Sex Ed

Sapiosexuality: When Intelligence Is A Sexual Turn-On

January 31, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

In popular culture, a sapiosexual or sapiophile is someone who thinks that high intelligence is sexually attractive. It’s not just that these individuals think it would be desirable to have a partner with a high IQ, though; rather, these people are actually sexually aroused by high levels of intelligence in another person.

Although the concept of sapiosexuality has proved quite popular and much has been said and written about it in the media, it has been the subject of very little scientific study–until now, that is. A new study published in the journal Intelligence offers the first empirical evidence that sapiosexuality does indeed exist; however, the results suggest that it isn’t particularly common.

This study is the subject of a column I wrote for VICE. As part of this study, nearly 400 adults were given a newly-developed sapiosexuality questionnaire that included the following eight statements:

1. A physically attractive person with only average intelligence is a turn off for me.
2. Listening to someone speak very intelligently arouses me sexually.
3. My preference for a mate is someone with average intelligence.
4. A very high level of intelligence alone is enough for me to be attracted to someone sexually.
5. I cannot imagine myself in a sexual relationship with someone who works in a very intellectually demanding job.
6. I would likely feel sexually attracted to someone significantly more intelligent than me.
7. I could potentially feel sexually attracted to someone significantly less intelligent than me.
8. It would excite me sexually to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with a potential partner.
9. A very high level of intelligence in a partner is necessary for me to be attracted to them sexually.

Each statement was rated on a 1-5 scale, where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 means strongly agree (note that statements 3, 5, and 7 are reverse-scored).

What the researchers found was that sapiosexuality scores were almost perfectly normally distributed (i.e., they followed a bell curve). This means that most people scored near the middle, with far fewer scoring on the extreme ends. In other words, true sapiosexuals, or persons with average scores close to 5, were relatively few and far between. Specifically, 8% of participants scored above a 4, while just 1% scored above a 4.5.

Interestingly, a similarly small proportion fell at the other extreme end of the scale, suggesting that some people find high intelligence to be a real turn-off. This suggests that an opposite of sapiosexuality exists, too—something that would be interesting to study in its own right.

I should mention that validating the concept of sapiosexuality was just one part of this study. The researchers also looked more generally at the role of intelligence in attraction and whether there’s an optimal IQ level that we’re most attracted to. These results were also really interesting, and you can learn more about them by checking out the full article over at VICE.

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To learn more about this research, see: Gignac, G. E., Darbyshire, J., & Ooi, M. (2018). Some people are attracted sexually to intelligence: A psychometric evaluation of sapiosexuality. Intelligence, 66, 98-111.

Image Source: 123RF/maryvalery

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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