Categories: Love & Sex
Scholars in antiquity began counting the ways that humans have sex, but they weren’t so diligent in cataloguing the reasons why.
Darwin and his successors offered a few explanations for mating strategies – to find better genes, to gain status and resources – but they neglected to produce a Kama Sutra of sexual motivations.
Perhaps you didn’t lament this omission. Perhaps you thought that the motivations for sex were pretty obvious. Or maybe you never really wanted to know what was going on inside other people’s minds, in which case you should stop reading immediately.
Now psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin have counted the whys. After asking nearly 2,000 people why they’d had sex, the researchers have assembled and categorized a total of 237 reasons – everything from “I wanted to feel closer to God” to “I was drunk.” They even found a few motivated by the desire to have a child.
Researchers Cindy Meston and David Buss believe their list, published in this month’s issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the most thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled.
Who knew, for instance, that a headache had any erotic significance except as an excuse for saying no? But some respondents of both sexes explained that they’d had sex “to get rid of a headache.” It’s No. 173 on the list.
Others said they did it to “help me fall asleep,” “make my partner feel powerful,” “burn calories,” “return a favour,” “keep warm,” “hurt an enemy” or “change the topic of conversation.” The lamest may have been, “It seemed like good exercise,” although there is also this: “Someone dared me.”
Nowhere among the 237 reasons will you find the one attributed to the actor Joan Crawford: “I need sex for a clear complexion.” (The closest is “I thought it would make me feel healthy.”)
Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire, has studied mating strategies around the world. But even he did not expect to find such varied and Machiavellian reasons for sex. “I was truly astonished by this richness of sexual psychology.”
The researchers first asked more than 400 people to list their reasons for having sex. They then asked more than 1,500 others to rate how important each reason was to them. Although it was a fairly homogenous sample of students at the University of Texas, almost every one of the 237 reasons was rated as the most important motive for having sex.
Both men and women ranked the same reason most often: “I was attracted to the person.”
The rest of the top 10 were also almost the same for each gender, including “I wanted to express my love for the person,” “I was sexually aroused and wanted the release,” and “It’s fun.”
Women were more likely to say they had sex because, “I wanted to express my love for the person” and “I realized I was in love.” This jibes with conventional wisdom about women emphasizing the emotional aspects of sex. It might, however, also reflect female respondents’ reluctance to admit to less lofty motives.
The results contradicted another stereotype about women: their supposed tendency to use sex to gain status or resources.
“Our findings suggest that men do these things more than women,” Buss says, alluding to the respondents who said they’d had sex to get things like a promotion, a raise or a favour. Men were much more likely than women to say they’d had sex to “boost my social status” or because the partner was famous or “usually `out of my league.’”
Says Buss: “Although I knew that having sex has consequences for reputation, it surprised me that people, notably men, would be motivated to have sex solely for social status and reputation enhancement.”
But men were also more likely to say they’d had sex because “I was slumming.” Or because “the opportunity presented itself” or “the person demanded that I have sex.”
Having sex out of a sense of duty, Buss said, showed up in a separate study as being especially frequent among older women. But both sexes seem to practise a strategy that he calls mate-guarding, as illustrated in one of the reasons given by survey respondents: “I was afraid my partner would have an affair if I didn’t.”
That fear seems especially reasonable after you finish reading the paper and realize just how many reasons there are for infidelity.
Motivations to have Sex
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.”
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.”
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.”