Why Have Sex?

These researchers have hundreds of reasons.

Pamela Tames
The author, digesting her latest "cub". Yum.
Photograph: Photo by Craig Alexander

What is good sex for? I’ve asked myself that a million times and come up with the uninspired answer—it feels good. Thankfully there is now real research providing hundreds of more reasons, some even surprising. All of which explains why sex gets so complicated for women especially—we ask a lot from it.

As reported in Time on October 6, Cindy Meston and David Buss, psychologists at the University of Texas, interviewed over 1,000 women around the world for their book Why Women Have Sex. They list 237 reasons, with the most frequent including:

  • sexual attraction to the person
  • desire for physical pleasure
  • to express affection
  • to express their love for a person
  • they were sexually aroused and wanted release

Other less obvious reasons are:

  • to boost self-esteem or sexual esteem
  • to get revenge (as in, getting back at a cheating partner, or having sex with the partner of a friend who had poached her partner)
  • to secure "mate insurance" in case a partner dumps them
  • to relieve pain
  • to achieve health benefits such as getting rid of a headache
  • to decrease stress
  • to lose weight
  • as a sleep aid
  • for benefits such as “getting her partner to take out the garbage, securing free dinners or getting expensive gifts”

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to have sex simply because the opportunity presents itself or they need something to brag about to their peers.

No surprises there.

But here’s a finding that gave me pause, mostly because I’ve noticed it more lately. Researchers documented that the practice of “mate-poaching” was higher than expected.  That’s the frequency with which women try to lure men who are already "taken," either for a short-term sexual liaison or a longer-term relationship. Turns out most women have experienced mate-poaching in one form or another, either as the mate poacher or as the victim.

I know I have, when I was married, in fact. I remember looking over at my husband at the time; he was dancing with the girlfriend of the host at a New Year’s party. I thought to myself, “that’s so cute,” and actually waved at them. He’s married to her now.

I like to think I’m a little sharper these days. Especially since the older I’ve become, the more it seems the pool of eligible men has shrunk to a teardrop. When this happens say the researchers, sexual competition with other women gets more fierce.

I’m the last person to encourage you to eyeball your girlfriend suspiciously as, awestruck, she watches your husband take out the garbage. Unless of course she unbuttons the top of her blouse and bends over a lot as she asks for seconds at the dinner table.

Nope, I’m all about the proactive approach. Rather than rely on your peers for intimate relations, venture forth beyond the generation gap. Expand that dating drop to an ocean. Consider, dare I say, a younger man.

What’s your reaction?

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