Sapiosexuality refers to sexual attraction based on a person’s intelligence. The label has attracted controversy over the past few years for various reasons.
When singer, songwriter, and music producer extraordinaire, Mark Ronson, identified as sapiosexual in 2019, I admittedly had to look up the word, which would have immediately made me less attractive to a sapiosexual! On a morning TV show in 2019, Mark Ronson described the type of women in whom he was interested. Innocent enough, right? When the presenters bandied about the term sapiosexual, Ronson agreed that the term “resonated” with him.
That incident, unfortunately, blew up around the world. The reaction was not positive. It didn’t take the music producer long to apologize for making that statement. Blown out of proportion, Ronson was an innocent bit-player caught in a larger issue. However, it highlighted the sensitivity around the word, sapiosexuality, and the reasons we view it as controversial.
Reason for Controversy #1: Sapiosexuality Is Not a Sexual Orientation, and It Detracts from the Fight for Equality
The term ‘sapiosexuality’ might seem like just another label to refer to a person’s sexuality. It is not. Sapiosexuality does not link to a person’s gender, unlike other classifications of sexual orientation.
Proponents for sexual and gender equality believe that this is another label that takes away from the fight for equality. Sapiosexuals do not face any discernable levels of discrimination, religious, or otherwise. There are no laws that affect the quality of life of sapiosexuals. They do not have to fight for their right to exist and to have the rights assigned to all people under a country’s constitution.
Some countries (e.g. Singapore, Egypt, Iran, etc.) still ban homosexuality. Legal rights for LGBTQI+ individuals continue to come under attack in many parts of the world. A new generation of populist leaders is also using gender and sexual orientation bias as rallying points in their agendas.
They won’t ban, jail, or execute sapiosexuals for their preferences. This is the reason equality proponents view this label as a lightweight in the broader context of sexuality. It does not mean that it is invalid. It just means that there is a plethora of gender and sexual orientation issues that outrank sapiosexuality’s current importance.
Reason for Controversy #2: Sapiosexuality Is Elitist?
Sapiosexuals are attracted to something intangible, viz. intelligence. This is like being attracted to a person’s sense of humor. Yet the latter preference doesn’t garner the same level of vitriol. We see it as elitist if you’re attracted to someone’s mind. The argument is that it infers that it excludes people with mental disabilities. However, intelligence and mental disabilities are not mutually exclusive.
I reflected on TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory, which features highly intelligent people. Penny and Leonard might seem an unlikely couple. However, I think Penny’s level of intelligence matches that of Leonard’s. They unveil this many times during the show. It’s a case of street smarts vs. book smarts. I’m sure you’ve seen similar pairings in real life. We also never dispute the intelligence of the character Sheldon Cooper, who exhibits behavior typical of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Intelligence is not something reflected in one way. Referring to sapiosexuality as elitist is a misnomer. Sapiosexuality does not only ascribe intelligence to people with formal education or no known mental disabilities. It is society’s assumption that only people with formal education and no known mental disabilities are intelligent, which causes them to view sapiosexuality as elitist.
Reason for Controversy #3: Sapiosexuality Is Just Another Label
Many people view intelligence as just one attraction indicator. It may be a primary attractiveness indicator for sapiosexuals, but it is not the only quality that solidifies a relationship. The argument is that you don’t need a label for this, just as there is no label for a person who is primarily attracted by another’s physical attributes. Like beauty, intelligence is in the eye or mind of the beholder.
In my experience, what attracts you initially might not be what keeps you. If the primary attractiveness indicator is not accompanied by something else that you value, such as kindness or empathy, then it loses its attractiveness. Beauty and intelligence are also not mutually exclusive.
Sapiosexuality might be just another unnecessary label. No one openly admits to finding intelligence unappealing. Yet the label might attach a weight to an attractiveness indicator that is not worthy on its own.
Most people would probably agree that smart is sexy. However, it’s not the only quality that maintains attraction. Sapiosexuality may muddy the waters of sexual identity, mostly because the name infers orientation when it is not. It is no wonder that the label attracts such controversy.