Why do people have sex? The answer might seem pretty obvious. This is because most people assume that the motivation behind having sex is simple in nature; that people have sex either to reproduce, to experience pleasure, or to relieve sexual tension. You might want to think about or discuss this topic with your friends to find out other people’s motivations behind having sex before dwelling on this topic further. Their answers may surprise you…

Several theories in this field suggest that motivations for engaging in sexual activity might be far more numerous and psychologically complex than it is intuitively thought in the first place. Researchers documented many different motivations behind having sex. Where Leigh (1989) reported seven motivations including “emotional closeness”, “to please a partner” and “because the partner wants it”, Hill and Preston (1996) reported eight motivations including “to enhance feelings of personal power” and “to experience a partner’s power”.

From all the research in this area, Meston and Buss (2005) probably published the most comprehensive exploration of the reasons people express for having sex. Fist, people were asked the following open-ended prompt stating “Please list all the reasons you can think of why you, or someone you have known, has engaged in sexual intercourse in the past”. From this prompt, they have identified 237 distinct motivations.

Motivations ranging 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”) revealed that people have sex not just to reproduce or experience pleasure but for a lot of reasons. For example, “I was attracted to the person”, “I wanted to express my love for the person”, “I was horny”, “It’s fun”, “My hormones were out of control”, “I wanted to communicate at a deeper level… Their analysis showed that those reasons fall under four primary categories that are listed below:

  1. Physical reasons, such as stress reduction, pleasure, physical desirability, and experience seeking
  2. Goal attainment reasons, such as attaining resources, enhancing social status, and getting revenge
  3. Emotional reasons, such as escalating the level of commitment and expressing love
  4. Insecurity reasons, such as boosting self-esteem, feelings of duty/pressure, and mate guarding

Of course, we do not yet know that whether these reasons are universally applicable since cross-cultural differences when it comes to motivations behind having sex is a whole another topic of research but, it is evident that there are many motivations and indisputable individual differences behind having sex. One thing is certain that human sexuality is motivated by complex and multifaceted psychology, offering a lot of areas to discover in research.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Seray Soyman is a Psychology graduate from Turkey. Currently, she is working as an intern at Willingness and doing her master’s on Clinical Psychosexology at Sapienza University, Rome. Seray’s research interests are sex-positive behavior, sexual habits, LGBTQIA+ studies, and reproductive health.


Hill, C. A. & Preston, L. K. (1996). Individual differences in the experience of sexual motivation: Theory and measurement of dispositional sexual motives. Journal of Sex Research, 33, 27-45.

Leigh, B. C. (1989). Reasons for having and avoiding sex: Gender, sexual orientation, and relationship to sexual behavior. Journal of Sex Research, 26, 199-209.

Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 36(4), 477-507.