Why people have sex doesn’t seem like a mystery, but a study at the University of Texas asked that very question. We might assume that “it feels good” or “I wanted to show my love” or “I wanted to get pregnant” were among the top contenders of maybe five or so reasons, but we would be way off the mark.
The study found that people answered that question with over 200 distinct reasons. Interestingly, “revenge,” “fear,” “loneliness,” “possession,” “control,” “I didn’t know how to say no,” “I was obligated,” or “I wanted to make up from a fight,” were also among the answers.
The study gives cause to wonder why we really do some of the things we do in our own lives—why we have chosen to be with the people we have chosen, why we have opted to get married—or opted not to, and yes, the many reasons why we have had sex over the course of a lifetime. Even within one marriage or relationship, our reasons for having sex may vary with each encounter.
It caused me to think about some of the reasons I had heard over the years, like the time when my then-boyfriend cheated on me with his ex-girlfriend and explained that this was his way of “saying goodbye.” That was an interesting explanation—far more interesting now than it was then!
As I reviewed the study’s list of reasons for having sex, ironically, many of the reasons mentioned for saying yes are the very same reasons we might be wise to say no: “I was drunk,” “I was curious about what he/she was like in bed,” “My hormones were out of control,” “I wanted to punish myself,” “I was afraid to say no,” “It was an initiation into a club,” “I wanted to humiliate the person,” “I wanted to break up my relationship (or someone else’s),” “Peer pressure,” “I wanted to be popular,” “Someone dared me,” “I wanted to manipulate him/her into doing something for me,” “I wanted to get a promotion (or a job),” “I wanted to hurt someone else,” were among several other answers.
When all was said and done, the researchers were able to categorize all the reasons into four main reasons: Physical, Goal Attainment, Emotional, and Insecurity. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there were significant differences between men and women’s reasons. Men showed a much greater endorsement of having sex for physical reasons, for pure pleasure and as a means of improving social status (goal attainment). Women exceeded men on emotional and insecurity reasons, although both men and women made the choice to have sex for reasons within all four categories.
With all this in mind, I invite you to carefully become aware of your own reasons when you are thinking about having sex. I know, I know, we aren’t often thinking when sex is involved. In fact, I have found that people tend to pick their partners on “looks good” and “feels good” far more often than because the situation or the choice really is good. The thinking tends to come later; around the time we start paying for our (not-well-thought-out) choices.
Our ego’s attempt to control others and to gain approval from others through our sexual behavior is not often a pretty picture. Imagine how you would judge your own reasons for having sex or not having sex, if they were published in a national survey. This simple act of awareness could make a big difference on the choices that you make.
If you are married or in a committed relationship, I also invite you to look at the reasons you choose not to have sex. This is an entirely different topic, but equally interesting as similar power plays can emerge in the withholding from a loved one.
When faced with making a choice, notice whether you are honoring your body, your ego or your spirit. They may have very different, albeit compelling, reasons for their plea.