Also, isn’t it like justifying that you don’t want to get with the hottest guys? As if sexuality was only about the ‘2 second glimpse at someone.’ Sexual attraction for me rarely comes instantly, it’s only when I get access to the brain that I get attracted. But that won’t happen just if I find a guy smart, he also has to be charming (according to my standards).

It’s a thing people write on Tinder when they want to look less superficial.

An Austrian fundraiser

I think it’s a thing people write on Tinder when they want to look less superficial. It’s bullshit.

A German lobbyist

[After a very basic explanation:] so like you and me?
(For context, the German lobbyist in question is dating the editor who asked him)

A French E&M Sex editor

Honestly, I don’t know what to think about it. On the one hand, looks are definitely not enough to get me attracted to someone. And to be honest, ‘smart’, ‘intellectual’ or even ‘brainy’ are words I have used when describing what I look for in a partner.
But does that mean I am sapiosexual? I don’t think so, partly because I don’t fully get it, and mostly because I don’t want yet another box to put myself into. And I do understand the criticism: does that mean that someone with mental health issues is immediately out of your attraction orbit because they think in different ways?

Oh so I’m sapiosexual for sure!

A Nigerian writer and photographer:

Oh so I’m sapiosexual for sure! Which is why I think I have no physical type.
I don’t know how it’s strictly defined but for me listening to someone talk about a subject (the more specific and niche the better) with passion and confidence is the biggest turn on. I find the biggest turn off to be when people don’t have an opinion on much. So even when they might not know a topic in depth, I still find it attractive if they’re curious and inquisitive about it.

A Chinese working in purchasing

1. Sapio-sexuality can be a type of narcissist self-reflection.

“I am attracted to intelligent people“, which can also be interpreted as “His/Her intelligence has been approved by me – the only qualified person who is intelligent enough to define what can be called smart.”

2. It is just another beautified name of “spouse selection criteria”

A Swedish journalist

I think it is such a bullshit term. I see it sometimes on dating apps and I’m like: nope!

A German chef in a restaurant

My anaconda don’t want none unless you got brains, hun.
That’s the gist of it right? Which is fair enough, but why make a whole sexuality out of it. People who are into asses don’t have their own little group, they’re just into asses and get on with life (ok, and sometimes write songs about it).
I suspect people who call themselves sapio-sexual want to set themselves apart from their primal urges. Be above it all. I imagine a sapio-sexual as someone who puts their language class certificate level A1 up on the living room wall.
But I don’t buy it, to be honest. Physical attraction is a thing with everybody I’ve met in my live so far, you ain’t special.
Also, us dumb people can be tender and caring lovers.

An Australian neurologist

Haha oh my god I have no idea what that means!
[After a vshort explanation:] Oh! I’m all about that… I just thought the term was ‘braincrush’.

Brains are the new boobs!

A German project manager in an agency

Brains are the new boobs!
Don‘t we all remember a moment, we met someone completely unattractive to us, who dazzled us by witty comments or a well argumented opinion? And being left bewildered by how this seemingly unattractive person became so desirable in the course of one conversation? Transcending gender, too! Men and women both have that effect on me although I am heterosexual.

An intellectual’s stereotypical signifiers (nerdy, academic, interest in complex topics, etc) are a kind of social capital – so I think publicly declaring yourself to be a “sapiosexual” is probably more of a social status thing.

A British PhD student

I’m a little suspicious of the idea. Measuring “intellect” is problematic, so I think what people are really attracted to is not intellect itself, but the idea of being with an “intellectual”. An intellectual’s stereotypical signifiers (nerdy, academic, interest in complex topics, etc) are a kind of social capital – so I think publicly declaring yourself to be a “sapiosexual” is probably more of a social status thing. A sapiosexual, presumably also holds their own intelligence in high regard, so you could argue that there may be an inherent elitism within the concept.

A German working in transportation



Cover Photo: Andrey Klimontov (Flickr); License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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