Why We Have Sex

Psychologists Cindy Meston and David Buss of the University of Texas, Austin, asked nearly 2,000 people why they had sex and assembled a list of 237 reasons.

Strangely, a few had sex “to get rid of a headache.” It’s No. 173. Aren’t headaches an excuse to avoid sex?

Other reasons include exercise, revenge, a sense of duty, adventure, an ego boost, desiring a gift, drunkenness, to keep warm, so my partner won’t have an affair, wanting a child… the list goes on, ranging from, “So my husband will put out the trash” to “It’s the closest thing to God” (perhaps explaining shrieks of “Oh God!”).

While evolutionary psychology claims women are more likely to have sex to get resources, men were actually more likely to say they do this.

Men were also more likely to have sex to gain status. But then, women often lose status when they have sex, becoming “loose” sluts, whores or skanks…

This one’s interesting: Men were more likely to have sex because “the person demanded it.” Is that because men are more inclined to have sex for any reason, anyway?

Regardless of the reason, the researchers found that men were more likely to cite it, except for “expressing love” or “realizing I was in love.”

I suspect women were also more likely to have sex to avoid taking out the rubbish. Consider that 84% of women admitted they’d had sex so her guy would do household chores or to put an end to sex-nagging. Older women were especially likely to have sex from a sense of duty. It’s what a wife does, they felt.

The good news? Men and women ranked the same reason most often: being attracted to the person. Actually, most of the top 10 were the same for each gender, including expressing love, being sexually aroused and having fun.

The psychologists placed the motivations into four general categories, as laid out in the New York Times:

  • Physical: “The person had beautiful eyes” or “a desirable body,” or “was a good kisser” or “too physically attractive to resist.” Or “I wanted to achieve an orgasm.”
  • Goal Attainment: “I wanted to even the score with a cheating partner” or “break up a rival’s relationship” or “make money” or “be popular.” Or “because of a bet.”
  • Insecurity: “I felt like it was my duty” or “I wanted to boost my self-esteem” or “It was the only way my partner would spend time with me.”
  • Emotional: “I wanted to communicate at a deeper level” or “lift my partner’s spirits” or “say ‘Thank you.’ ” Or just because “the person was intelligent.”

It is remarkable to see how often the motivations for sex lie outside of the pleasure of sex, itself.

A rerun for the holidays.

Related Posts
Wanting “X” from Sex, but Doing “Y”
Is Male or Female Sexuality Better?
Cartoonish vs Authentic Sexuality

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 26, 2016, in sex and sexuality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. Why do you sleep at night? This is seemingly a simple question. But in fact it is a most difficult question, as of yet unanswered by science. Many seemingly simple questions are, on close inspection, not at all easy to answer. One of these—perhaps the most interesting—is why we have sex.

    Sexual behavior is motivated by far more than just pleasure and reproduction.

  2. I did notice that desperation was not on the list. lol.
    I hope you are having a wonderful holiday my friend ❤

  3. Great post, dear Georgia … there is a whole polemic cncerning the end of sex which seems to be triggered by Hank Greely´s book ” The End of Sex”… But it is based on sex for reporduction… I guess sex for pleasure will always exist… However, It might change shapes… Internet has provided new ways to have sex without human contact involving more than one person. And the so called virtual sex is already a trend (mainly in Japan) Check out this article ” Porn makers want sexual fantasies to become virtual realities”: https://goo.gl/CakCmz Overall I´d say things would change, at least statistically-traditionally speaking 😉 Cheers! xx 🙂

  4. I’ve never instigated sex “because the person was intelligent.” I mean, hopefully that’s a given, but it’s not usually cause and effect.

    • I was reading a book called “please understand me” which uses Myers-Briggs to discuss different personality types. They divide personalities into roughly the following:

      Artisan: enjoy arts and crafts. Or craves excitement
      Guardian: enjoys taking care of home and family
      Idealist: wants to make the world a better place, often into spirituality and/or politics
      Rational: enjoys the sciences, learning

      That last type actually gets turned on by intelligence. I’m about half rational and half idealist, so I totally get it. Paul Krugman is so hot! (He’s also about half-and-half.)

  5. >>Men were more likely to have sex because “the person demanded it.”<<

    Totally get that. I've done that many times and I've often heard other men say they do it. Women don't take that sort of rejection well, in my experience, and it is often less trouble to just do it and get it over with. This is one reason why it's a good idea for men to learn to fake orgasms without a condom. It's ridiculously easy to do and can save you lots of trouble later.

  6. Enjoyed it just as much as the first time around. Very insightful, and I’m so happy you share with us. Hope you had a great holiday friend 🙂

  7. Well here I go as Captain obvious, but thought I’d say it. I just have a feeling that as far as the “physical category”. That more women most likely or probably interested in sex via “The person had beautiful eyes” and “was a good kisser”:, I can all of the above for men, but it seems like much more men to be, umm…persuaded and interested to sex via ““a desirable body,”. So this tries to make it seem like men and women have a lot of similarities in regards to interest in sex and what makes them interested. But I think there are definitely differences in what causes that interest, how many men interested specifically to each one vs women and how strong men are influenced vs women by such different things.

    • And you can see the tie to how we are raised. In our country the female body is objectified and obsessed over, while the male body is largely ignored. And women are taught to be more romantic. In other societies, like tribal peoples, neither sex’s body is objectified or obsessed over, so you don’t get this same difference.

      • I have a question that came to mind just now too. I thought I’d ask since you’re not just a woman, but you know about cultural affects on women and studies probably that could answer. You said something before how it’s easier for guys or something to feel pleasure from sex or women get stuck in their heads with how they look and it distracts from their enjoyment. But my question is and as a male it seems like a contradiction. I’m not going by porn, well all of it, and a lot with real life, my experience, others and just in general. Despite women exagerrating their pleasure and moans, etc, especially with porn, though some more fake or exaggerrated than others. It sure seems and I believe sex feels better for women or get more sensation and pleasure than men.

        I believe the clit is what 1,000 times more sensitive than the head of a man’s penis right? And g spot and etc, and like more nerve endings and spots to the male. So you have all this, I know foreplay is important and going down and non penetration sex. But Women seem to feel more pleasure, just by their equipment than men from sex or a stronger “feeling” from intercourse it seems. And probalby why women are louder and more expressive and like they are “feeling” more from sex right? So how can women have more pleasure, but yet have a hard time orgasming? Like it seems like a contradiction. Perhaps culture or “plumbing” of the female body. All I know is if a man is “feeling” such pleasure to be loud or express in such way and such strong pleasure spots and feeling, more often than not, he’s very close to or won’t last too long before cumming. But yet, the fact women can have all this but not get off during sex or not have an orgasm is interesting.

  8. What I mean from my experience is not the lack of orgasm, but pleasure, but knowijng women do have a hard time getting off and only 40% you’ve said right? And knowing this I’m sure I haven’t always gotten that result either. It’s more like everything in general. To say it simply, how can women feel more pleasure from sex than men, yet orgasm less? or much less?

    • I’ll write about this in a blog post this quarter. Thanks for the question.

      • ok. Yeah it doesn’t make sense when you think about it that way or like a contradiction. I know women are distracted and have body worries that get in their head that affects their enjoyment, which could or would hold off in their mind delving into their own pleasures. Therefore, this delaying or causing them to not orgasm. But there are women who have to be into the sex and minds into it during sex and feeling pleasure or greatly, but sometimes or many times still won’t orgasm or get off. It apparently seems elusive for atleast many american women or similar cultures and countries. Is it something part biology too, because that would explain women not getting off whose minds are side tracked about their bodies or suppressed.

        But what about women who are sexual, confident and higher libido than others? It seems like they know what works for them and orgasm more, but even then, they don’t always orgams, whereas, men seem to be lik3 95% or often. It would seem that woman in a relationship and the one’s not distracted should not just have more orgasms, or more frequently, which they seem to do compared to other women. But they should have orgasms as easily as men and as often right? When considering how women seem to feel more pleasure and more sensitive than men with sensations from sex.

      • Short answer: about Half of women have a sexual dysfunctions like low or no interest in sex, Painful sex, and difficulty with orgasm. These women probably aren’t finding sex especially pleasurable. If it were pleasurable when you have an interest in it? Wouldn’t you want to do it? It’s not like it’s pleasurable but they can’t orgasm. It’s more like it’s boring.

        That said, I’m talking about just under half of women. Just over half of women don’t have those kinds of dysfunctions. However even for women who do orgasm, It’s very common to need some technological help like a vibrator. That’s not the case in sex-positive societies.

        I want to fill this out more and get your thoughts on it. And I expect you will have some.

  9. have a happy new year btw

  10. I often think that we have sex isn’t it just because we’re we’re human or is this just a very poor excuse? I don’t really think sex is ever had due to revenge, you’d normally have sex if you have every intention of being in love with somebody not for revenge people who have sex and then run away from their responsibilities of parenthood will live to regret their actions later.

    • The higher up you go on the evolutionary ladder the less we are driven by biology/instinct. That gives us freedom which can be used for good or ill.

      I’ve found that people tend to think that everyone is the way they are. If you have sex only because it sounds sexy, fun… You will have a hard time believing that others have sex for other reasons. Because I have spent a fair amount of time being asexual I thought people were lying when they said they liked it. I thought they were just trying to be cool and fit in. Nearly half of women have some sort of sexual dysfunction: pain, difficulty with orgasm, Low or no interest in sex. A woman like that is certainly more likely to have sex for revenge or to get her partner to take out the trash or for some other nonsexual reason. Something you may find difficult to relate to.

      But even men, who have much lower levels of dysfunction, might be more interested in having sex with someone so he can brag to his friends that because he enjoys it. I was just reading this which I will quote:

      21-year-old Ted appears in Michael Kimmel’s book, Guyland:

      After I’ve just gotten laid, the first thing I think about is that I can’t wait to tell my crew who I just did. Omigod, they’re not going to believe I just did Kristy. They’ll all be high-fiving me.

      Or there’s this from Jeff: “I mean, you tell your friends you hooked up with Melissa, and they’re like, You are one stud. So I’m into Melissa because my guy friends think she is so hot, And now they think more of me because of it.”

      Both of these men seem to be more interested in having sex because of how it will affect their status then because they’re enjoying sex in the moment.

      If these girls get pregnant the guys probably will regret that. But some guys don’t care. Not their problem.

      I think it’s fascinating how often people have sex for some reason other than enjoying it — because they’re human and that’s what humans do, like every other animal.

  11. That said, I’m talking about just under half of women. Just over half of women don’t have those kinds of dysfunctions. However even for women who do orgasm, It’s very common to need some technological help like a vibrator. That’s not the case in sex-positive societies.

    I want to fill this out more and get your thoughts on it. And I expect you will have some.”

    You see this is what I’m talking about her. Even for women who do orgasm, it’s very common to need help with a vibrator to get off. Not so in sex positive cultures. This suggests that despite women having more sensitive, erogenous areas to get strong feeling of pleasure. Despite that, even for women more confident and not with dysfunction like other women. These women even without the dysfunction, still need help and might not be regularly or consistently orgasmic. It’s interesting, because to me, it seems like even if as a man, if men had such cultural repressions. But such men were confident like you said about women who don;t have the dysfunction. That like men would still have orgasms regularly despite culture influence.

    Because if you are into and feeling so much pleasure, it seems like that should override things and be orgasmic every or most of the time. Like women can be turned on, and not have any distraction and into sex very much with their man, but still might not have an orgams that night despite no distractions or no insecurity on her mind. And her moaning, not because of exaggerating or faking it, but because he’s hitting the spots well and she’s feeling the strong shock like feelings that overwhelm her where she can’t help but to moan…but yet….doesn’t orgasm that night where she might otherwise another night, but the situation very similar. I’d say culture like you explained and it makes sense, but why or how does women’s brains “block” their orgasm if this is the non dysfunction women we’re talking about? Because it must, it’s like the only logical thing I can think of.

    Like for a man, like there’s only so much pleasure build up one can have until they are at the brink and then orgasm. It seems like women can be at that brink and then some, but not climax despite seeming to feel more pleasure than a man during sex. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? I mean I guess it;s not a surprise that I don;t understand this since I am a man and don’t have such anatomy thus not really in such position to understand, but it doesn’t seem logical when I put this all together, well comijng from my male perspective it doesn’t, which is why I was curious to understand from another woman and one who understands culture play too and maybe women are more sensitive or their mind has a stronger effect on their body than men’s for men;s bodies?

    • “women even without the dysfunction, still need help and might not be regularly or consistently orgasmic. ”

      See, that is actually a low level of sexual dysfunction. In our culture be wouldn’t count that as sexual dysfunction because the women can reliably orgasm. But in sex-positive cultures women simply don’t need any sort of help.

      I don’t know how the brain blocks orgasm other than that women repress the urge so much that somehow it gets blocked. And sometimes women are just faking the moaning. Like porn actresses. And most women have faked it sometime. Sometimes it can just feel good but not good enough to climax. But it certainly feels a lot less good than orgasm. Women are not enjoying sex more than men and then simply can’t orgasm. More likely they’re just faking if it sounds like they are enjoying it that much and yet not climaxing.

      “It seems like even if as a man, if men had such cultural repressions. But such men were confident like you said about women who don;t have the dysfunction. That like men would still have orgasms regularly despite culture influence.”

      Right. Women seem to be more susceptible to repressive forces: Women Are More Responsive To Repression
      https://broadblogs.com/2016/04/18/women-are-more-responsive-to-repression/

      • I think that’s true and like what I considered when writing this. I think many times women might “act” like they are feeling more pleasure or expressing it that way. Maybe to let their guy feel their are doing things well or not to hurt his ego or because of porn where women are loud in porn, so women feel that’s the way to express themselves, And perhaps women being socialized to be more expressive than men and in tune with their emotions and showing it. I’m saying this but then again it might have to do with how women maybe just express themselves more than men. What I’m talking about is, I was curious or did a google search to see if there was scientific date and explanation to women generally being louder in bed than men. It came upon my mind when I read an article from men’s health magazine, I have men;s health magazine.

        But in it, it said 90% of the women surveyed said they were not just louder but much louder in bed than their man. That’s very lopsided, but then again this might have been like many surveys, a sample of 1,000 people and not like the whole US female population and the 100 something million women surveyed. But it gives the notice of the difference. So I looked up to see explanations to this, but while reading an article, I scrolled down to read comments and what men and women had to say. Many female commenter’s said it could be due to women exaggerating for such reasons and maybe because men either learn to be quiet because of masturbating during adolescence but also because of maybe consciously or sub consciously guy’s seeing it as a “girl” thing. Those were fair points, but there were some women who said they were loud and didn’t exaggerate. And they couldn’t help it, because it feels so good or hit’s the spots or something of that sort. Maybe they are lying, but i doubt it because it’s anonymous and a comment on internet.

        So it’s not like, a woman doing an interview about sex and sitting right next to her boyfriend, husband or man and saying she doesn’t exaeggerate, because well he’s right there, so you’d be atleast skeptical of her pure honesty. Anyway so I’m thinking of this, where some women like who left comments and it’s so pleasurable that they can’t help but to be loud. That must be very pleasurable because as a man, it might be stifled to not express, but I don’t know for guys feeling so much pleasure they can’t help but not to just moan, but loudly. Soooo. then I’,m thinking these women are feeling more pleasure and probably more orgasmic and in tune than women with a dysfunction, but I guaretee that despite this. These women STILL aren’t orgasming as often or consistenly like a typical man or their male counterpart. Shouldn’t they though if feeling this much pleasure or more than men?

      • I suspect there are two reasons why women tend to be louder than men. 1) they’ve watch porn or popular media and see women moaning and think that’s what they’re supposed to do 2) it’s so pleasurable that they can’t help but to be loud.

        “I’m thinking these women are feeling more pleasure and probably more orgasmic and in tune than women with a dysfunction,”

        That’s what I think too.

        Some women who really enjoy sex are probably just as orgasmic as your typical guy. But because of the way we socialize women, These women are just a lot less common in our culture.

        We are all a mix of natural personality/biology + individual experiences + culture. And those things mix in such a way that some women still manage to enjoy sex a lot, despite our cultural punishment and repression of women sexuality.

  12. I think it’s interesting that people have sex for so many reasons. It doesn’t seem too far fetched to me that people would have sex for things like getting rid of a headache, as they can often be brought on by stress. I find it a bit strange that so many reasons are so different from love of their partner or whatever, things like getting the other to take the trash out. That sort of attitude makes sex to be so mundane and trivial. Which maybe it becomes after a while? Certainly some people are going to be more interested in having sex than others, and maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that people use sex to get others to do things for them, given how much we’re shown exactly that in media. I don’t know, it just feels like it wouldn’t be worth it. Not really my place to judge though, so I’ll stop. Maybe I’m just focusing too much on something small here. Objective based sex is only one of the 4 categories, and the study did say that the top ten reasons were based more on people enjoying themselves and each other. Maybe I should focus more on that, that people seem to be typically having sex for it’s own sake or for fun or out of love.

  13. 2) it’s so pleasurable that they can’t help but to be loud.”

    So that means sex is more pleasurable for women compared to men if not distracted or repressed.

    “Some women who really enjoy sex are probably just as orgasmic as your typical guy.”

    There might be some women, though that seems rare to me in america. Like there’s something going on. Like I think there are women who feel so much pleasure from sex that they can’t help but to be loud in bed, but I still have doubts of them orgasming at that like 95% rate it seems like most guys do. So something is at play with women either being more expressive and seeming to feel more pleasure than men, but not orgasming or women getting more pleasure but woman can get to the brink of pleasure, but not climax or something is off or not continued and be so close, but then back to ground zero again, whereas for men it usually means climax and point of no return from that point.

    I’m glad women don’t hold it against men. I wonder if women are envious of men with how easy men can climax or even resent that. I’ve seen how some men are envious of women being able to have multiples, stronger orgasms (the theory that women do), more pleasure from sex and sensitive zones and not have a refractory period that men do. After a man gets off, he needs a few minutes before he can get it up and usually it could be tough for him to orgasm again. Women can though if not repressed and in tune with their bodies.

    • Most women almost certainly don’t get more pleasure than men. But women are taught to please and learned that they are supposed to moan loudly. For some it is real and for some it isn’t. It is not the case that women are feeling more pleasure than men but can’t orgasm.

  14. But yet I say this, but I still could have thoughts that show my thoughts still reflect our culture. For example, in younger days. I’ve been at a party or room and the room next to mine a friend and a girl he hooked up with were having sex. And could hear some of the sounds and hear her. Or not something out of the ordinary for people I know especially in college. But anyway, like if I was at a hotel or place and I didn’t know who was in the room next to me. But heard moans from the room next to me and it was a dude. Say the walls were thick so the sounds were faint, therefore someone else could be making noise, but not heard but just the louder person faintly coming through. Despite the odds of it not being so since like only 10 percent of the male population is gay. Assuming you knew there was sex and not something solo. I’d assume it was two gay dudes fucking ha and the dude making the sound, “the bottom”. Like that’s the first thing I’d assume, not a man and woman having sex. I’d kind of feel embarassed for him too if other’s could hear, and how I wonder that would raise an eyebrow for others that heard. Like, that’s unusual and “submissive” of him? less masculine?

    • That’s interesting that you see it that way. I’d assume it was a woman and wonder if it was real. Could be.

      • You’d assume the moans were a woman or still figure it was a woman that man was having sex with? Because the moans or sounds would be male or masculine, as men have deeper voices so you would know or find out that it’s coming from a guy. But you;d not assume it’s gay men, but a straight couple having sex and a woman with him despite you hearing him and not her? You’d wonder if the sounds coming from the guy were real as in faking? or not real because you couldn’t believe this unusual occurrence?

        I wasn’t sure exactly what you meant. It’s weird how this is so ingrained in your head. Like for me, even though odds and stats say otherwise, I’m more likely to think it’s a gay male couple having sex, and the guy moaning is the “catcher”, than figure it’s woman having regular sex with him. Kind of weird how society can condition you to think of that or assume that when it shouldn’t be weird for either men or women to express each other however, but yet we, consciously or sub consciously can have pre-conceived notions of how women and men act but also how they are to express themselves even outside of the public and in private and in their bedrooms.

      • “You’d assume the moans were a woman or still figure it was a woman that man was having sex with? Because the moans or sounds would be male or masculine, as men have deeper voices so you would know or find out that it’s coming from a guy.”

        Yeah, I was skimming I missed that part. I thought you were talking about a woman. Hearing HIM I would assume it was a guy In a straight relationship. And probably because straight is more ingrained in my head.

  15. I guess depending on situation you are in everyone is going to feel differently on why they have sex. I can definitely relate to why some people do. For instance if I were single I would be having sex for the enjoyment of it and the attraction of another person. Now that I am in a long term relationship I do it now for pleasure as well as love, I believe its the closest you can get with your significant other and also having fun together. As well, I always want my partner to feel pleased so they are happy and enjoy having sex with their partner. I have also used sex before to get rid of a headache ever since I heard about that theory.

  16. Yeah, I was skimming I missed that part. I thought you were talking about a woman. Hearing HIM I would assume it was a guy In a straight relationship. And probably because straight is more ingrained in my head.”

    Interesting how ingrained it is that you assumed despite not reading through or skimming that it was a woman. Yeah that’s what I meant, if the woman was making noise too but the walls covered most of the noises and just the louder one came through a little. And the moans were from the guy and you could tell it was a guy but you couldn’t hear the woman. And you knew from other sounds that it was sex happening in the next room. That’s why i said, I’d probably think it was actually gay men having sex, if I could only hear the man moaning and not a woman, As obviously if I heard a woman, I’d know it was a straight couple. But it would be eye brow raising, and like I said, I’d probably think the dude making the noise was the “catcher”.

  17. I didn’t know that men were more likely to say that it was because their partner demanded it and not because they were in love or expressing that love. I found that women actually can keep going more than men which actually might prove that. I think that men and women have the same arousal, wants, and not wanting certain things when having sex with someone. If it’s someone they love, they probably aren’t going to want to have sex if they’re going through a rough patch and not having a mental relationship with that person. However, every person is different. It’s even more interesting that women are more likely to use sex to get something like doing chores or as a sense of duty. A sense of duty does fall in the category of keeping the relationship to look happy by creating an intimate relationship and the partner for not looking for that in someone else. I strongly believe that there needs to be a strong mental relationship to why people want to have sex and feel more aroused if it is for love. If not, it’s more like a one night stand — a feeling someone thinks is missing.

    • Well men are more likely to have sex because they are expressing love. Much more than because a woman demanded it. It’s just that men are more likely to have sex because a woman demanded it than women are to have sex because a man demanded it.

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