Sex and Travel: Why Trips Often Turn Us On
October 20, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
A friend of mine told me about a recent discussion he had with friends where everyone talked about having had a similar experience: whenever they were away on a trip, they noticed feeling much hornier than they usually do at home. My friend asked why this was the case, so I figured I’d write a post about it.
So how common is it for people to feel horny when they travel? This is a difficult question to answer precisely because I don’t know of any studies that have really looked at this comprehensively. Certainly, there’s research out there on sex and travel, but most of what I’ve seen has focused on college students having sex on spring break or sex tourism (i.e., when people travel somewhere and pay for sex).
These studies indicate that people often let loose sexually when they travel, sometimes doing things they wouldn’t normally do at home. This suggests that traveling can indeed change our sexual psychology in some ways (or that some people just plan to explore their sexuality when they travel), but these studies don’t really tell us how common this experience is.
That said, my research on sexual fantasies suggests that there is a pretty broad tendency for people to associate sex with travel. In the survey of 4,175 Americans’ sexual fantasies I conducted for my book Tell Me What You Want, I found that most people reported having had fantasies that took place outside of their home environment. For example:
- 83% had fantasized about sex in an exotic setting, such as on a beach
- 85% had fantasized about having sex in nature
- 90% had fantasized about sex in a hotel
- 77% had fantasized about sex in a car or other motor vehicle
- 53% had fantasized about sex on an airplane
These numbers suggest that transportation, travel, and vacation are common things people associate with sex, which might help to explain, in part, the travel horniness phenomenon: if you have fantasies about sex and travel and then find yourself surrounded by travel cues, that might very well bring the fantasy to mind. However, that’s probably not the only thing going on here.
When we travel, we tend to break our regular routines, which can create more opportunities to become aroused. At the same time, being in a novel environment can produce a heightened state of generalized arousal—and that arousal, in turn, can potentially increase sexual arousal. For example, if you happen to be doing lots of active and exciting things on your trip, the resulting increase in generalized arousal can amplify sexual arousal (read more about this idea here).
Beyond the novelty of the travel environment itself, there are also all of the new people you’re seeing and meeting. You may very well see lots of attractive people you’ve never seen before, which can also prompt more sexual interest.
Plus, if you’re traveling for a vacation, you may be in a totally different and more relaxed mindset than usual because you’re away from work for a while. This can open the door to feeling aroused because you’ve temporarily escaped a potent source of distraction and stress. Related to this, you may have cues at home that either induce stress or inhibit arousal, such as having all of your work stuff in your bedroom or reminders of things you need to do around the house, such as piles of laundry—and those cues disappear while you’re away.
Of course, we shouldn’t neglect the fact that people often consume more alcohol on vacations (especially on things like spring break trips), and we know that alcohol can cause disinhibition and have an aphrodisiac-like effect.
There’s also the fact that traveling somewhere else can provide a sense of psychological freedom in the sense that nobody else there knows you. In this way, travel affords a unique opportunity to be someone new—to explore a different side of yourself or recreate yourself in that environment. Travel can also provide some sense of freedom from judgment—what happens on your trip can stay on your trip and nobody at home (friends, roommates, etc.) has to know. As they say, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” right?
That sense of anonymity and freedom from judgment is probably part of the reason why people often take more sexual risks while they travel (and again, alcohol may play a role in that, too!).
When you put all of this together, you can see that there are many potential reasons why travel could make it easier to become and stay aroused—or to feel more intensely aroused than usual.
So, what do you think? Do you tend to get horny when you travel? Does it only occur on certain types of trips? What is it about travel that arouses you? Weigh in with your comments below.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & 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.Read full bio >