The 237 Reasons To Have Sex
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THE 237 REASONS TO HAVE SEX
By Judy Peres
July 31, 2007
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
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
Some were "pretty shocking," Meston said, such as "I wanted to give someone
else a sexually transmitted disease." She said she also was surprised that
some people said they had sex because "I wanted 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 reasons 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.
Men, women share reasons
Most of the students 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. Lesser priorities on both lists
were reasons such as, "Someone offered me money to do it," "I felt sorry for
the person," "I wanted to punish myself" and, "Because of a bet."
Meston said she was somewhat surprised by the similarities between the
genders. Men were more likely to endorse having sex for physical reasons
(such as, "The person was too hot to resist") and to boost their social
status ("I wanted to brag to my friends about my conquests.") But there was
no difference in the emotional reasons, such as, "I wanted to express my
love for the person."
"The stereotype that men have sex for physical reasons and women have sex
for love -- our data didn't really support that," Meston said. "These young
men and women were having sex for physical pleasure and also for emotional
attachment, feeling connected to another person."
Meston and Buss said their findings contradict the stereotype that women,
more than men, use sex to obtain special favors. In their study, men were
more likely to endorse reasons for having sex that involved utilitarian
goals ("To get a favor from someone").
Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and psychologist at New York University
School of Medicine, said the findings did not really answer the question,
"Why Humans Have Sex," as the title of the paper asserts.
"It's why Texas students say they have sex," Tiefer said.
Nevertheless, she said, it's "useful to discuss motives, as opposed to just
Meston acknowledged the limitation of her research and said she planned to
look at other populations.
"This is just the start," she said. "The next step is to see how these
motivators change across time, how they differ between genders across the
age range, how they differ by ethnicity."
Another limitation of the study, Meston acknowledged, was that people might
have been reluctant to cite socially unacceptable motivations, such as the
desire to make money or punish a partner. Conversely, they might have
exaggerated their response rates to socially desirable reasons, such as
Survey may aid therapists
But she said the survey, dubbed "YSEX?," already could be used to start
developing new treatments for people with sexual problems. "Just giving the
list to people to check off would give a therapist more to work with," she
In addition, Meston noted, people in therapy often are hesitant to talk
about sexual experiences they're not proud of. "Learning you're not the only
one who has had sex for a stupid reason might bring a bit of relief," she
Another benefit could be for people with very low sex drive. A recent
landmark survey found that nearly one-third of women aren't interested in
"A lot of people have low desire," Meston explained. "It's not a problem if
their partner also has low desire. But if their partner wants to have sex
much more often than they do, it could become a problem in the marriage.
Some women really resent having sex, because they're not getting physical
"If they learn that they're not so unusual -- that not everyone is having
sex because it feels good -- they might find another reason that makes them
feel less resentful, like 'Oh, yeah, having sex does make me sleep better.'
THE WHYS OF MATING: 237 REASONS AND COUNTING
By John Tierney
New York Times
July 31, 2007
Scholars in antiquity began counting the ways that humans have sex, but they
weren¹t so diligent in cataloging the reasons humans wanted to get into all
those positions. Darwin and his successors offered a few explanations of
mating strategies -- to find better genes, to gain status and resources --
but they neglected to produce a Kama Sutra of sexual motivations.
Perhaps you didn¹t 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 people¹s minds, in which case you should
stop reading immediately.
For now, thanks to psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, we
can at last count the whys. After asking nearly 2,000 people why they¹d had
sex, the researchers have assembled and categorized a total of 237 reasons
-- everything from ³I wanted to feel closer to God² to ³I was drunk.² They
even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to
have a child.
The researchers, Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, believe their list,
published in the August issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the most
thorough taxonomy of sexual motivation ever compiled. This seems entirely
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 they¹d had sex ³to get rid of a headache.² It¹s No. 173 on the list.
Others said they did it to ³help me fall asleep,² ³make my partner feel
powerful,² ³burn calories,² ³return a favor,² ³keep warm,² ³hurt an enemy²
or ³change the topic of conversation.² The lamest may have been, ³It seemed
like good exercise,² although there is also this: ³Someone dared me.²
Dr. Buss has studied mating strategies around the world -- he¹s the
oft-cited author of ³The Evolution of Desire² and other books -- but even he
did not expect to find such varied and Machiavellian reasons for sex. ³I was
truly astonished,² he said, ³by this richness of sexual psychology.²
The researchers collected the data by first asking more than 400 people to
list their reasons for having sex, and then asking 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, nearly every one
of the 237 reasons was rated by at least some people as their most important
motive for having sex.
The best news is that both men and women ranked the same reason most often:
³I was attracted to the person.²
The rest of the top 10 for each gender were also almost all the same,
including ³I wanted to express my love for the person,² ³I was sexually
aroused and wanted the release² and ³It¹s fun.²
No matter what the reason, men were more likely to cite it than women, with
a couple of notable exceptions. Women were more likely to say they had sex
because, ³I wanted to express my love for the person² and ³I realized I was
in love.² This jibes with conventional wisdom about women emphasizing the
emotional aspects of sex, although it might also reflect the female
respondents¹ 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.
³Our findings suggest that men do these things more than women,² Dr. Buss
said, alluding to the respondents who said they¹d had sex to get things,
like a promotion, a raise or a favor. Men were much more likely than women
to say they¹d had sex to ³boost my social status² or because the partner was
famous or ³usually out of my league.¹ ²
Dr. Buss said, ³Although 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.²
But then, men were also more likely than women to say they¹d had sex because
³I was slumming.² Or simply because ³the opportunity presented itself,² or
³the person demanded that I have sex.²
If nothing else, the results seem to be a robust confirmation of the
hypothesis in the old joke: How can a woman get a man to take off his
clothes? Ask him.
To make sense of the 237 reasons, Dr. Buss and Dr. Meston created a taxonomy
with four general categories:
¶Physical: ³The person had beautiful eyes² or ³a desirable body,² or ³was
good kisser² or ³too physically attractive to resist.² Or ³I wanted to
achieve an orgasm.²
¶Goal Attainment: ³I wanted to even the score with a cheating partner² or
³break up a rival¹s relationship² or ³make money² or ³be popular.² Or
³because of a bet.²
¶Emotional: ³I wanted to communicate at a deeper level² or ³lift my
partner¹s spirits² or ³say Thank you.¹ ² Or just because ³the person was
¶Insecurity: ³I felt like it was my duty² or ³I wanted to boost my
self-esteem² or ³It was the only way my partner would spend time with me.²
Having sex out of a sense of duty, Dr. Buss said, showed up in a separate
study as being especially frequent among older women. But both sexes seem to
practice a strategy that he calls mate-guarding, as illustrated in one of
the reasons given by survey respondents: ³I was afraid my partner would have
an affair if I didn¹t.²
That fear seems especially reasonable after you finish reading Dr. Buss¹s
paper and realize just how many reasons there are for infidelity. Some
critics might complain that the list has some repetitions -- it includes ³I
was curious about sex² as well as ³I wanted to see what all the fuss was
about² -- but I¹m more concerned about the reasons yet to be enumerated.
For instance, nowhere among the 237 reasons will you find the one attributed
to the actress Joan Crawford: ³I need sex for a clear complexion.² (The
closest is ³I thought it would make me feel healthy.²)Nor will you find
anything about gathering rosebuds while ye may (the 17th-century exhortation
to young virgins from Robert Herrick). Nor the similar hurry-before-we-die
rationale (³The grave¹s a fine and private place/ But none I think do there
embrace²) from Andrew Marvell in ³To His Coy Mistress.²
From even a cursory survey of literature or the modern mass market in sex
fantasies, it seems clear that this new taxonomy may not be any more
complete than the original periodic table of the elements.
When I mentioned Ms. Crawford¹s complexion and the poets¹ rationales to Dr.
Buss, he promised to consider them and all other candidates for Reason 238.
You can nominate your own reasons at TierneyLab. You can also submit
nominations for a brand new taxonomy: reasons for just saying ³No way!²
Somehow, though, I don¹t think this list will be as long.
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