Monday, June 5, 2017

The Hottest Body Part? For a Sapiosexual...

Aboubacar Okeke-Diagne finds internet pornography a little disappointing. The problem is the dialogue: “It seems like a lot of pointless small talk.”
Mr. Okeke-Diagne, 23, who lives in Brooklyn, identifies as sapiosexual. Though definitions vary, the term generally describes people for whom sexual attraction is based on intellect, and not necessarily on looks.
For Mr. Okeke-Diagne, being sapiosexual means intellectual conversation is a key part of dating and sex. While some couples might exchange racy photos or texts, he once sent a woman he was seeing a multipage erotic story he had written that included references to the Julian calendar, the decimal system and global climate change. Writing the story was such a turn-on for him that he tried to find similar erotica online — with little success.
In a society where physical beauty often equates to sex appeal, the idea of sapiosexuality has been quietly gaining traction in recent years. In 2014, “sapiosexual” became one of an expanded list of sexual orientations and identities daters could choose on OkCupid, the online dating app. In March, the CineKink NYC film festival featured “Sapiosexual,” a short film about a young woman named Cass whose attraction to her date increases as he discusses the work of E.M. Forster. As she puts it, “Most people get turned on by rock-hard abs, toned muscles or perfect cheekbones. Not me.”
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With increased visibility has come a backlash: Some say declaring a sexual preference based on intelligence is pretentious, elitist or insulting to people with disabilities.
In 2014, “sapiosexual” became one of an expanded list of sexual orientations and identities available on the online dating app OkCupid. CreditCeleste Sloman for The New York Times
For Jacqueline Cohen, though, the term describes how she has felt since she was a teenager. “I’ve always known that the one thing that gets me very excited and aroused is the intelligence, and sometimes even the mystery around someone’s intelligence,” she said.
That’s what drew Ms. Cohen, who is 52 and lives on the Upper West Side, to her first husband, a magician. “There’s a brilliance that comes with magic and card manipulation,” she said.
On their first date, he levitated for her. But she was most fascinated with tricks that involved mentalism — subtly planting a number or an image in her mind so that he could guess which card she would pick later on (and sometimes hiding it somewhere unexpected, like the refrigerator).
“I called it his magic foreplay,” she said.
She has had relationships she describes as purely sapiosexual, in which there was no sex, just intense conversation. One man was nowhere near her physical type, but the first time they met, he began reciting poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke. “I was so amazed at how fluid the whole conversation was,” she said. “I could feel something happening inside me.”
The next time they saw each other, he took her to an art exhibit and gave her all of Rilke’s books. Since then, Rilke has been one of her favorite poets. In such relationships, she said, “I access my wisdom and love and ability to analyze in this incredible way, and they do, too.”
Darren Stalder, an engineer in Seattle, appears to have coined the term “sapiosexual” in 1998 to describe his own sexuality. “I don’t care too much about the plumbing,” he wrote in a post on the social network LiveJournal in 2002. “I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind. I want someone for whom philosophical discussion is foreplay.”
Sapio, in Latin, means “I discern” or “understand.”
The term started to get more attention in the early 2010s. OkCupid included it among sexual orientation choices in part because “we know our audience swings toward the intellectual side,” said Nick Saretzky, the company’s director of product.
Today about 0.5 percent of OkCupid users identify as sapiosexual. Women are more likely to choose the label than men, and it is most common among users between the ages of 31 and 40. Users who are sapiosexual are more likely than average to say religion is not important to them, and to identify as liberal.
Of course, many people seek an intellectual connection with their partners. But people who identify as sapiosexual often say intellect is the first or most important factor that draws them to another person, according to Debby Herbenick, a sexual health educator and professor of applied health science at the Indiana University School of Public Health.
Teresa Sheffield, 28, a comedian who identifies as sapiosexual. “You just have to have a sense of humor,” she said. “If you don’t, I’ll be as attracted to you as I am to a Border collie.”CreditCeleste Sloman for The New York Times
Scientists consider sapiosexuality less a sexual orientation than an identity, Professor Herbenick said. People who identify as sapiosexual may also identify as gay, straight, bisexual, asexual or something else.
Some people find the term offensive. “‘Sapiosexual’ seems to circulate primarily as a layer of pretension on top of a more traditional sexual identity,” Samantha Allen wrote at The Daily Beast in 2015. She also noted that criticisms of the term are common on Tumblr, which is known for in-depth discussions of sexuality. Users of the site have argued that the term promotes a single, fixed idea of intelligence, and that it encourages discrimination against people who have intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorders or who can’t afford higher education.
The backlash is confusing for Mr. Stalder, 50, who is married and polyamorous. “I’m not making any value judgments about people,” he said.
Identifying as sapiosexual gives him an easy way of telling potential partners why he needs to move slowly. “I need to really get to know somebody intellectually and emotionally before I get to know them physically,” he said.
While some scientists dismiss sapiosexuality and other new terms for sexual identities as the creations of millennials who feel “like they’re special snowflakes,” Professor Herbenick said, the words help people articulate their sexual interests (or lack thereof) and meet others who share them.
Intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean being highly educated, said Teresa Sheffield, 28, a comedian who identifies as sapiosexual.
“What I connect most with and value most as a sapiosexual is emotional intelligence and comedic intelligence,” said Ms. Sheffield, who lives in Manhattan. “You just have to have a sense of humor. If you don’t, I’ll be as attracted to you as I am to a Border collie.”
While good looks are a plus for her, they are not her biggest concern. Men can look like “horrible trolls” for all she cares, as long as they are funny and engaging.
In fact, she finds an emphasis on physical beauty suspect. “The idea that you would place all this value on this thing that is literally deteriorating in front of your eyes,” she said, “it’s so stupid.”