Freud may have named sex drive the primary motivational force among humans, but sometimes you gotta wonder. Because sex serves other aims an awful lot of the time.
How about first sex? According to a 2011 study by Laura M. Carpenter, PhD, many see virginity as a gift to give to someone special, with the goal of strengthening the relationship. Women were more likely than men to have this purpose in mind, though some men did, too.
Men were more likely to have sex to shed the stigma of virginity. Not surprisingly, women were much less likely to state that reason, though some did. But for men, especially, it can be embarrassing to be a virgin.
About one third of those in Carpenter’s study saw losing virginity as a rite of passage, a step toward growing up. By the way, this group was the most satisfied with the experience, perhaps having lower expectations. They typically planned for the moment, complete with birth control, and they could more easily take a bad first experience in stride.
Looking at a 1994 study, by comparison, half of women said they had sex for the first time out of affection, which fits well with social expectations that women will have sex out of love — or “strengthening a relationship” as cited in the 2011 survey. Meanwhile, 51% of men had sex for the first time out of curiosity or because they felt ready. This fits well with a focus on achieving manhood (“ready” to be men).
Interestingly, only 12% of men and 3% of women said they had sex for pleasure their first
time, in the 1994 survey. Carpenter didn’t separate out “pleasure” as a separate category, and said it was most often attached to “ridding self of stigma” in her study.
By the way, the 2011 survey found that women and men were more alike than expected. “The idea we have from TV and movies is that for women it’s all about love and for men it’s all about getting it over with,” Carpenter related. “If men and women shared metaphors, the choices they made and the kinds of experiences they had were pretty similar. That’s something that hasn’t been noticed that much.”
Carpenter also noted that gays and straights were similar in their experiences.
All in all, it’s interesting to see how often pleasure takes a back seat to other concerns when it comes to sex. I’ll discuss this in a variety of other contexts to come.