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Why Do People Have Sex?

Why do people have sex? For 237 reasons.

Researchers have generally assumed that people have sex for one or more of three reasons: to have children, to experience sexual pleasure, and to cement relationships. Turns out there are more than that--234 more.

Psychologists Cindy Meston and David Buss, of the University of Texas, at Austin, surveyed 442 people, aged 17 to 52, asking just one question: "List all the reasons why you or those you know have engaged in sexual intercourse."

The myth is that men and women are emotionally very different. An old saying illustrates this: Women have sex to become intimate. Men become intimate to have sex. There's some truth to this. But surprisingly, in the Meston-Buss survey, eight of the top ten reasons why men and women have sex and 20 of the top 25 are remarkably similar:

Women's Reasons for Having Sex (from most to least frequently expressed):

1. I felt attracted to the person.
2. I wanted to experience the physical pleasure.
3. It feels good.
4. I wanted to show my affection for my partner.
5. I wanted to express my love for my partner.
6. I was sexually aroused and wanted the release.
7. I felt horny.
8. It's fun.
9. I realized I was in love.
10. I was swept up in the heat of the moment.
11. I wanted to please my partner.
12. I wanted emotional closeness/intimacy.
13. I wanted the pure pleasure.
14. I wanted an orgasm.
15. It's exciting, adventurous.
16. I wanted to feel connected to the person.
17. The person's physical appearance turned me on.
18. It was a romantic setting.
19. The person really desired me.
20. The person made me feel sexy.
21. The person caressed me.
22. It seemed like the natural next step in the relationship.
23. I wanted to become one with the person.
24. It just happened.
25. I wanted to deepen our emotional bond.

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Men's Reasons for Having Sex:

1. I was attracted to the person.
2. It feels good.
3. I wanted to experience the physical pleasure.
4. It's fun.
5. I wanted to show my affection for the person.
6. I was sexually aroused and wanted the release.
7. I felt horny.
8. I wanted to express my love for the person.
9. I wanted an orgasm.
10. I wanted to please my partner.
11. The person's physical appearance turned me on.
12. I wanted the pure pleasure.
13. I was swept up in the heat of the moment.
14. I desired emotional closeness/intimacy.
15. It's exciting/adventurous.
16. The person had a desirable body.
17. I realized I was in love.
18. The person had an attractive face.
19. The person really desired me.
20. I wanted the adventure/excitement.
21. I wanted to feel connected to the person.
22. I wanted the experience.
23. It was a romantic setting.
24. The person caressed me.
25. The person made me feel sexy.

The myth is that men are obsessed with sex, while women view it as a way to deepen relationships. Not quite. The top three reasons why both men and women become sexual have nothing to do with either horniness or love. They are based on attraction and pleasure. Men and women gave the same priority to horniness (#7) and almost the same to expressing love (#5 for women, #8 for men), and feeling closeness/intimacy (#12 for women #14 for men).

Americans focus a good deal of attention on sexual victimization (rape, incest, pedophilia, sexual harassment, etc.), and using sex for personal gain (money, a job, a promotion, drugs, etc.) These turn out to be among the least frequent reasons for having sex.

Women's 10 Least Frequent Reasons for Having Sex

237. I wanted to spread a sexually transmitted disease.
236. Someone offered me money to do it.
235. I wanted to get a raise.
234. It was an initiation rite to a club or organization.
233. I wanted to get a job.
232. I wanted to get a promotion.
231. The person offered me drugs to do it.
230. I wanted to punish myself.
229. I wanted to hurt/humiliate the person.
228. I wanted to feel closer to God.

Men's 10 Least Frequent Reasons for Having Sex

237. The person offered me drugs to do it.
236. I wanted to spread a sexually transmitted disease.
235. I wanted to punish myself.
234. I wanted to break up my relationship.
233. I wanted to get a job.
232. It was an initiation rite to a club or organization.
231. Someone offered me money to do it.
230. I feared physical harm if I said no.
229. I wanted to make money.
228. I wanted to feel closer to God.

Of course, men and women are different, and despite the similarities just mentioned, they have different reasons for having sex. The researchers calculated the reasons for sex that differed the most by gender.

The Top 10 Largest Gender Differences

1. The person wore revealing clothes. Stated significantly more often by men than women.
2. I wanted to feel masculine. More men.
3. I wanted to relieve "blue balls." More men.
4. I wanted to feel feminine. More women.
5. The person had a desirable body. More men.
6. The person was available. More men.
7. The person's appearance turned me on. More men.
8. It's fun. More men.
9. I wanted to have an orgasm. More men.
10. The opportunity presented itself. More men.

Men were much more likely to have sex based on women's physical characteristics: desirable body, attractive face, she turned me on. This finding supports a great deal of research showing that men are sexually stimulated by visual cues (for example, pornography).

Women were more likely to have sex based on its contribution to a relationship: I wanted to express my love. I wanted deeper emotional closeness. Again, this finding supports other research showing that most women prefer sex in the context of a committed relationship.

So why do men and women have sex? For more reasons than most people think.

Meston, CM and DM Buss. "Why Humans Have Sex," Archives of Sexual Behavior (2007) 36:477.

 

San Francisco journalist Michael Castleman, M.A., has written about sexuality for 36 years. more...

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