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The Top 20 Reasons People Have Sex

Sexual motives go far beyond the 'Big Three' -- love, pleasure, and making babies.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Your partner may come up with a dozen excuses to say "Not tonight, dear, I have a ____," but how many reasons can the two of you name for wanting to have sex?

One? Two? Twenty? How about 200? Some college students have cited as many as 237 different reasons for having sex.

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From pleasure to procreation, insecurity to inquisitiveness -- today's reasons for taking a roll in the hay seem to vary as much as the terms for the deed itself. A 2010 Sexuality & Culture review of sex motivation studies states that people are offering "far more reasons for choosing to engage in sexual activity than in former times." And we're doing it more often too. It’s a stark contrast from historical assumptions, which cited only three sexual motive: To make babies, to feel good, or because you're in love.

Today, sexual behaviors seem to have taken on many different psychological, social, cultural, even religious meanings. Yet, some sexologists say, at the most basic level, there is only one true reason people seek sex.

Wired for Sex

"We are programmed to do so," sex therapist Richard A. Carroll, associate Northwestern University psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor says. "Asking why people have sex is akin to asking why we eat. Our brains are designed to motivate us toward that behavior."

The idea that humans are hard-wired for sex reflects an evolutionary perspective, according to University of Hawaii psychology professor Elaine Hatfield. "Evolutionary theorists point out that a desire for sexual relations is 'wired in' in order to promote species survival," she says. "Cultural theorists tend to focus on the cultural and personal reasons people have (or avoid) sex. Cultures differ markedly in what are considered to be 'appropriate' reasons for having or avoiding sex."

What's Your Motive?

Why do you seek sex? Motivations generally fall into four main categories, according to psychologists at UT-Austin who asked more than 1,500 undergraduate college students about their sexual attitudes and experiences:

  • Physical reasons: Pleasure, stress relief, exercise, sexual curiosity, or attraction to a person
  • Goal-based reasons: To make a baby, improve social status (for example, to become popular), or seek revenge
  • Emotional reasons: Love, commitment, or gratitude
  • Insecurity reasons: To boost self-esteem, keep a partner from seeking sex elsewhere, or feeling a sense of duty or pressure (for example, a partner insists on having sex)

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