Can You Be Attracted To Intelligence?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Does it ever seem like you’re drawn to sexual partners for their braininess rather than their physical appearance? Many people who find intelligence to be attractive are embracing the term “sapiosexuality” for this type of attraction. However, since this phenomenon usually isn’t widely understood, many people are uncertain about whether it’s a true sexual identity. The question of your sexual orientation may not be something anyone else can answer for you. Still, there may be some psychological and sociological evidence that intelligence can be an important factor in sexual attraction or relationship interest. It can be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist if you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of your own sexuality.

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Is intelligence attractive?

You’ve probably encountered cultural stereotypes that paint intelligent people as awkward social outcasts who struggle to attract sexual partners. Is there any truth to this stereotype, though?

The research on this question tends to be somewhat mixed. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that beautiful people are less intelligent. In fact, researchers have found that physical attractiveness often seems to be positively correlated with high IQ, though it’s not necessarily a strong link.

On the other hand, there does seem to be some evidence that young people who score highly on intelligence tests may also be less likely to engage in romantic or sexual activity. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that higher intelligence in teens often predicted less sex. However, this might have less to do with their ability to attract partners and more to do with their awareness of the possible emotional, relational, and physical risks of engaging in sexual activity at a young age.

Studies in adults usually suggest that intelligence in a sexual partner is something most people value. Researchers asked adults to rank the attractiveness of potential partners based on IQ. They found that people usually rated an IQ of 120 — which is generally higher than 90% of the population — as the most attractive.

However, participants typically reported less interest in people with an even higher IQ of 135. This suggests that there may be an upper limit to how intelligent the average person wants their romantic partner to be. This could be related to cultural notions about extremely high intelligence being associated with poor social skills. It could also mean that some people worry that if their partner’s intellectual capacity is too far above their own, it may be difficult to relate to them.

Are some people sapiosexuals?

The researchers conducting the study described above also gave people what they called a “Sapiosexuality Questionnaire” designed to assess how attractive they found intelligent people. They identified a population of roughly 1-8% of participants who scored substantially higher than normal. The results suggest that some individuals may care much more about intelligence in sexual and romantic partners than average.

Some of these individuals indicated that a partner’s perceived brilliance, more than any other factor, could induce sexual arousal. Those who fall into this group may identify as sapiosexual, a term believed to have been derived from the Latin word “sapiens,” meaning “wise.” They may claim that their sexual attraction toward another person is based mainly on how smart that person is, rather than on characteristics like gender or physical appearance. 

Some people may argue that it doesn’t make sense to classify sapiosexuality as a sexual orientation like homosexuality or heterosexuality. They may instead view the term as a way of describing qualities that someone finds attractive in a partner, rather than a distinct category of sexuality.

Certain researchers believe that it may make more sense to describe sapiosexuality as an identity rather than an orientation. After all, many people who describe themselves as sapiosexual may also identify as homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or pansexual. 

Yet the idea of sapiosexuality may help some individuals define an important aspect of their emotional and sexual lives. It may be a way of expressing the idea that an intellectual connection can be an indispensable part of their chemistry with other people. This might be similar to the way that demisexual people typically require a deep emotional bond in order to feel sexual attraction. 

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Could you be attracted to intelligence?

How do you know if you’re a sapiosexual? This can be a tough question to answer. The American Psychological Association doesn’t currently offer a definition for the term, and it’s not always easy to get any two people to agree on what they mean by it. Ultimately, you may have to decide for yourself whether identifying as a sapiosexual is meaningful and helpful for you.

That said, there are certain characteristics that frequently seem to come up when people talk about their sapiosexuality. Do any of the following apply to you?

You’re not interested in someone until you know how they think

Many people who identify as sapiosexual find that they can’t be erotically attracted to others unless their minds are engaged. They may interact with someone for a while without feeling any particular desire for them until the conversation sparks their curiosity or forces them to think in a different way. Some may report that they must get to know people fairly well and get a sense of how their minds work before any sexual connection is possible.

You find learning sexy

Have you ever been so impressed by another person’s knowledge of complex or obscure subjects that you found yourself wanting to pursue them sexually? Individuals who consider themselves sapiosexuals often report that the thing that first gets them interested in another person is realizing how much they can learn from them. 

Deep conversation is a turn-on

Some people who say they’re attracted to intelligence mention that intellectual discussions can be a form of foreplay for them. Their libido may be sparked by the exchange of ideas, so a fierce debate with a partner about an interesting subject might be a precursor to sex. In some cases, this might have more to do with the physical excitement and strong emotions that can be stirred up by a passionate argument.

Looks don't matter if someone excites your mind

A common factor among many people who identify with sapiosexuality may be that they don’t care whether someone is attractive in the conventional sense. They may feel little interest in good-looking people who seem shallow or uncurious. At the same time, they might be drawn to highly intelligent people whom others might consider unattractive. For some, a prospective partner’s gender might not matter, only their mental qualities.

What does intelligence mean for a sapiosexual?

One reason that some people can be skeptical about sapiosexuality is that “smart” may mean different things to different people. Just because someone says they’re attracted to intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean they want to date a professor of theoretical physics or a member of MENSA.

For instance, some sapiosexual individuals mention qualities like “curiosity” or “a love of learning” as extremely erotic. While these factors may help with intellectual achievement and may even be correlated with IQ, researchers usually regard them as separate personality traits. The same could be said of traits like curiosity, playfulness, and openness to new experiences, which are often prized by many people who consider themselves sapiosexuals.

It may also be worth noting that many psychologists don’t consider intelligence to be a single trait. Some theories posit that there could be as many as eight different categories of intelligence, and individuals who are above average in certain areas may be lacking in others. 

The kinds of intelligence that typically attract people who identify as sapiosexual may not be limited to logical, mathematical, or linguistic ability. One example may be that many people who say they’re sapiosexual mention their attraction to people with high emotional or interpersonal intelligence, which can be defined as the ability to understand and empathize with the thoughts and feelings of others. This may be a valid type of intelligence, but it doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical image of a brainiac.

Another important distinction can be between education and intelligence. People who say that they’re sapiosexual are often less interested in what a prospective partner knows than in their ability to learn. Being attracted to intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean pursuing people with advanced degrees.

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Therapy may help you clarify your sexuality

If you’re attracted to intelligence and wondering what that says about your sexual orientation, you might find it helpful to discuss it with a therapist. Psychotherapy may be able to help you process the often-complex feelings that accompany questions of sex and personal identity, potentially making it easier to understand what you’re seeking in a partner.

Some people may have difficulty feeling comfortable discussing their sexual preferences with a therapist. Remote, online therapy might help in that situation. The greater sense of distance and control can sometimes make it easier to feel safe opening up. In addition, the option to speak with a therapist via video call, phone call, or online chat may offer additional comfort. 

Studies indicate that online therapy is generally no less effective than traditional therapy, despite the absence of face-to-face contact. One research review evaluated 92 studies including more than 9700 participants and found that both online and in-person counseling appeared to be equally effective. This usually held true for a wide variety of psychological difficulties and mental health challenges.

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Takeaway

Intelligence can be an attractive quality for many people, and research indicates that it may be among the most important factors in romantic interest for some proportion of the population. People drawn to partners they perceive as smart may identify as sapiosexual, though the precise meaning of this term may vary from person to person. Different kinds of intelligence, such as emotional sensitivity or creative prowess, may be particularly attractive to different people. If you’re having a hard time understanding your sexuality, talking it through with a therapist in person or online can be helpful.
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