recently had a sex dream about Armie Hammer. That may not sound like a revelation, but for those who know me, it’s notably off brand. I don’t usually go for the big-chested, chiselled-jaw, Abercrombie & Fitch model-type. And no, said dream did not occur in the midst of a post-Call Me By Your Name-viewing slumber. My midnight reverie wasn’t in the sensual terracotta hues of 80s Crema or the primal twilight glow of a sweaty outdoor disco that would be prime mise-en-scene for carnal fantasy.
So what in Mr. Hammer had spurred this uncharacteristic arousal? Hours before falling asleep, I had watched the trailer for the new Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, On the Basis of Sex, in which Armie stars as Marty Ginsburg, the charismatic, quick-talking tax lawyer and domestic stalwart husband to Ruth. And there, in the depths of my subconscious, it all came crashing down: the reality of my sapiosexuality. What had turned me on was not the soothing lilt of his deep voice but his reading aloud of case briefs at the breakfast table. The fire in my loins burned hotter hearing him babble legal jargon about gender discrimination than the idea of two of his perfectly sculpted Winklevoss bodies in The Social Network.
Sapiosexuality, which refers to attraction based primarily on intelligence, first entered the collective conscious two years ago, when a dating app listed it as a sexual preference option. It was an addition that solicited widespread accusations of elitism. As Vice reported, “critics of the movement say it’s at best pretentious and at worst discriminatory.”
When I first discovered the metric of my personal law of attraction, I didn’t know there was a term for it. It started with an adolescent obsession with Seth Cohen, matured to an unprecedented longing for West-Wing-era Bradley Whitford, and eventually graduated to a weird fascination with B. D. Wong in Law and Order: S.V.U. When I later identified this as a form of sapiosexuality, I felt ashamed by the accusations of snobbery.
But as time has gone on, I’ve begun to believe that to decry sapiosexuality as classist would be to ignore the shifts in our broader social culture from which the term emerged. Remember Feminist Ryan Gosling? Or when Adam Driver got considerably hotter in season 2 of Girls because he stopped being such a dick? Sapiosexuality abounds — what’s actually contentious, in my view, is the way many define “smart.”
In the contemporary social atmosphere of expanding identities, fluctuating language and oscillating power structures, “smart” need not be an exclusive term. Qualities such as creativity, self-awareness, humor and empathy are all forms of intelligence that operate outside the boundaries of traditional academic excellence. The progressiveness of Marty Ginsburg’s gender politics portrayed in Mimi Leder’s film, for instance, wove seamlessly into his professional and personal life: Here was a partner who intellectually challenged his spouse yet simultaneously basked in the glory of her stratospheric success. This was emotional intelligence, not intellect scaled on a metric of Ivy League education.
Of course, the sexiness of allies should not be overstated; we cannot swoon at the feet of a person who displays attitudes that should be commonplace, nor a person who is able to bear them from a life spent cruising at an altitude of privilege. However, the recent trajectory of emotionally literate figures in popular culture is evident: Consider the popularity of actor-activist Lena Waithe, the anxious but sensitive Otis Milburn in Sex Education, Hollywood’s enamour with Taika Waititi, Josh Thomas’ radical vulnerability in Please Like Me, the rise of artist-activist Amandla Stenberg, the #wokecharlotte meme, or when John Boyega really doesn’t want to be a Stormtrooper anymore.
We are living in a political environment that reflects the need for brains as well as brawn, and sapiosexuality expands a field of attraction usually dominated by physicality outwards to include more cerebral traits. Sapiosexuality diversifies the field of sexual magnetism and creates room for intellectual and emotional nuance in a space that has not always deemed them prerequisites for a carnal partner. Would there still be internet-galvanised sex appeal in people like Michael Barbaro, Ta-Nehisi Coates or that 22-year-old Dutch scientist using hydro-formulas to clean rubbish out of ocean gyres had the collective subconscious not been moving towards celebrating the sexiness of starting a conversation?
It took me a while to realize that sapiosexuality doesn’t demonize those who, in the prison of late capitalism, could not afford a tertiary education, but rather values those who take an active and conscious interest in the ideas and conditions that surround them. It is wit and passion, niche interests and street smarts, that make people intelligent, and the same qualities that make them attractive. Sapiosexuality is not the manifestation of an elite educated class, but rather a recognition of the characteristics that have been subconsciously sexy forever.
After all, Armie Hammer never got his high school diploma.
Feature photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for SCAD.