What Does 'Sapiosexual' Mean?

The heart's wisdom

Update: This word was added in September 2020.

Separating our hearts from our heads—metaphorically—has always been one of the ways we try to explain the difference between love and wisdom. This distinction has been celebrated in poetry and song, sometimes characterizing our emotional side as a “fool” and our logical side as a “wise” person:

Fools rush in
Where wise men never go
But wise men never fall in love
So how are they to know


'Sapiosexual', a term that means “sexually attracted to highly intelligent people," is becoming increasingly popular. That doesn't mean that the phenomenon it describes is new.

But romance and wisdom need not be opposites. The fact that wisdom and knowledge can themselves be attractive qualities for a romantic partner is expressed in the use of sapiosexual, a word that means “sexually attracted to highly intelligent people.” This term is showing up with increasing frequency in personal ads, advice columns, and even on t-shirts used by those who choose to describe themselves and their romantic interests in a way that contrasts sharply with the often superficial, looks-oriented criteria traditionally associated with the beginnings of romance.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about sapiosexual, something that might strike us as modern and open-minded, is that it removes gender identity as well as looks from the equation of romantic attraction:

The remainder, those who selected “other” (9.6%), identified as queer, pansexual, or some other identity relating to the individual separately from the gender, such as “sapiosexual” and “bisensual.”
—Rachel Robbins, Relationship Factors in Polyamorous Women (PhD diss.), 2005

Currently, we still speak of sexual attraction in terms of individuals of some sort (even if in terms such as sapiosexual).
—David Rodemaker, Altsex: The Clinician’s Guide to BDSM (PhD diss.), 2008

If you're more interested in someone's bookshelf than their hot bod or bulging bank account, you might be a sapiosexual.
—Kristin Sollee, Bustle.com, 20 April 2015

There's now even a dating app called Sapio.

Sapiosexual is a hybrid word—that is, a word made up of parts of other words, typically from Latin or Greek. Often these words are recent coinages despite their Classical lineage. Sapio- comes from the Latin verb sapere, meaning “to be wise” or “to have sense.” It is also the root of such English words as sage, savant, savvy, and, most transparently, sapient, a fancy word for “wise.” It’s visible as well in the common Latin name for the human species, Homo sapiens.

Giving new concepts names made from ancient roots conveys a seriousness and specificity that word lovers can appreciate (and maybe share with that special someone).

Words We're Watching talks about words we are increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met our criteria for entry.