What motivates people to have sex?
Amy Muise and her colleagues at the University of Toronto say there are two main reasons we get it on: approach goals and avoidance goals.
A person who has sex for “approach goals” is motivated by positive outcomes, such as feeling closer to a partner or physical pleasure. In contrast, a person who has sex for “avoidance goals” is focused on avoiding negative outcomes, such as disappointing a partner or preventing a fight.
Approach and avoidance theories of sexual motivation are not new. But for the first time, researchers looked at how a person’s sexual goals impact the quality of the relationship and the level of sexual satisfaction of their partner. This was demonstrated in three studies recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
In short: Researchers found that people’s goal’s for sex matter. It changes the sexual experience.
The Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Bernstein explains how one study, which looked at day-to-day changes in a couple’s relationship, was conducted:
In the first, 108 heterosexual dating couples completed a survey every day for two weeks. On days that they had sex, the partners each answered 26 questions about their motives, rating them from 1 to 7. Examples: “To prevent my partner from becoming upset” or “To feel better about myself.” They also rated their relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction and desire each day.
The results: On days when a person’s motivation to have sex is more positively oriented, he or she felt more satisfied — both in the relationship and sexually — and had a higher level of desire. Conversely, on days when someone was motivated to have sex by more negative goals, he or she felt less satisfied and less desire.
In another study, researchers had real-life couples read fictional scenarios about other couples whose reasons for having sex were provided.
Here’s an example scenario from the study:
John and Katie have been dating for several months. One night, John and Katie go out for dinner and see a late movie. After the date, they have sex. Katie’s reason for having sex that night is to feel closer to John.
The real couple was then asked to rate the relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and the level of sexual desire for the person whose sexual goals were reported (In this case, Katie).
The results were consistent with the other study: Participants believed that people who had sex for approach goals had higher relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who had sex for avoidance reasons.
The authors conclude: “Engaging in sex with a partner to pursue intimacy or to experience closeness promotes sexual desire, which in turn, enhances sexual and relationship satisfaction. In contrast, pursing sex to avert negative consequences such as conflict or a partner’s disappointment diminishes sexual desire, and in turn, detracts from sexual and relationship quality.”
So should a person still have sex if they are avoidance-motivated? This is probably OK, at least in the short-term, says Muise. In other words, sex vs. no sex will always contribute to higher satisfaction.
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