What is Intellectual Attraction Anyways? in Five Options

This is post two in a series on intellectual attraction. Post one was “An Introduction to Thinking About Intellectual Attraction” and covered why I’m motivated to think about intellectual attraction and the multiplicity framework I will be using to write about intellectual attraction for the series.

There are many different ways that intellectual attraction is defined and understood. This post will cover five of the definitions that I have come across. Recall that since we are thinking of intellectual attraction as a multiplicity, these definitions should not be understood as what intellectual attraction IS. Instead, intellectual attraction is number one AND number two AND number three AND number four AND number five; intellectual attraction is all of these definitions (and more) because it is a social construction in the process of becoming.

The five definitions we will be working with are:

  • a desire to interact mentally with the object of your intellectual attraction
  • the first step to another form of attraction
  • an attraction to someone’s brain and the rest of their body matters less or not at all
  • an attraction to someone’s brain that is connected to gender
  • a necessity for attraction and not just a preference

These definitions have been gleaned from browsing forum discussions, blog posts, and information websites wherein they are both explicitly stated and implied by how people use the term. I have chosen these sources and this casual method because I am interested in answering, how is intellectual attraction being mobilized as a term?

1) Intellectual attraction is: a desire to interact mentally with the object of your intellectual attraction.

“I guess that intellectual attraction can best be described as the desire to interact intellectually with a person, just as emotional attraction could be described as the desire to interact emotionally with someone (through discussion of feelings etc.), and sexual attraction is the desire to interact with someone sexually… Someone who is intellectually attractive will stimulate activity in one major organ of your body, while someone sexually attractive will stimulate activity in an entirely different organ.” – Brighteyes on AVEN forum 

Descriptions of intellectual attraction that fall under definition one isolate intellectual attraction to the brain. Your brain wants more interaction with the brains of people that you are intellectually attracted to.

The interaction can take the form of ‘picking someone’s brain,’  ‘wanting to play with ideas with them,’ having your own thinking being stimulated by thinking with them, or wanting to get inside their head. Recall from post one in the series that Monami in issue 7 of AVENues described this as feeling ‘love’ for someone in your head, wanting to know them deeply, and getting inspiration from them. In another example, AVEN user Rob Peterson’s allosexual friends refer to intense intellectual debates as ‘mental sex’ with ‘mental orgasms’. The quality that all of these examples share is that the attraction comes from, and is isolated to, the mind.

Note that in definition one intellectual attraction and intellectual desire are linked; as soon as you’re attracted it’s assumed you also automatically have desire. When you find someone you’re ‘into’ you immediately want to do ‘stuff’ with them. In this case the stuff is have mental interaction. This assumption sets off lots of red flags in my head. A large portion of my Masters research is focused on debunking the assumption that sexual attraction and sexual desire are naturally linked or that it’s preferable when they are. I’m immediately sceptical of the assertion that another form of attraction and desire are linked. Sure, they probably are for some people, but assuming they are or should be all the time causes all sorts of problems for people who experience one without the other.

The Ace Theist’s post “Differentiating Sexual Attraction and Sexual Desire” is one of my personal must-reads on this topic. For Acetheist, desire is an intent or interest. “This feeling can occur with or without being stimulated by thoughts of any particular person.” Attraction is an “involuntary, internal impulse to initiate physical contact with a specific target of interest.” If you experienced intellectual attraction the impulse would be to initiate mental contact. The simple terms I break it down to are desire = intent and attraction = feeling. You can have both, none, or just one.

A definition of intellectual attraction that assumes intellectual desire is problematic because it erases some experiences while prioritizing others. If you experience intellectual attraction without intellectual desire, or intellectual desire without intellectual attraction, you are rendered incomprehensible. That being said, I retain definition one because people continue to use or imply definitions of intellectual attraction that fit into it and this post is about how the term is being mobilized.

2. Intellectual attraction is: the first step to another form of attraction.

You’ll notice that definition two isn’t practically useful as is, but we’re working with it in contrast to definition one and so it makes sense to separate them because they refer to contradictory phenomena.

In definition one you are attracted to someone’s mind and you desire more interaction with their mind. In definition two you are probably attracted to someone’s mind and then you experience another form of attraction for that person. I write probably because the focus is not really on intellectual attraction.

In definition one the focus is on what happens ‘first’ (intellectual attraction) because that’s all that happens. In definition two the focus is on the connection between what happens first and what happens second because intellectual attraction is the lead up to another form of attraction.

The second form of attraction varies. For Kit, it’s usually romantic attraction and can be sexual attraction if the original intellectual attraction is a turn on for you. This is where sapioromantic and sapiosexual come in – these labels indicate that intellectual attraction turns into romantic and sexual attraction respectively. For ghostwriter, the second form of attraction is platonic because you want to be their best friend.

Another major difference between definition one and definition two is the aim – what do you want to do? In definition one mentally interacting with the object of your attraction is satisfying. In definition two you probably start off with mental interaction, but you’re not satisfied until the aim of the second attraction is met. For example, if the second attraction is platonic, the attraction would be satisfied by being friends.

3. Intellectual attraction is: an attraction to someone’s brain and the rest of their body matters less or not at all.

“their particular intelligence is what made you attracted to them specifically, and if their ‘brain’ was moved to any other body (aesthetically attractive or not for you) you would be romantically attracted anyway because THAT is the main reason you are attracted to them. It wouldn’t matter if you would find them physically repulsive, you still couldn’t stop from being romantically attracted to their intelligence.” – Ithaca on AVEN forums 

“what it meant for me is that I do not care what gender the person is, nor do I care how they look, rather I’m solely attracted to people based on what’s between their ears.” – qwair on AVEN forum 

Definition three raises a lot of questions for me. I first assumed that definitions one and three automatically synched up, as in most people didn’t care about a person’s body other than their brain because they only wanted to have mental interactions with them. This doesn’t seem to be the case because most people using definition three are also using definition two, as in they are writing about sapioromantic and sapiosexual people. This is clear in quotation one where Ithaca refers to experiencing romantic attraction to people whose brain you like. As in definition two, the end aim goal is not mental interaction.

From here I suggest that the people intended by this definition have a romantic and/or sexual attraction that already doesn’t recognize gender* as a determining factor.

Alternatively, gender could be a determining factor for their sexual and romantic attraction, but not for their intellectual attraction, and the two kinds of attraction are experienced separately, allowing the person to experience intellectual attraction regardless of a person’s body, but they don’t necessarily experience the second kind of attraction unless they fit the right gender criteria. This option reflects an understanding that forms of attraction do not automatically synch up. For example, a person could be heterosexual panromantic. Gender might not matter to them for romance, but it is restricted for a sexual relationship.

Note that in definition three there are degrees about how little a person’s body matters. As inktree and timetopretend have expressed on the AVEN forums, intelligence or how a person’s brain functions is the only factor that determines attraction for them. Nothing else matters. Similarly, Silver theorizes that “biological sex shouldn’t matter for sapio- people.” Qwair is “solely attracted to people based on what’s between their ears,” but also says that other allosexual people are ‘less extreme,’ even as they prioritize personality over appearance. In effect, the rest of a person’s body matters less.

4. Intellectual attraction is: an attraction to someone’s brain that is connected to gender.

“Sapioromantics may have a preference for the same sex, the opposite sex, both or neither/disregard gender completely. As such, they may hyphenate their romantic orientation to say, homo-sapioromantic or bi-sapioromantic.” – JR Harrison on Asexual News 

Definition four is the antithesis of definition three; definition three assumes gender is irrelevant/barely relevant and definition four says yes gender matters a lot! Even if it doesn’t matter for some people that might be because they in particular could be pan-sapioromantic and not because everyone automatically is.

In the quote from JR Harrison we’re looking at romantic attraction, but hypothetically we could also be looking at sexual attraction or just intellectual attraction on its own. For example, I have a friend who is intellectually attracted to me and it matters that he perceives me as a ‘girl.’ I am agender, but he doesn’t know that (coming out is exhausting! Sometimes I don’t bother). This friend has said that while he also likes another mutual friend of ours who identifies as male, he’s not intellectually attracted to him in the same way, and couldn’t be, because that friend is male. He can be intellectually attracted to me in the way that he is because I am ‘female.’

5. Intellectual attraction is: a necessity for attraction and not just a preference.

“And I have a sexual attraction to people SOLELY because they are intelligent (or knowledgeable, or whatever, they talk smart things). They could be hideous. Or same gender. Or other gender. Or anything really. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House, Artemis Fowl, Sheldon Cooper. I would sleep with any of those people in a heartbeat just because they are smart. I’ve never met someone whose SOLE sexual attraction was blond, or blue eyes, or a large bust, etc, etc.” – EruditeVolatility on AVEN forum 

There is a difference between preferring people who are ‘smart’** and only being capable of being attracted to people intellectually. If you prefer smart people you’d write on your dating or social networking profile that you like smart people. If you met someone that was attractive to you in another way, you could still be attracted to them. You only prefer that they are ‘smart’ and you are more likely to be romantically or sexually attracted to ‘smart’ people. Again we are talking about definition two, where intellectual attraction leads to something else. Definition five means that no matter how beautiful, sexy, or whatever, someone was, you could not be intellectually, sexually, or romantically attracted to them if they weren’t intellectually attractive to you. Being intellectually attracted is absolutely necessary. There is no way to get around it. As SgtSalt wrote, “sapioromantic/sapiosexual means you are romantically or sexually attracted to someone only if they’re intelligent. That’s as much as a preference as being sexually attracted to people of a certain sex is.”

The reason this definition is so important is because it legitimizes sapioromanticism and sapiosexuality as orientations, if that’s what we want to do. As timetopretend wrote on AVEN, “I think the sapioromantic/sexual labels are real orientations but maybe I think it’s overused because obviously so many people are going to say they like intelligence in a person and that kind of makes it more of a personal preference.” Definition five excludes people for whom intellectual attraction is just a preference.

Where does definition five leave people for whom intellectual attraction is a primary form of attraction and not connected to anything else? As in, people that might fit into definition one. That’s difficult to answer because definition five often mobilizes around sapio- orientations and there isn’t an orientation associated with wanting to interact mentally with people (as far as I know). The boundary markers that would make this question simple to answer aren’t in place.

No one seems to be interested in claiming that people can only interact mentally if they are intellectually attracted. It is not just a preference! This seems like an unusual statement to make, perhaps because sexual and romantic interactions are understood as having a level of legitimate intimacy that intellectual attractions do not. I bring this up because if intellectual attraction is a primary form of attraction for someone, and they experience intellectual attraction in isolation like in definition one, intellectual interactions could be a lot more intimate and important to them than sexual or romantic ones. If this is an important activity, and some partners just don’t cut it because attraction happens to be necessary for you, how do you find or even explain the types of partners that do work for you? This is a lot of theoretical play but I bring it up because I wonder, as someone who sort of falls into definition one, does definition five do anything for or to me? If this is how people understand intellectual attraction, does it make me illegible, nonexistent, or does it include me? I don’t know.


These five definitions of interaction encompass all of the ways that I have seen intellectual attraction mobilized so far. I find them theoretically fascinating because definitions 1 and 2 are contradictory and definitions 3 and 4 are contradictory. Definition 5 is kind of there and should be able to work in conjunction with any and/or all of the others, but that’s not how it’s being mobilized. That being said, intellectual attraction is often used as a term as if these complications do not exist. Thus, it functions as a social construction that means all of the above simultaneously, more than the above, and even more in the future. The definitions are likely to expand, not contract (unless we get a lot of boundary work going on, but even then, theoretically they’ll contract while practically they’ll expand).

The next post in this series will cover what intelligence means in the term intellectual attraction.

Potential questions for the comments: how do you define intellectual attraction? do you use any of the above definitions? have you heard other ones I’ve missed?

* When I write gender I am also implying sex and vice versa. I use these terms interchangeably in this article. I ascribe to Judith Butler’s idea that sex and gender are both social constructions because we can only ever know anything through our perceptions that are already always influenced by culture and other social factors.

** In posts three and four of the series I will be deconstructing the term ‘smart’ by looking at its association with objective ideas of intelligence, classism, and ableism. Until then I will be using scare quotes around the term ‘smart’ to encourage critically thinking about its place in our discussion and what it does.

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing Blizzard video games and writing fiction. They are working on a PhD in Environmental Studies where they think a lot about oppression as intersectional and impacting identities differentially. Talia has a particular fondness for asexuality, fandom, and Critical Animal Studies. Their personal blog is petuniaparty.tumblr.com
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7 Responses to What is Intellectual Attraction Anyways? in Five Options

  1. Pingback: An Introduction to Thinking About Intellectual Attraction | The Asexual Agenda

  2. Miriam Joy says:

    I guess I’d probably use the first definition if describing my own experiences of what could be called intellectual attraction. I admire a lot of deeply intelligent people and would very much like to meet them in order to talk about their areas of expertise. Some of them are, also, quite attractive people, I think — they have nice faces. But even if that’s why I heard about them in the first place, because they were popular, that isn’t what draws me to them. Moreover my interest in meeting them is motivated by the prospect of exchanging ideas. I’d like to be friends, if such a thing was possible, because that allows more ideas to be exchanged and more conversations to be had, but I’m not interested in a romantic relationship with them or whatever.

  3. acetheist says:

    “A definition of intellectual attraction that assumes intellectual desire is problematic because it erases some experiences while prioritizing others. If you experience intellectual attraction without intellectual desire, or intellectual desire without intellectual attraction, you are rendered incomprehensible.”

    I’m glad you put this in, because when you first described your experiences with intellectual attraction/the impulses it creates, I thought, well, I like to do that stuff too — picking people’s brains, questioning their word choice — but that’s just something I like to do in general, rather than being about an attraction to a specific person. So it looks I’m someone who doesn’t experience this particular attraction type, even if the end result is the same behavior.

  4. emhjorth says:

    Thank you for this very interesting post. My first instinct when I hear the term ‘intellectual attraction’ is to use definition one – I can definitely recognize the desire to interact mentally with someone/something, but you have a good point about differentiating between attraction and desire. I’ll have to spend some time mulling over where the line goes between the two for me personally.
    Something that may be interesting to note, however, is the fact that this definition allows one to be intellectually attracted to objects that aren’t people. This too is something I definitely recognize from my own life – I can have the urge to pick a person’s mind just as much as I can have the urge to read an interesting book or consider an intersting thought experiment. And I think this is a great advantage for this definition, because it allows for a broader understanding and acceptance of attraction in general. If we accept that people can be intellectually attracted to things other than people, it will also be easier to accept that people can be, say, sexually attracted to things other than people – which is definitely a thing that also happens in real life.

  5. Mxtrmeike13 says:

    Definitely made a video about this for youtube…will have to post it here when I get the chance.

  6. I agree with 1-3 and am starting to feel like five applies as well. I have found that if I meet a person who is initially unattractive to me but they are smart and/or I like them intellectually it usually leads to sexual attraction. Age, race, and gender tend to not matter if I find them truly intellectually stimulating. It starts as wanting to interact with them mentally, having discussions and debates, then I often find I want to be friends with them, and in some cases I am physically turned on. It makes studying for organic chemistry a little hard. As I said I believe 5 is starting to apply more because in dating if I don’t find that mental attraction I can not proceed to a relationship, especially a sexual one. I find people physically attractive and there are bodies I like to look at, but engaging in physical activities is unsatisfying when the mental attraction does not exist.

    Lovely article, very informative and I can’t wait to read more!

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