Sexual Motivation

Why people have sex is an extremely important, but surprisingly little studied topic. One reason for its relative neglect is that scientists might simply assume that the answers are obvious: to experience sexual pleasure, to relieve sexual tension, or to reproduce. Several theoretical perspectives suggest that motives for engaging in sexual intercourse may be larger in number and psychologically complex in nature. In a series of studies, we (Meston & Buss, 2007) identified 237 expressed reasons for having sex, ranging from the mundane (e.g., ‘‘I wanted to experience physical pleasure’’) to the spiritual (e.g., ‘‘I wanted to get closer to God’’), from altruistic (e.g., ‘‘I wanted the person to feel good about himself/herself’’) to vengeful (e.g., ‘‘I wanted to get back at my partner for having cheated on me’’). Factor analyses yielded four large factors and 13 subfactors, producing a hierarchical taxonomy. The Physical reasons subfactors included Stress Reduction, Pleasure, Physical Desirability, and Experience Seeking. The Goal Attainment subfactors included Resources, Social Status, Revenge, and Utilitarian. The Emotional subfactors included Love and Commitment and Expression. The three Insecurity subfactors included Self-Esteem Boost, Duty/Pressure, and Mate Guarding. Significant gender differences supported several previously advanced theories. Individual differences in expressed reasons for having sex were coherently linked with personality traits and with individual differences. This study formed the basis of the book Why Women Have Sex (Meston & Buss, 2009) and led to the development of the YSEX? Scale and the YSEX?-SF Scale.

In a follow-up study, we (Meston, Hamilton, & Harte, 2009) examined potential differences in sexual motivation between three distinct age groups of premenopausal women (18–22 years ,23–30 years, and 31–45years). We found women aged 31–45 years have more motives for engaging in sexual intercourse compared with women aged 18–30 years, but the primary reasons for engaging in sex do not differ within this former age range. In a second follow-up study, we (Stephenson, Ahrold, & Meston, 2011) examined whether sexual satisfaction may be partially dependent on sexual motives (the reasons people have sex). We found that certain types of motives predicted levels of sexual satisfaction for both men and women. However, a greater number of motive categories were related to satisfaction for women than for men, and sexual motives were a more consistent predictor of satisfaction for women than for men.

Recommended papers: 

Meston, C.M. & Stanton, A.M. (2017). Recent Findings on Women’s Motives for Engaging in Sexual Activity. Current Sexual Health Reports, 9(3), 128-135. PDF (417 KB)

Stephenson, KR, Ahrold, TK, Meston, CM (2011). The association between sexual motives and sexual satisfaction: Gender differences and categorical comparisons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 607-618. PDF (256 KB)

Meston, CM, Hamilton, LD & Harte, CB (2009). Sexual motivation in women as a function of age. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 3305-3319. PDF (126 KB)

Meston, CM & Buss, DM (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 477-507. PDF (476 KB)