We've all known lovers skilled in the bedroom that can't engage in philosophical conversation. Intellectual stimulation does wonders for stirring up intrigue, but how important is a potential mate's intellect to our sexual desire? Great conversations might lead to a midnight foray, but could someone's braininess outweigh other factors, like physical attraction?
Just how important is how smart someone thinks you are?
"I used to feel an intellectual connection was key to sexual desire but I've recently learned that it doesn't have to be," says Rumana, 32, a newly single lawyer living in Brooklyn. "I've gone out a few times with a guy who's not really my 'type.' He's sweet, direct, light, easy. There's almost zero intellectual connection."
Desiree, 30, a professor living in Texas, couldn't disagree more. "Are you kidding? Conversation with a stupid man is like being doused with cold water...way to kill the sexy sparks. Maybe my 20-year-old self would have felt differently but as a grown woman, intellectual stimulation is a must for sexual attraction, period."
This begs the question—what the hell is intelligence, anyway? It's a relative term, much more complex than IQ. We might understand intelligence as the ability to learn, problem-solve and engage in abstract thought, while also communicating and being emotionally present. We express intelligences: artistic, musical, interpersonal or kinesthetic.
Sapiosexual is a term that's been coined to describe people who are most attracted to intelligence.
Both Rumana and Desiree happen to be highly educated professionals with clearly different desires. But we know that street smarts doesn't equal book smarts, right? I love a mix of both. I decided to hit up Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and Chief Scientific Advisor for Chemistry.com. In her annual study, Singles in America, she asked 13 million people—diverse in terms of race, gender, sexuality, geography, socio-economics—what they thought about sharing education levels with a potential mate.
"Education level and intelligence are decidedly different," Says Dr. Fisher. "We asked them, 'How important is having a similar education level?' Only 40% of men said it's very important, compared to 49% of women."
Dr. Fisher admitted that Chemistry.com had never asked a question about how important intellectual stimulation for a person to be attracted to a potential mate or lover. (She has since added this question to the latest questionnaire)
"We've evolved four very broad dials of thinking and behaving linked with hormones: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen. Each correlates to a personality type in a relationship: Explorer, Builder, Director, or Negotiator," says Dr. Fisher.
I took Dr. Fisher's "Why Him, Why Her?" test, to test her theories in action. I've always been drawn to my opposite—steady, logic-driven, musical and quiet—and my long-term partner Joe epitomizes this. I'm a writer and artist. He's a software engineer and musician. We talk about books, tech, music and politics, incessantly. The first night we got together, it happened after seven hours of just talking.
Our difference fuels our attraction. However, I'm a huge traveler, known to take my share of risks, and embrace an eclectic, colorful style. Sometimes I want him to have more pizzazz. He's more regimented around daily routines—shower, coffee, coding, and rocks classic, tailored basics. And sometimes, he just wants me to chill out.
I'm not TOTALLY sold, because the questions are broad enough to apply to most of us...however, there was some truth to the test, I won't lie.
I'm a Negotiator—Explorer (Estrogen-Dopamine); Joe is a Director-Explorer (Testosterone-Estrogen), which my test predicted would be the best match.
"The picture is the bouncer to your profile. It's not that different than when you're in a bar," says OK Cupid co-founder Christian Rudder. "We ran experiments where we take your profile, put it up with all this great text. In terms of how many messages you get, the most important thing is your photo."
Great. We can always count on OKCupid to make us feel FANTASTIC about ourselves.
Says Rudder, "A funny fact—you have the ability to hide answers. And more people hide the brainteaser ones from the public. Have you had an abortion is more public than a brainteaser question."
But Rudder is skeptical of laboratory tests and quizzes like Dr. Fisher's as the sole indicator of connection. "There are all these nuances—it's hard to capture that. Life sorts in its own way."
"To be completely honest there can also be something attractive about the lack of intelligence," admits Jed, 41, a DJ born and raised in New York City. "Especially with someone I find very physically attractive. It's not something I'm proud of, but I think it's a result of the brainwashing men receive…and an archetypal power dynamic that results."
Does a person's age determine how important they think intellectual connections are? Thirty to forty-year-olds deemed their millennial counterparts as less driven by intellectual connections. "I'm not so much into book smart as into being life smart. If I had to choose to hang out with someone who traveled for 10 years or went to school for 10 years, I'd choose the first," says 24-year-old Ra, who met his girlfriend while spending a year abroad in India.
"I do think it's one of those areas—sexuality and relationships—where we actually become dumber," says San Francisco-based sex educator and author Jamye Waxman. "I feel like there's a part of our brain, overwhelmed with the endorphins, the rush—that our intelligence is stunted on some level." But her feelings are mixed about intellectualizing sex. Says Waxman, "Sex becomes work in any relationship at some point. That's when intellectualizing it is really helpful. Sexual intelligence is the survival mechanism of a long-term relationship."
Intellectual connection anchors deeper, more meaningful and sustained relationships. Says Dr. Fisher, "Sex drive evolved to get you out there to find a whole range of partners. If they turn you on for the evening, you can do it with them. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. For romantic love and deep feelings of attachment, intelligence becomes a far more important aspect."
What's necessary to sustain the initial spark, the first night in bed and lust that drives the beginning of a romance, isn't a static reality—it evolves throughout our lives. Just as we experience those exhilarating first moments of attraction, what allows this initial desire to thrive is continually finding our mutual passion, interests and learning to embrace the unexpected. It all multiplies our sex appeal in immeasurable ways.