Let’s Talk About Sex? Why Do We Have It?
Many scientists assume people have sex for simple and straightforward reasons such as to experience sexual pleasure or to reproduce, but new research at The University of Texas at Austin reveals hundreds of varied and complex motivations that range from the spiritual to the vengeful.
After conducting one of the most comprehensive studies on why people have sex, psychology researchers David Buss and Cindy Meston uncovered 237 motivations, which appear in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior.
People’s motivations ranged from the mundane (“I was bored”) to the spiritual (“I wanted to feel closer to God”) and from the altruistic (“I wanted the person to feel good about himself/herself”) to the manipulative (“I wanted to get a promotion”).
Some said they had sex to feel powerful, others to debase themselves. Some wanted to impress their friends, others to harm their enemies (“I wanted to break up a rival’s relationship”).
Buss and Meston conducted two studies. In the first, they asked more than 400 men and women to identify reasons people have sex. In the second, the researchers asked more than 1,500 undergraduate students about their experiences and attitudes.
The Texas psychologists identified four major factors and 13 sub-factors for why people have sex:
- Physical reasons such as to reduce stress (“It seemed like good exercise”), feel pleasure (“It’s exciting”), improve or expand experiences (“I was curious about sex”), and the physical desirability of their partner (“The person was a good dancer”).
- Goal-based reasons, including utilitarian or practical considerations (“I wanted to have a baby”), social status (“I wanted to be popular”) and revenge (“I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease”).
- Emotional reasons such as love and commitment (“I wanted to feel connected”) and expression (“I wanted to say ‘thank you'”).
- Insecurity-based reasons, including self-esteem (“I wanted the attention”), a feeling of duty or pressure (“My partner kept insisting”) and to guard a mate (“I wanted to keep my partner from straying”).
“Why people have sex is extremely important, but rarely studied,” Buss said. “Surprisingly, many scientists assume the answer is obvious, but people have different reasons for having sex, some of which are rather complex.”
Arch Sex Behav. 2007 Aug;36(4):477-507. Epub 2007 Jul 3.
Why humans have sex.
Meston CM, Buss DM.
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, 108 E. Dean Keeton, Austin, TX, 78712, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historically, the reasons people have sex have been assumed to be few in number and simple in nature-to reproduce, to experience pleasure, or to relieve sexual tension. Several theoretical perspectives suggest that motives for engaging in sexual intercourse may be larger in number and psychologically complex in nature. Study 1 used a nomination procedure that identified 237 expressed reasons for having sex, ranging from the mundane (e.g., “I wanted to experience physical pleasure”) to the spiritual (e.g., “I wanted to get closer to God”), from altruistic (e.g., “I wanted the person to feel good about himself/herself”) to vengeful (e.g., “I wanted to get back at my partner for having cheated on me”). Study 2 asked participants (N = 1,549) to evaluate the degree to which each of the 237 reasons had led them to have sexual intercourse. Factor analyses yielded four large factors and 13 subfactors, producing a hierarchical taxonomy. The Physical reasons subfactors included Stress Reduction, Pleasure, Physical Desirability, and Experience Seeking. The Goal Attainment subfactors included Resources, Social Status, Revenge, and Utilitarian. The Emotional subfactors included Love and Commitment and Expression. The three Insecurity subfactors included Self-Esteem Boost, Duty/Pressure, and Mate Guarding. Significant gender differences supported several previously advanced theories. Individual differences in expressed reasons for having sex were coherently linked with personality traits and with individual differences in sexual strategies. Discussion focused on the complexity of sexual motivation and directions for future research.
PMID: 17610060 [PubMed – in process]