When looking for a potential romantic partner, what qualities are at the top of your list: tall, dark and handsome? Funny? Kind? Owns a house or has a cute dog? Or perhaps you consider intelligence a highly important characteristic
Then take that one step further: intelligence is not just a tick box but the central pillar of what turns you on – in fact, you identify it as your sexual orientation.
The notion of intelligence as a sexual preference was thrown into the spotlight this week after French minister Marlène Schiappa identified in an interview as sapiosexual, that is a person attracted to intelligence rather than face or body.
But is this really a thing? The term was first used in 1998 by a LiveJournal user, wolfieboy, who explained it like this: “I don’t care too much about the plumbing. I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind.” Then in 2014, online dating site OkCupid added sapiosexual to its list of sexual orientations. Today you can even Google a handy ‘sapiosexual’ test to check out if you fit the definition (although we can’t vouch for its scientific soundness).
Unlike other defined sexualities – homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality and asexuality, for example – the term sapiosexual is blurrier in its interpretation. Isn’t it an intersectional term, one that overlaps with other sexualities regardless of who you’re attracted to, rather than defining it? How do you qualify intelligence – surely, like beauty, it lies in the eye (or ear) of the beholder?
Brand consultant Madelaine Hanson tells HuffPost UK that for her intelligence is second only to “not being an axe murderer” in the qualities she looks for in a partner. But despite it mattering so much to her, she doesn’t considers herself a sapiosexual, saying: “I don’t think I’d ever be able to date someone who wasn’t fascinated with the world around them, but I’m bisexual [not sapiosexual].”
Andy Caulfield, dad and author of The Life, Loves & Psyche of a Male Mid-life Crisis, also thinks intelligence is of paramount importance in a potential partner – something he discovered when he broke up with his wife and started dating again in his mid-thirties. “Intelligence is part of the package, but without the physical attraction, chemistry, spark, connection, is not enough alone,” he says.
Caulfield wouldn’t consider himself a sapiosexual either. “I’m not sure anyone could really claim that only one aspect of someone’s personality is paramount,” he says. “Important, yes, but not to the exclusion of all else.” Personal stylist Marian Kwei agrees: “I simply think I’m a heterosexual who is attracted to smart people. I don’t think sapiosexuality is a sexuality.”
While some people see it as only secondary consideration when defining their sexuality, others have pro-actively criticised the term ‘sapiosexual’ for being classist, or ableist, because it relies on conventional notions of intelligence such as qualifications, high grades or an impressive sounding CV. How do we really measure intelligence? What value do we place on emotional IQ – or sharp wit?
Writer Molly Catterall says she is often aware of this struggle to define it. “I feel someone could have what is viewed as a ‘rubbish job’ but be very intelligent with people and the world, and for me that’s important. If they do a job which makes them happy but to the world is not ‘academic’, that’s important. Academic success isn’t the only form of intelligence.”
And Hanson agrees that it’s more about chemistry than whether someone went to university: “Generally how they bounce off you: it’s not about knowing who Proust is or getting a hilarious joke about Latin, it’s a natural ability to question and engage with what you’re talking about.”
Kwei says: “When I meet people there are three things by which I measure their intelligence: the things they talk about, their humour, and their knowledge about things and the world in general.”
Who wants to date someone who is close-minded and unfunny? Publisher Sen Boyaci says that if a person is switched on, intelligence is not important. “As long as they have hobbies and interests, I don’t need my partner to be on the same level as me and I don’t need to have deep and meaningful conversations with them about politics.”