What motivates people to have sex?


Published: 08-08-2020

Why do people have sex? What encourages women to have sex and what about men? These questions were answered by studies by David Buss and Cindy Meston from the University of Texas.

The researchers began searching for answers to these questions with a study in which they asked participants to list as many reasons as possible why they or people they know had sex. The study involved 203 male students and 241 female students, who wrote a total of 237 reasons. In another study, Buss and Meston provided a list of all reasons for over 1,500 students of both genders and asked for each item to be marked how often they had sex for that reason.

Reasons to have sex

Based on the research results, 4 categories of reasons were distinguished, which were divided into subcategories.

  1. Physical Reasons
    1. Stress Reduction (for example “I was frustrated and need relief.”, “I was bored”, “I’m addicted to sex.”)
    2. Pleasure (for example “It feels good.”, “It’s fun.”, “I wanted to achieve an orgasm.”)
    3. Physical Desirability (for example “The person had an attractive face.”, “The person was too physically attractive to resist.”, “The person smelled nice.”)
    4. Experience Seeking (for example “I was curious about sex.”, “I wanted to improve my sexual skills.”, “I wanted to try out new sexual techniques or positions.”
  2. Goal Attainment Reasons
    1. Resources (for example “I wanted to get a raise.”, “I wanted to hurt/humiliate the person.”, “I wanted to have a child.”)
    2. Social Status (for example “I wanted to be popular.”, “I wanted to have more sex than my friends.”, “The person was famous and I wanted to be able to say I had sex with him/her.”)
    3. Revenge (for example “I was mad at my partner so I had sex with someone else.”, “I wanted to get back at my partner for having cheated on me.”, “I wanted to hurt an enemy.”)
    4. Utilitarian (for example “I wanted to burn calories.”, “I wanted to get out of doing something.”, “I wanted to keep warm.”)
  3. Emotional Reasons
    1. Love & Commitment (for example “I wanted to feel connected to the person.”, “I wanted to communicate at a ‘‘deeper’’ level.”, “I wanted to express my love for the person.”)
    2. Expression (for example “I wanted to welcome someone home.”, “I wanted to say ‘‘thank you.’’”, “I wanted to say ‘‘I’ve missed you.’’”)
  4. Insecurity Reasons
    1. Self-Esteem Boost (for example “I wanted to feel attractive.”, “I wanted to boost my self-esteem.”, “I wanted my partner to notice me.”)
    2. Duty/Pressure (for example “I didn’t know how to say ‘‘no.’’”, “My partner kept insisting”, “I felt like it was my duty.”)
    3. Mate Guarding (for example “I wanted to decrease my partner’s desire to have sex with someone else.”, “I wanted to prevent a breakup.”, “I wanted to person to love me.”)

The most common reasons for having sex

The most common motivations were mainly physical, but also emotional. There were no major differences between women and men. Of the top 10 reasons, 8 were common to men and women, and of the top 25, 20.

Women most often indicated the following reasons:
  1. I was attracted to the person.
  2. I wanted to experience the physical pleasure.
  3. It feels good.
  4. I wanted to show my affection to the person.
  5. I wanted to express my love for the person.
  6. I was sexually aroused and wanted the release.
  7. I was ‘‘horny’’.
  8. It’s fun.
  9. I realized I was in love.
  10. I was ‘‘in the heat of the moment’’.
Men, on the other hand, rated the following reasons highest:
  1. I was attracted to the person.
  2. It feels good.
  3. I wanted to experience the physical pleasure.
  4. It’s fun.
  5. I wanted to show my affection to the person.
  6. I was sexually aroused and wanted the release.
  7. I was ‘‘horny’’.
  8. I wanted to express my love for the person.
  9. I wanted to achieve an orgasm.
  10. I wanted to please my partner.

Among the 50 most common reasons that are common to both men and women, there are also: “I desired emotional closeness (i.e., intimacy)”, “The person’s physical appearance turned me on”, “It was a romantic setting”, “The person really desired me”, “It seemed like the natural next step in my relationship”, “My hormones were out of control”, “The person was intelligent”, “I wanted to improve my sexual skills”.

The rarest of motivations were mainly goal-oriented motivations. Some of the study participants had sex because they wanted to infect another person with an STD, someone offered them money or drugs, wanted to get a job, hurt themselves, hurt or humiliate another person, or break someone’s relationship. Such reasons, however, were mentioned very rarely.

Differences between men and women

Although the most common and rarest motivations are largely shared between men and women, some differences were found when comparing specific motivations. However, there are very few reasons why women are more likely to have sex than men. The results of the study showed that women are more likely than men to have sex to express love for another person and because they have “realized they are in love”.

There are, however, many reasons (as many as 120) that men have sex more often than women. The biggest difference between men and women was shown under the item ” The person wore revealing clothes”. Other physical motivations, such as “The person’s physical appearance turned me on”, “It’s fun”, and “I wanted to achieve an orgasm”, were also more often reported by men than women.

Men more often explained sexual intercourse also with goal-oriented reasons, mainly related to social status. More often than women have sex because they “want to enhance their reputation”, “want to have more sex than their friends”, “want to brag to friends about their conquests” or “compete with someone to ‘‘get the person’’”. They also more often indicated the will to take revenge or settle scores. However, it should be noted that although men more often than women motivate this type of goals, respondents of both genders indicated such reasons quite rarely.

Moreover, men have sex more often than women to please or satisfy their partner, which is an emotional motivation. More often than women, they also admitted that they had sex because “the partner kept insisting”.


Meston, C. M., Buss, D. M. (2007). Why Humans Have Sex. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 36, 477-507 (pdf at typepad.com)

Author: Maja Kochanowska

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