Today’s post is by “Obi,” a Nigerian doctor conducting his field experience at Planned Parenthood as part of his MPH program. He was a general practitioner in his home country with main interest and expertise in maternal and child health.
*This post is a synopsis/simplification of the original paper, Why Humans Have Sex, by Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, which was published in The Archives of Sexual Behavior (2007) 36:477–507. If you find this topic fascinating, be sure to read their entire paper.
For a long time, the reasons people have sex have been thought to be few in number and easily discernible. The most commonly stated reasons are: to procreate, to experience pleasure, and to express love and affection.
However, research on this topic has shown that the reasons why people have sex go beyond just love, pleasure, and making babies, but not a lot of studies have been done to pinpoint these reasons. The studies which have been done have shown significant gender differences and individual differences, which were coherently linked with certain personality traits. These studies have documented more than 200 reasons why people are motivated to have sex. The reasons/motives can be categorized into groups since they can be very similar to each other but just worded or expressed in different ways.
The four groups which most of the reasons fall into are:
- The physical reasons: including stress reduction, pleasure, physical, desirability, and experience seeking.
- The goal based reasons: including resources, social status, revenge, procreation, and utilitarian.
- The emotional reasons: including love, commitment, and expression.
- The insecurity reasons: including self-esteem boost, duty/pressure, and mate guarding.
Looking at the gender differences, men generally seek sex because they like how it feels. Women, although they also derive pleasure from the act, are generally more interested in the emotional and relationship enhancement that sex offers. This difference has been named body-centered and person-centered sex.
Body-centered sex is when you have sex because you like the way it makes your body feel. You aren’t concerned with the emotions of your partner. Person-centered sex is when you have sex to connect with the other person. You care about the emotions involved and the relationship between you and your partner. Individuals can switch between body-centered and person-centered sex depending on a lot of factors which include stage in one’s life (which age and life experience is affected by), current situation in life and many more.
Despite these general observations, studies suggest that there has been a convergence in sexual attitudes among men and women in recent years. Instead of men and women being at opposite ends of the (traditional) sexual spectrum, they are now coming together. More women are having sex for physical reasons and more men say they have sex for emotional reasons (or maybe now they just feel safer reporting these feelings?).
Why are these reasons important to know? Well, why people have sex is often tied to the image of themselves and their social relationships, with changes continually happening over time. Understanding the differences in these motivations is very important. It helps us understand what’s going on in our sexual relationship(s). Finding out the reasons for wanting to have sex can aid in addressing certain problems with interpersonal relationships especially between couples and also be used to identify certain issues with sexual behaviors. Very often, you find the source of the problem can be traced to the particular motivation.