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Evolutionary social psychologist Carin Perilloux was one of the co-authors on a new study, “Sex and Mating Strategy Impact the 13 Basic Reasons for Having Sex.” (It’s the Kennair et al paper referenced below.)
And most helpfully — this being the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society blog — Perilloux put the findings in context for us in this piece below.
Have you ever wondered why people have sex?
If you’re like most people, the answer might have seemed so obvious to you that you never stopped to wonder about it. Just a decade ago, psychologists probably would have had the same reaction, citing a few reasons such as reproduction and physical pleasure.
But a recent study led by Leif Kennair has confirmed that humans have sex for a large suite of reasons. Replicating the original findings of Cindy Meston and David Buss (2007), Kennair and colleagues show that the reasons men and women give for having sex fall into 13 categories:
•Stress reduction – “I thought it would relax me” “I’m a sex addict”
•Pleasure – “I was horny” “It feels good”
•Physical desirability – “S/he was naked and I couldn’t resist” “His/her appearance turned me on”
•Experience seeking – “I was curious” “I wanted to see what s/he was like in bed”
•Resources – “I wanted a child” “I wanted to make money”
•Social status – “I wanted to be popular” “I wanted to brag to my friends about it”
•Revenge – “I wanted to make someone jealous” “I wanted to get back at my cheating ex”
•Utilitarian – “I wanted to keep warm” “I wanted to get out of doing something else”
•Love and commitment – “I wanted to show my feelings for him/her” “I wanted to take the next step in our relationship”
•Expression/consolidation – “I wanted to celebrate his/her birthday” “I wanted to say I was sorry”
•Self-esteem – “I wanted attention” “I wanted to boost my self-esteem”
•Duty/pressure – “I wanted to stop my partner from nagging about it” “I felt it was my duty”
•Mate guarding – “I wanted to prevent a breakup” “I wanted to decrease my partner’s desire to cheat”
Now that you’ve read the list, your perspective might have shifted since the beginning of the post: perhaps now it seems obvious to you that people have loads and loads of different reasons for having sex! And these reasons are not simply idiosyncratic: there’s a pattern to them.
First, the reasons replicate cross-culturally: Meston and Buss (2007) originally documented these 13 categories in a US sample while Kennair (2015) found the same 13 categories in a Norwegian sample.
Second, Kennair and colleagues (2015) showed that gender and mating strategy are good predictors of who endorses which reasons for having sex. For example, men are more likely to cite Stress Reduction reasons for sex than women. And men and women who are more interested in short-term mating (e.g., hooking up, one night stands) are more likely to cite reasons for sex in the Pleasure, Experience-Seeking, and Revenge categories.
Learning that people have sex for a multitude of reasons can help us understand ourselves better – and our sex partners. It can perhaps give us pause in our assumptions about why someone might want to have sex with us – and addressing our own assumptions is generally a good exercise.
These findings also help many of us to feel more normal about why we have sex. Sure, a lot of times we have sex for the big reasons – it feels good, we want to have kids – but sometimes we have sex because it will make our ex jealous, or we don’t want to do the dishes, or it’s simply a little more interesting than the novel on the nightstand.
Our reasons for having sex might not always be grand or fun or even healthy, but they are part of the suite of motivations for sex that makes us human. Researching these underlying motivations is a step toward understanding our mating psychology even better. And as mating researchers (and all of you who have ever engaged in mating) know: it’s complicated!
See more about Perilloux’s research here.
Read Meston and Buss’s (popular science) book on this subject, Why Women Have Sex: Women Reveal the Truth About Their Sex Lives, from Adventure to Revenge