Friday, August 03, 2007

Why have sex? Researchers count 237 ways

WASHINGTON -- After exhaustively compiling a list of the 237 reasons why people have sex, researchers found that young men and women get intimate for mostly the same motivations.

It is more about lust in the body than a love connection in the heart.

US college-aged men and women agree on their top reasons for having sex -- they were attracted to the person, they wanted to experience physical pleasure and “it feels good,” according to a peer-reviewed study in the August edition of Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Twenty of the top 25 reasons given for having sex were the same for men and women.

Expressing love and showing affection were in the top 10 for both men and women, but they did take a back seat to the clear No. 1: “I was attracted to the person.”

Researchers at the University of Texas spent five years and their own money to study the overlooked “why” behind sex while other researchers were spending their time on the “how.”

Stereotypes refuted

“It’s refuted a lot of gender stereotypes . . . that men only want sex for the physical pleasure and women want love,” said University of Texas clinical psychology professor Cindy Meston, the study’s coauthor. “That’s not what I came up with in my findings.

"We found that people are having sex for lots of other reasons" beyond sheer arousal or a drive for procreation, said Meston.

Alongside predictable claims such as "I was 'horny'," "I was drunk," and "I was in love," was a catalogue of other "infrequent" justifications, from the sublime to the shocking.

Among them: "I wanted to get closer to God," "I felt sorry for the person," "I wanted to punish myself," and "I was slumming."

Both men and women reported doing it to get a job or promotion, or because they wanted to be "used or degraded."

Another response stated: "I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease."
Some claimed it was an aid to good sleep or even a headache cure.

A few respondents claimed they had done it because they wanted to have children.

“The more we look, the more we find similarity,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego.

Goldstein, who was not part of Meston’s study, said the Texas research made a lot of sense and adds to growing evidence that the vaunted differences in the genders may only be among people with sexual problems.

Meston and colleague David Buss first questioned 444 men and women -- ranging in age from 17 to 52 -- to come up with a list of 237 distinct reasons people have sex.

The reasons ranged from “It’s fun,” which men ranked fourth and women ranked eighth, to “I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease” which was ranked at the bottom by women.

Once they came up with that long list, Meston and Buss asked 1,549 college students taking psychology classes to rank the reasons on a one-to-five scale on how they applied to their experiences.

More opportunistic

“None of the gender differences are all that great,” Meston said. “Men were more likely to be opportunistic toward having sex, so if sex were there and available they would jump on it, somewhat more so than women. Women were more likely to have sex because they felt they needed to please their partner.”

But this is among college students among whom Meston conceded “hormones run rampant.” She predicted huge differences when older groups of people are studied.

Meston acknowledged the study was largely limited to the sexual habits of students and also that people might have been reluctant to cite socially unacceptable motivations, such as the desire to make money or punish a partner.

But she plans further studies in the future.

Since her study came out Tuesday, people are coming up with new reasons to have sex.

“Originally, I thought that we exhaustively compiled the list, but now I found that there should be some added,” Meston said.

"You need to know why people are having sex if you're trying to put into place a safe-sex program," Meston said.

"If you assume people have sex because they're in the heat of the moment, then (you tell them to) carry condoms. But if they're doing it for revenge or because they want to enhance their social status, that will require a different strategy."

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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