Thanks to a little website called Twitter.com, I often come across people's immediate reactions to news stories before I come across the news stories themselves. Such was the case with music producer Mark Ronson who made headlines for his decision to "come out as sapiosexual."
The outrage, humor and snark raised some important questions: What does it mean to be "sapiosexual," and does it even make sense to say someone who identifies that way has "come out?"
What Does It Mean to Be Sapiosexual?
There aren't a ton of solid resources defining the terms "sapiosexual" or "sapiosexuality." Urban Dictionary credits dating apps like OkCupid for popularizing the term, which it defines as "one who finds the contents of someone else's mind to be their most attractive attribute, above and before their physical characteristics."
"Sapiosexuality is an attraction to someone's brain — their intelligence," says Carol Queen, Ph.D., staff sexologist at San Francisco-based Good Vibrations and author of "The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone.""The term is derived from 'sapient' — also related to 'homo sapiens' — and means wise."
Dr. Emily Morse, Doctor of Human Sexuality and host of the SiriusXM Radio show and podcast, "Sex With Emily," offers a similar definition, explaining that people who identify with the term don't necessarily set specific educational requirements for their dates. "A sapiosexual is someone who is sexually attracted to someone's intelligence, and they prioritize that quality above all others," she says. "It's not just about scholarly debates, but passion and proficiency around a certain subject can do the trick."
In an article for Psychology Today, author Diana Raab, Ph.D., says sapiosexuals are sometimes called "nymphobrainiacs" (get it?) and that "they are basically in love with the mind." Queen takes this a step further, specifying that sapiosexuality is unique in that it doesn't center on other factors that typically characterize attraction. "A sapiosexual might not identify at all with gendered or physical attraction, but rather have a potential partner's mind be the primary turn-on," she says. "Of course, there are lots of ways a person might experience arousal and/or partner interest. We really are not all the same sexually! But many of those varying preferences have to do with looks or else with sexual/erotic acts. Being sapiosexual is pretty different from these, and sheds light on the segment of people who find certain personal qualities more important than a sexy look or a compatible set of sexual interests."
The Cultural Conversation
While sapiosexuality seems to be finding its place in mainstream cultural conversations around sexuality and attraction, many — Twitter users chief among them — seemed confused about websites and blogs making headline news out of Ronson's statement, which actually came as a simple response to prompts from the hosts of ITV's "Good Morning Britain." When author Nichi Hodgson appeared before Ronson, she said, "I have dated men, women, trans men, transwomen and across the gender spectrum and identify now as bisexual. The thing that has linked all these people has been their brains." When Ronson took the stage, he said "I didn't know that there was a word for it ... but yes, I feel like I identify as sapiosexual."
"I'm all for any news story that sheds light on a new way for people to think about attraction," Morse says. "For many this might be an 'aha' moment. Now they know why get turned on by their partner who finishes the 'New York Times' crossword before breakfast."
But what about the way media outlets have labeled Ronson's statements as a way of "coming out" about his sexuality? "I think the language around 'coming out' is misleading because it wasn't like he was repressed by any group prior to his admission of his attraction proclivities," Morse says.
While Hodgson set the stage for Ronson by clarifying that she specifically prioritizes a partner's intelligence over their gender or orientation, Morse says that may not be consistent for all people who identify as sapiosexuals. "Not all sapiosexuals place intellect above gender orientation," she says. "While some use intellect as a qualifier for potential partners, a person can be sapiosexual but still find themselves attracted to only one gender."