Is there anything more elusive than what constitutes sexual attraction? It comes in a great variety of types, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, and not infrequently indeterminable, undefinable, with an inscrutable etiology. That we do not understand how it operates in others is perhaps not all that surprising, but that we do not understand it in ourselves, as can be the case, surely is.
Let me start with an obvious source: hair color. We recall the books “Men Prefer Blondes” and “But Marry Brunettes.” But what about the distinguished German professor and writer I knew who declared that, for him, blonde hair wasn’t hair at all—a woman’s hair had to be dark? And for how many men, myself included, a woman’s hair had to be on the long side, a boyish haircut being a turnoff.
I myself have been attracted to and involved with far more brunettes than blondes, but that, I firmly believe, had nothing to do with my mother’s hair color than with happenstance: I came across with so many fewer blondes than brunettes interested in me, but to some of the few that were I responded to just as strongly.
One woman I was involved with insisted that men were divisible into those that go for legs and those that go for asses. I myself went equally for both but not principally for either. To some men face matters most; to others, figure. I could not fully respond to anything less than both.
Years ago it was asserted, I don’t know how validly, that American women depilated their armpits, whereas French women nurtured hairy armpits, both according to what their men went for. Some few men even dislike pubic hair and insist on shaved pudenda. Muslims consider hair so erotic that their women must go about with it covered. Religions prescribing this for mere seemliness presumably do so disingenuously.
Some men apparently even like their women bald—how else explain women with shaven heads? In the musical “The King and I,” Yul Brynner, long the king’s seemingly perennial interpreter, was bald, probably because the historic king was hairless, but perhaps also—I can vouch for it— because Yul looked more interesting without hair.
Some men, like the actor Victor Mature allegedly, scored with an extra large penis, but haven’t women, other things being equal, been just as satisfied with a normal-sized one? Japanese men, I have been told, cherish especially the back of a woman’s neck, or is that only because doggy-fashion sex is preponderant? We are told that for centuries Chinese women’s feet were kept small by foot binding, allegedly so as to make it harder for women to run away from their men. But that is clearly nonsense; it surely had to do with men’s wanting to fondle and toy with a woman’s diminutive, plaything-like feet.
In some societies, e.g., the Minoan, women went about bare-breasted, I assume not so as to advocate their wherewithal for suckling babies. One sees them in paintings, but always with firm, shapely breasts , never with unsightly, pendulous ones. Even in puritanical Britain, you could see stage performers with exposed breasts, provided only that they stood still, presumably because that made them works of art, like statues, so often semi-nude.
All this by way of introduction to an article in the June 3rd Times entitled “In the World of the Sapiosexual, the Hottest Body Part Is the Brain.” The reference is to men and women who fall sexually for a person of the opposite sex for his or her intelligence rather than anything external. We read: “Darren Stalder, an engineer in Seattle, appears to have coined the term ‘sapiosexual’ in 1998 to describe his own sexuality. He is quoted as having written on a social network “I don’t care too much about the plumbing . . . . I want an incisive, inquisitive, insightful, irreverent mind. I want someone for whom philosophical discussion is foreplay.” The paper goes on to say “Sapio, in Latin, means “I ‘discern’ or ‘understand.’” Actually, the primary meaning is “I know.”
The sapiosexual stimulant is allegedly either intellect or intelligence (there is a difference), which manifests itself in a person’s conversation. Already there is a problem: conversation is a special, independent gift, not necessarily contingent on a person’s intellect or intelligence: some great minds are fairly inarticulate; some much lesser ones, very articulate.
But, fundamentally, what really is intelligent conversation? It can apparently be all the things cited by Stalder as components except, notably unmentioned, subject matter. Someone can be absolutely riveting about baseball or philately, but be totally ignorant about physics or metaphysics—how intelligent or intellectual is that person? Oceanography and metallurgy may be sporadically fascinating topics, but how fulfilling in the long run?
And, in any case, may not so-called sapiosexualists be deceived about others and, notably, about themselves? It is interesting that the two pictures that accompany the Times piece are of a good-looking young black man, Aboubacar Okeke-Diagne, and an attractive young white woman, Teresa Sheffield, a comedian asserting “What I connect most with and value most as a sapiosexual is emotional intelligence and comedic intelligence.” Whoa! Comedic intelligence is a fancy way of saying sense of humor, but heaven knows what is meant by emotional intelligence. Isn’t that rather like white blackness?
Anyway, may not these attractive young individuals really appeal through their looks, which the attracted person tries to elevate into, and justify by, something more dignified, more refined? I wonder whether there is such a thing as a truly homely, unattractive person making it on telling jokes or quoting Aristotle.
One specific example in the Times article is a woman named Jacqueline Cohen, 52 and resident of the Upper West Side, claiming to be attracted even as a teenager by intelligence or even the mystery around someone’s intelligence. Now a divorcee or widow, she cites as example a date who, without being her physical type, unexpectedly recited poetry by Rilke. She says, “I was amazed at how fluid the whole conversation was . . . I could feel something happening inside me.” On the next date, the man takes her to an art exhibition and gives her “all of Rilke’s books,” since when Rilke has been one of her favorite poets.
I find this suspect for several reasons. First, did the man recite Rilke in German? There is, I speak from knowledge, no such thing as a fully satisfactory Rilke translation, indeed none seems possible of such preponderantly musical poetry. And all of Rilke’s books? Much of that Rilke’s prose output even, including volumes upon volumes of letters, mostly to women, remains untranslated. For “all” of his books in German, a full supermarket cart would be necessary, hardly suitable for visits to an art exhibition. So utter, unsapient balderdash.
Another unanswered question: how new is this supposed phenomenon? Was it there, though unmentioned, throughout history, or was engineer Stalder the first to practice it, or at least first to name and record it in 1998?
We have all known couples where one or both were physically unattractive, and God only knows what made the attraction sexual--or could there perhaps be a platonic sapiosexual attraction? I can just imagine them discoursing, preferably wittily, about the most recondite matters conceivable, and immediately thereupon falling into bed for exemplary sex. They would not be put off by anything, not even the man’s name, Aboubacar Okeke-Diagne—one could, after all, call him Abu.
On the bottom of the Times front page, there is a small color picture of a beautiful woman I take to be Teresa unbuttoning her red blouse. I cannot envision a man for whom that would not be a greater come-on than her fluidly quoting Santayana or Schopenhauer at length.