Alfred Kinsey became famous for studying what people get up to in their bedrooms. But until recently, little research has been dedicated to why people do what they do. Texas psychologists Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss decided to ask women a simple question—why do you have sex?—and got some unexpected results.
“Responses ranged from extreme altruism—to make a person feel better about themselves, even when they said they were not at all attracted to them but felt sorry for them—to the mundane, people saying they were bored,” Meston, a University of Texas at Austin clinical psychology professor, tells the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Some women said they had intercourse to overcome loneliness or because sex had “medicinal” effects on everything from migraine headaches to fibromyalgia. Others turned to sex for revenge, to get back at someone who had cheated on them; still others wanted to experience partners of different races, shapes, and sizes. Then there were those who admitted they had sex for a reason that Meston describes as “borderline evil”: to give someone a sexually transmitted illness.
The two researchers used the information they gathered—during three years spent interviewing more than 1,000 North American women aged 18 to 87—to write Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations From Adventure to Revenge (and Everything in Between) (Tantor, $38.99).
The pair’s research does away with outdated stereotypes that women have sex only for love or commitment. By far the most common reason women said they get between the sheets is sensual bliss.
“For women, the biggest response for why they had sex was for physical pleasure, for excitement, for orgasm, for physical gratification,” Meston says. What the responses show, according to Meston as well as two Vancouver sexperts, is that women are truly and finally taking charge of their sexuality, allowing themselves to revel in pure pleasure. In other words, sisters are doin’ it for themselves.
“After 20 years of studying sexual dysfunction and sexual problems, I was so happy to see that,” Meston says. “That’s good news.”
Vancouver sex therapist Teesha Morgan says it’s a myth that the main motivations for women wanting sex are love and conception.
“Men have always been thought of as having a greater interest in casual sex than women, but that’s not necessarily true,” Morgan tells the Straight by phone. “Women’s liberation”¦and the invention of reliable birth control really paved the way for females today. Without much worry of being chastised for having sex outside of wedlock, combined with the empowerment of being able to control pregnancy, women have more reason than ever to explore their sexuality and have sex for virtually any reason they see fit. Women are embracing their sexuality and that gives a sense of psychological empowerment.”
Bianca Rucker, a Vancouver sex therapist, notes that the reasons women have sex change throughout their lives, and it’s a positive trend that women are not only enjoying their sexuality but also taking charge of it.
“For women, it’s about tuning in to what’s important to them and being assertive about it,” Rucker says in a phone interview. “Historically, they don’t speak up as much for themselves. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, but”¦it’s important for a woman to be able to express herself and her desires.”
The benefits of sex go far beyond the feel-good factor, Morgan notes.
Before and during orgasm, a woman’s level of oxytocin—a hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter—goes up five times, Morgan explains, and the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone is released as well.
Sex is also a good form of exercise: a woman can burn 85 calories or more during a half-hour romp, she says. It also increases testosterone, which contributes to bone health.
Then there are the positive effects sex has on quality of sleep, circulation, cardiovascular function, and immunity.
“Are women thinking they should have sex to boost their immunity and make a cold go away? Probably not. But, subconsciously, there are so many benefits.”
Not all of the responses in Buss and Meston’s research were positive. Eighty-four percent of married women said that at some point they had sex out of a sense of duty, a fact that Morgan says is rooted in the sexual repression of the Victorian era. At the time, women were to “lie back, think of the queen, and wait for it to be over.”
“Sexual misery and feelings of inadequacy go back to Victorian culture,” Morgan says. “The sexual frustration [during that time], on women especially, is undeniable.”
Other reasons women gave for having sex ranged from boosting self-esteem to getting their partners to do household chores. For some, it was linked to money, a job promotion, or a raise.
Some women said they had sex to “mate guard”: to prevent their partner from straying. Others did it to recover from a breakup. “One woman said the best way to get over a man was to get under another one,” Meston says.
It’s her hope that Why Women Have Sex will get more people contemplating what’s luring them to the bedroom.
“Most women don’t spend a lot of time thinking about why they have sex,” Meston says. “My hope is that it will make them think more about the reasons they have sex and the consequences, and make more informed choices, better choices.”¦I’m hoping they’ll be able to identify those reasons, do a mental survey of their own.”