Women’s Most (And Least) Common Reasons For Having Sex

March 20, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

Both men and women report a wide range of reasons for having sex. In fact, one previous study identified as many as 237 distinct sexual motivations! But how do our reasons for sex differ based on the kind of relationship we’re in? And do our sexual motivations differ depending upon our sexual orientation? A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight into these questions, at least for women.

In this study, 510 adult women (recruited online and through a university) completed a survey about what motivates them to have sex. Participants were 21.6 years old on average. Most identified as heterosexual (61.7%) and were from Canada (94%).

Participants were given a list of 140 different motivations for having sex drawn from past research, such as pleasure, love, and revenge. For each item, participants indicated how often they had sex for that specific reason in four distinct contexts: casual sex with a woman, casual sex with a man, committed relationship sex with a woman, and committed relationship sex with a man.

In terms of relationship context, physical reasons were more frequently endorsed than emotional reasons when women had sex with a casual partner; however, the reverse was true for sex with a committed partner, meaning emotional reasons were more common than physical reasons in this case. These results held regardless of partner gender.

Examples of some of the most common reasons for sex with a casual partner included: “I wanted to experience the physical pleasure,” “The person’s physical appearance turned me on,” “I was ‘horny,’” and “It feels good.”

Examples of some of the most common reasons for sex with a committed partner included: “I wanted to show my affection to the person,” “I wanted to express my love for the person,” and “I desired emotional closeness.”

For both casual and committed sex with male and female partners, the least commonly reported motivations did not differ and generally focused on achieving certain goals, such as “I wanted to feel closer to God” and (disturbingly) “I wanted to give someone else a sexually transmitted disease.”

For the most part, women’s patterns of sexual attraction were not associated with their reasons for having sex. In other words, when comparing women with same-sex or bisexual attraction to women who were attracted to men, motivations for sex were largely the same. At least in this sample, sexual orientation therefore did not appear to play much of a role in sexual motivation.

As is the case with every study, this one has its limitations, including the fact that most participants were university students. It’s possible that the pattern of findings might be different in an older sample, or one with more cultural and ethnic diversity. In addition, most women were heterosexual, and those of other sexualities had relatively few same-sex experiences. As such, a more diverse sample would be useful before drawing too many conclusions about the sexual orientation findings.

That said, this research provides additional support for the idea that women’s reasons for sex are many and varied. Importantly, though, it also tells us that women’s motivations for sex depend upon the context of their relationship.

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To learn more about this research, see: Armstrong, H. L., & Reissing, E. D. (2015). Women’s motivations to have sex in casual and committed relationships with male and female partners. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(4), 921-934.

Image Source: 123RF/Katarzyna Białasiewicz

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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