Just days after I was diagnosed as autistic, I dove into social media and frenetically joined scores of groups for Autistic people.
There was moment after moment of, “Oh, you do that, too?” Or, “Oh, that’s a thing?”
I had truly found my people after a lifetime is being the odd one out who was viewed as willfully eccentric, like I had a pathological need to perform as different in all contexts. It turned out, I was quite relieved to be normal for once, and I absolutely was normal in autistic spaces.
In one group with a little more edge and a little less activism than the dominant culture, a brave conversation about sex started up.
By sex, I mean the act. Intercourse. Doing it. Getting it on. Netflix and chill.
I was eager to commiserate with fellow outcasts about all of those sexual inclinations that other people didn’t get.
First, someone mentioned being grossed out by sounds associated with sex, particularly mouth sounds.
Then someone said they were not usually into it unless a very specific set of circumstances happen first.
At this point, I chimed in. I expected to hear someone say that they understood. After all, I had spent twenty-ish years searching for the sexual encounter in my mind that never quite panned out in reality.
I told them that I couldn’t really be into sex unless there were days of intellectual banter, and that I was turned on by being dominated in words and high pain thresholds for existential suffering.
To clarify that, I am not talking about being turned on by banter about sexual acts. In fact, direct talk about sex is repulsive. I can have my gag reflex activated by someone mentioning what they want to do to “boobs.”
So graceless. It translates as the promise of a slimy assault with juvenile slang to describe genitals and actions.
I’m turned on by someone with the intellectual pain threshold to have long and invigorating cerebral cage matches with me, or to accompany me on an literary scavenger hunt, until we are both metaphorically broken and cognitively exhausted.
I need someone who can go below the deepest carved layer at the foundation of human knowledge and dig a tunnel. I need someone who can tolerate the altitude sickness of climbing an epistemological mountain with me, to drag me, embattled, through heated rhetorical games and rise to my level of intensity.
I need someone who can draw blood, who will beat me to my knees with their challenges to my morality and my character, and who can admit with a depleted, one-sided grin that I’ve got him in checkmate when that climactic epiphany dawns on me.
I want to be threatened with literary quotes that serve as metaphors for the sexual malice that is to come– whether or not it actually happens. I want this game to go on for days or weeks until my knees are like rubber and my hunger is irascible.
I want to be sent to the dictionary.
I love a man with a big diction.
I want to be schooled in the fine art of anything that is truly interesting that has nothing to do with sports or celebrities or mainstream anything. Knowledge of black holes and theoretical or metaphorical conjecture about their significance is a requisite.
I want to defer to the wisdom of someone who has put in thousands of hours on a topic that is totally impractical for its degree of obscurity but has practical life application that is complementary with my oddly specialized knowledge.
I want someone to remember that clever thing I said weeks ago and then quote me on it, verbatim, and to respond with that clever thing he said weeks ago, in another context, and quote him verbatim. I want him to find that wildly sexy.
I want the crescendo to sex to be an adventure so intellectually stimulating that I’m rendered nonverbal and limp at that perfect bellicose Lord Byron quote whispered in my ear.
But back to the autistic group. I managed to condense the aforementioned into a sentence, and I would learn two new words in the next few minutes.
The first word was sapiosexual.
It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as:
of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or romantic attraction to highly intelligent people
I felt like I’d been seen. I mean, that’s really the only thing that has the capacity to make me feel attracted or to want sex.
Then, a few posts down the line, I learned another new word and would find that not every trip to the dictionary was so provocative. That word was ableism.
Merriam Webster defines ableism as:
discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities
Just about as fast as I had felt seen, I would abandon the concept of sapiosexuality to never be revisited again.
At least, not until I wrote an article detailing the devastating clumsiness of my sex life and saw the commentary about my brain and body left around the internet.
A few people mentioned sapiosexuality. I was a little excited by this because no one jumped on to say that I was discriminating against people with intellectual disability.
That’s not something I’d ever want to do.
I’m not discriminatory in any other areas, and in my head, I don’t really conceive of this psychological foreplay as intelligence so much as intellectual fearlessness. I want someone who can do battle with me in the only realm where I have a little bit of prowess, and I think that is more relative to personality than intellect.
I’m just really turned off by cowardice, and I think most people are too afraid to dive deep enough to risk injury to their fragile illusions. I can’t see someone as sexy after they’ve gone Dunning Kruger and proclaimed to know something they can’t really know.
I don’t want someone who is okay with just accepting common knowledge. I don’t want someone who will dismiss me as if I’m trying to argue when I throw down a challenge. I want someone to see my hubris and feel invigorated by it, to call my bluff or to raise me with their counter challenge.
I want to win sometimes, and have them cede that to me without resenting me for dragging them through all the brutal overthinking that would exhaust a mere mortal.
I want them to think I’m hilarious when I quote some droll line from Flannery O’Conner and to follow it up with an equally glib quote from Ellison.
I want to not be resented as a woman for being what is usually attributed to men. I want my dark humor to be met like a macabre pissing contest with insults alluding to serial killers, warlords, and fictional antiheroes.
I really want to lose these battles.
I Have a Lover Who Doesn’t Exist
Without all that, I’m not capable of feeling sexual attraction. If I get there, it’s only because in my fantasy life I’ve been having this battle for days with a lover who has been in my head for more years than I’m ready to even admit anonymously.
I’ve been with this person for a long time, who was with me before I even knew what sex was. I’ve compared everyone to him and looked for glimpses of him in anyone else I was ever with. He’s not an imaginary friend. I have no illusions.
He’s more like a character in the world I wish existed, or at least the co-conspirator who would temper my big emotions with his love of irreverence and dark truths. He’s the protagonist in the novels I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten years old.
I’ve often wondered if maybe I’m trans, and that this person is me without the resentment and anger at being forced into ballet and Sunday dresses and tights and piano lessons and being “lady like” when I wanted to play drums and do mixed martial arts and be a physicist.
Other musings have led me to leave my rational grounding. Was he a lover from a past life? Was he out there somewhere leading mutinies without me, burning apathetically through lovers? Was I occupying his headspace?
When you’re as different as I am, these thoughts happen. You will inevitably conjecture that you’re not even a human.
Or are most people just really bad at valuing deep thinking and anarchy? Do most people think that love is synonymous with ownership? Am I so desperate for someone who understands that sexuality is a cerebral and sensory expression that requires boundaries and consent with more longevity than the few minutes of actual sex that I had to invent a fictional person to understand myself?
In order to be able to give myself permission to believe I deserved respect, did I have to write novels and invent people who didn’t think that my body and mind belonged to them?
I have also assumed that I’m mostly asexual. My sexual fantasies rarely include sex but are rather provocative.
My fantasy life is anti-social. My notion of public exhibitionism is being attracted to the idea of someone breaking the peace by saying something brutally honest, maybe some form of blasphemy that jars people with its rawness.
I really do fantasize about someone calling out racism or elitism or hypocrisy in such eloquent savagery and with such definitive bravado that people clutch their pearls and collapse onto their fainting couches in dismay and denial.
This is something that I probably associate more with courage or conviction than with intelligence, though. I would appreciate those insurrections from anyone, but I do suppose the sexy factor is increased by a slurry of academic jargon mixed in with creative swears– spoken or written.
I think subversive letters to the editor from socialist professors are porn.
How Sapiosexuality is Defined in Pop Psych
I’m going meta and admitting that I didn’t spend any time reading about Sapiosexuality online until I got to this point of the article.
I guess maybe it is a thing…
In a Psychology Today article by Diana Raab, she explains sapiosexuality beyond the idea of just being attracted to intellect:
Those who admit to being sapiosexual will say that they are turned on by the brain, and tend to be teased or excited by the insights of another person. This means the person whom you are attracted to might have a tendency to have an incisive, inquisitive, and irreverent mind. As foreplay, the sapiosexual person may crave philosophical, political, or psychological discussions, because this turns them on. Although the attraction is not always connected to sexuality, it often is. Sometimes, however, platonic friendships between the sexes are also dependent on sapiosexual desires. This intellectual synergy simply fires up the relationship.
Yeah, about that…
So, someone can be ace (asexual) and sapio? My most lurid relationships never culminated in physical sexual activity. There was always a deep friendship that eventually became something like profound love.
I do have physical traits I find attractive. They’re weird, of course. I like skinny– not just lean. Lanky, like someone who gets so involved in deep dives that they forget to eat. I like long hair, or at least hair that breaks social convention and gives the unintended impression of giving no fucks.
I like clothes with no visible brands or bold colors that look old and suggest the person hates capitalism and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about their choices.
I love facial asymmetry. I can’t resist a crooked grin or that one eye that droops a little after three days of sleepless reverie spent in a rabbit hole. I am attracted to mutism because I know what it means.
None of those things matter very much though. Neither does age (within reason), gender, body type, race, or much of anything physical. I also have no relationship with my own body and see it as foreign to me.
In an article by Mary Retta, she outlines 4 signs of being sapiosexual:
- You are drawn to a potential partner’s intelligence more than looks or personality.
- Intellectual conversations turn you on.
- You need to have an intellectual discussion before sex crosses your mind.
- Intellectual spark is more important to you than even the emotional spark.
This last point kind of shocked me because I had been previously identifying as demisexual. She goes on to explain:
Sapiosexuality is the need to build an intellectual attraction before a sexual attraction will occur, while demisexuality is the need to build an emotional connection before a sexual attraction will occur,” Shane explains. “For a sexual attraction to begin, a sapiosexual person is seeking someone on the same intellectual level they are on, whereas a demisexual person is seeking someone who will share their feelings and emotions.”
Oh hell. Yeah, I’m busted.
I guess I was today years old when I learned I’m not demi. Unless someone’s emotional expression stops at courage and moral outrage, “emotional bonding” reads to me as “beseiging you with their ego-driven insecurities to make themselves the center of your universe.”
That’s just not my thing. I don’t even care about my own emotions.
Is Sapiosexuality a part of the LGBTQ+ Spectrum?
Apparently, this is a source of debate. Much like someone who is ace or demi, a sapiosexual does not face any kind of open discrimination like someone who is trans, gay, or pansexual. They aren’t actively persecuted for their sexuality; however, being so very different in desire and having such vastly different expectations makes finding and staying in a relationship difficult.
Further, someone who is sapio may very well be gay, trans, or pansexual. They may not care at all about the body that houses the mind. They may not even desire physical contact.
Personally, I don’t understand or care about gender. My sexual desires are more about words and the passion that built them than contact. I really don’t even need to interact with someone or know what their gender is to find them attractive.
I don’t imagine someone’s face or body when I think of them. I imagine the challenges and mutinies they’ve put to words. I imagine the fight in their spirit and their rebellions.
Is Sapiosexuality Ableist or Elitist?
That depends. I theorize that my sexuality is directly an extension of the way that I exist as an autistic person who has been called stupid, moron, idiot, and even the R- word slur about as many times as I’ve been called gifted.
Intelligence is in the eye (and biases) of the beholder. It’s a subjective construct.
Intelligence exists, and it’s not measurable by IQ. Anyone can have different types of intelligence. The people I am attracted to are often accused of having no emotional intelligence. They’re not athletes and usually have a list of learning disabilities or mental health diagnoses.
Honestly, I fancy a bit of crazy.
What intelligence means to me is very different from what intelligence means to most people.
I like big words, and I cannot lie.
I like curiosity, daring thinkers, cognitive rule breakers, people who are specialized in some/many fields who have gifts to give to the thankless world. I hate ego but love a bit of earned arrogance.
I think this is called intelligence until someone is diagnosed as autistic, and then it’s just being pedantic, arrogant, rigid, socially inappropriate, or whatever else gets associated with autism.
But sapiosexuality is all that fits the way I experience attraction, love, and desire. I’ve been this way always.
I’m not going to be attracted to someone who engages in groupthink and mob mentality, who cares about physical appearance, who needs social approval to validate their actions and beliefs, who subscribes to any form of dogma, or who feels entitled to talk about subjects they don’t go deep to learn.
These traits are mostly unrelated to test scores or IQ. In fact, the kind of person I would be attracted to would likely fail tests on purpose in defiance of being put inside some socially-constructed cage. They reject the notion of intelligence on principle.
Also, attraction is by nature and exclusionary act. People are generally not attracted to everyone who exists. Stating a preference for a body type, an age range, a race, or even a gender is an act of exclusion. Those preferences are influenced by cultural, social, and personal biases. Sometimes, even stating exclusion is harmful. Sometimes, it’s fetishizing a superficial trait that robs people of their humanity.
For example, claiming be attracted to men but not trans men is harmful and invalidating. It may be true, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with prejudice or cause harm to state it.
If someone only wants to date people of specific ethnicities (different from their own), that means they’re attracted to stereotypes. They’ve reduced complex humans to an ideal based on prejudice. No matter how wrong it is, it’s also not conducive to a healthy, mutual relationship.
Is sapiosexuality a fetish, or is it a harmless recognition of what a person needs to feel relatedness in intimacy?
Personally, without relating to someone who fits this type, I’m very alone. I’m always lonely, even though I’ve never spent any significant span of time without a lover. I struggle with always being on a different page sexually and feel like I have to perform because most people are different from me. It means that I feel like I’m never getting my needs met and that I’m doing what I don’t like to meet my partner’s needs.
I think it would’ve been helpful to understand all of this years ago. I’ve suffered a lot being in the dark and not knowing I was autistic. I have also suffered not understanding how differently attraction worked for me. I’ve suffered quite a bit of sexual abuse. I think most of this suffering was needless, and all this PTSD has wrecked my ability to even be able to relax… ever. I’m always actively suffering, and it’s even wrecking my mental health.
I’m not sure how to answer the question of whether or not sapiosexuality is ableist, but it’s certainly true to me. I don’t think my way of conceiving sapiosexuality is harmful. I don’t think my way of conceiving autism is harmful. But everything I do has to be filtered through the knowledge that I have to account for everyone’s biases and then consider how I am likely to end up someone’s bigoted example of confirmation bias.
If someone fields lovers based on a pretentious mainstream fetish of intelligence, who likes the curated social media persona of a coffee shop revolutionary quoting Neitchze and publicly amassing a resume of showy credentials, then it’s a fetish.
That’s all gross to me.
Neitchze was a pontificating poser who tried to intellectualize the most ardent acolytes of the status quo as the existential high ground.
I’m much more attracted to altruistic anarchy. How can I separate my needs and my truth from people who think eugenics is acceptable? The people I am attracted to are the inconvenient and uncomfortable truths that bigots want to erase from the gene pool.
Is there a sexual orientation for that?