Why We Do It

The many reasons people have sex may surprise you.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 9:36 AM

July 31, 2007 — -- Have you ever had sex to feel closer to God?

How about to change the topic of conversation? Or because you wanted to get rid of a headache or break up a rival's relationship?

Perhaps you just wanted to debase yourself.

A new study, published today in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, suggests that the reasons we have sex may be much more varied than previously thought.

"In the scientific literature, they've really only been talking about the most obvious reasons why people have sex -- because they're in love, because it feels good and because they want to have a baby," says study author Cindy Meston, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

"But after 17 years of doing research into women's sexuality, it was apparent to me that people are having sex for all sorts of reasons that weren't being discussed in the literature," she said.

The researchers first sampled 203 men and 241 women, ranging in age from 17 to 52. They asked them to list all the reasons why they ever had sex.

Some of what they found surprised the researchers.

They received answers from "The person smelled nice" to "I wanted to burn calories" to "I wanted to get out of doing something."

"Some of the negative motivators -- the ones that had to do with revenge, or manipulation, or competition -- really surprised us," says Meston. "One of the darkest answers was 'to give someone else an STD,' and that really surprised us."

Some of the other answers they found had nothing to do with pleasure, emotional attachment or procreation -- what many would consider the usual reasons for sex.

"There were lots of things about enhancing psychological or physical well-being, like getting rid of a headache, cramps or stress," says Meston.

The researchers then took their compiled list -- 237 motivations for making love in all -- and gave it to undergraduate students at the University of Texas. The students indicated on a questionnaire how frequently each of the reasons led them to have sex in the past.