Why have sex? Survey collects 237 reasons

Motivations range from greed to God

August 01, 2007|By Judy Peres | Judy Peres,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

If you think people have sex for pleasure and for procreation, you're right. They also have sex to get rid of a headache, to celebrate a special occasion, to get a promotion and to feel closer to God.

New research published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior has come up with a list of 237 reasons that motivate people to have sex.

Cindy Meston, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and the lead author of the paper, said most people assume there are a few simple reasons for having sex: "It feels good, you're in love or you want to have a child. We found that people are having sex for lots of other reasons."

Knowing that, she said, could boost sex education, help devise more effective strategies for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and lead to improved treatments for people with sexual problems.

"You need to know why people are having sex if you're trying to put into place a safe-sex program," Meston said. "If you assume people have sex because they're in the heat of the moment, then you tell them to carry condoms. But if they're doing it for revenge or because they want to enhance their social status, that will require a different strategy."

Meston and co-author David Buss conducted their research in two stages. First, they asked a group of more than 400 students and volunteers to simply list "all the reasons you can think of why you, or someone you have known, has engaged in sexual intercourse in the past." That produced 715 reasons. After deleting identical or very similar entries, the researchers were left with 237.

Some were "pretty shocking," Meston said, such as: "I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease." She said she was also surprised that some people said they had sex "to get closer to God."

"Most of the literature shows that religious people have more sexual problems," she said. "But several people endorsed the idea that religion and sexuality were actually closely linked."

In the second stage of the research, they asked 1,500 other students to rate how important each of the 237 motivations was in their own sexual behavior.

The students were asked to indicate how frequently each reason had led them to engage in sexual intercourse in the past, on a scale from 1 for never to 5 for all the time. Those who had not had intercourse (27 percent of the women and 32 percent of the men) were asked to indicate the likelihood that each of the reasons would lead them to have sex in the future.

Most gave the usual reasons for having sex. "I was attracted to the person," "It feels good" and "I wanted to show my affection" were high on the lists of both men and women.

Judy Peres writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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