There are a lot of different things that can motivate people to have sex. In fact, one study identified 237 distinct reasons for getting it on! But do our reasons and motivations for sex differ based on the type of relationship we're in (i.e., casual vs. committed)? Further, do our reasons for sex depend on our sexual orientation? A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior sheds some light on the answers, at least for women.
In this study, 510 adult women--a mix of university students and people recruited online--completed a survey about their sexual motivations. Participants were 21.6 years old on average, most of whom were heterosexually-identified (61.7%) and from Canada (94%).
They were given a list of 140 different motivations for having sex drawn. These motives were drawn from past research and included everything from pleasure to love to revenge. In each case, participants were asked to report how often they'd previously had sex for that specific reason in four different contexts: casual sex with a woman, casual sex with a man, committed relationship sex with a woman, and committed relationship sex with a man.
With respect to relationship type, the researchers found that physical reasons for sex were more frequently endorsed than emotional reasons when a casual partner was involved. However, the reverse held for true for sex with a committed partner, meaning that emotional reasons were more common than physical reasons in that case. This pattern of results was observed regardless of whether the partner was male or female.
Examples of some of the most common reasons for sex with a casual partner included: “I wanted to experience the physical pleasure,” “The person’s physical appearance turned me on,” “I was ‘horny,’” and “It feels good.”
Examples of some of the most common reasons for sex with a committed partner included: “I wanted to show my affection to the person,” “I wanted to express my love for the person,” and “I desired emotional closeness.”
For both casual and committed sex with male and female partners, the least commonly reported motivations did not differ, and these uncommon reasons appeared to focus on achieving specific goals, such as “I wanted to feel closer to God,” and “I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease."
By and large, women’s sexual orientation wasn't really linked to their stated reasons for having sex. In other words, when comparing women with same-sex or bisexual attraction to women attracted to the other sex, their motivations for having sex were largely the same.
As with every study, this one has its limitations, including the fact that most participants were young college students. Is is therefore quite possible that the pattern of findings might be different if tested in a sample that consists of older women with more cultural and ethnic diversity. In addition, most of these women were heterosexual, and those who weren’t had relatively few same-sex experiences, which is another reason to attempt to replicate these results in a more diverse sample.
Limitations aside, this study provides further support for the idea that women’s reasons for sex are many and varied. However, it goes further than previous research in that it also tells us that women’s motivations for sex appear to vary depending upon their relationship context, but not necessarily their sexual orientation.
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To learn more about this research, see: Armstrong, H. L., & Reissing, E. D. (2015). Women’s motivations to have sex in casual and committed relationships with male and female partners. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(4), 921-934.
Image Source: 123RF/Kaspars Grinvalds
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