Sex and Decision Making
The many reasons for Sex
When we think of why people engage in sexual activities…what might be some reasons? The reasons might seem pretty straightforward, however, a study found that there are over 237 reasons why people participate in sexual activities and it does not always have to do with pleasure, reproduction, or feelings of attraction (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17610060).
What these reasons demonstrate is that human sexuality is complex.
For example, some of the reasons include:
- For physical and/or emotional pleasure, intimacy, to connect with their partner(s), out of boredom, for a distraction, because of pressure, to reproduce, for fun, to experiment, for work, as an expectation, to keep a partner happy, out of fear of losing the relationship, to feel sexually attractive, to make the other person feel good, because you are attracted to the person, to relieve tension or stress, or a combination of these reasons.
- The study grouped the most common reasons people have “sex” into 4 areas which include:
- For physical reasons (i.e., to reduce stress, for pleasure, because you are attracted to the person or want to feel physically desirable, because you are wanting to experiment)
- For emotional reasons (to express affection, to express other feelings, to feel closer, for love, for commitment)
- For goal-related reasons (for resources such as income, job, gifts, substances, to enhance social status like being more popular and telling friends, for getting back at someone, to make someone jealous, to reduce a headache, to help fall asleep)
- For reasons related to boosting self-esteem, guarding the relationship, out of duty/pressure
The reasons that people engage in sexual activities can also be different depending on the context or relationship. For example, the reasons might be different depending on whether someone is masturbating on their own or having sexual relationships with other people whether that is casual, anonymous, dating, friends with benefits, partners, spouse, in a non-monogamous relationship, with a client or any other type of sexual connection.
While the study may not be representative of all people, we can see that there are many diverse reasons why people engage in sexual activities and it might not always be out of pleasure. In looking at these reasons, this may provide an opportunity for each of us to examine what some of our own reasons are for having sex and for noticing which reasons we are okay with and which reasons might make us uncomfortable. This is not to judge ourselves or others but rather to provide a time for us to explore what we are hoping for in our sexual experiences and what our realities might be.
Our sexual health is a journey. While we hope that you will always feel empowered to make the sexual health choices that are right for your body and mind, we understand that life is complex and that along the way there are up’s and down’s, shifts and turns and through it, we hope that you will always know you are supported at Options for Sexual Health and can have access to the care and information you may need.
The decision to engage in sexual activity with others is very personal and is usually influenced by many social factors such as personal values, cultural beliefs, and self-esteem.
There are many reasons why people have sex. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice and sometimes things happen in the moment. If you are consciously thinking about whether or not you would like to engage in sexual activity with others, some things you may want to consider could be:
- What are my reasons for wanting to explore sexual activity?
- Am I okay with these reasons? There are no right or wrong reasons. It is about your own personal values, beliefs, and comfort level.
- Do I feel safe with this person/people to explore sexual activity?
- Is there anything I need to know before engaging in sexual activity with others?
- Are there specific questions I have or information I need? (Sex Sense can help!)
- Am I trying to prevent pregnancy? (this question is inclusive of all people whose bodies can get pregnant whether as cis-women, gender diverse people, people of all gender identities, partners of someone who can get pregnant, etc.) If so, what information might I need to help me do this?
- Do I need access to birth control options?
- Will my sexual partner/partners respect my need to prevent pregnancy?
- Do I need information on my chances of pregnancy, for example, maybe I am a trans guy (assigned female sex at birth and whose gender identity leans towards masculine*) and on hormones and not sure if my body can still get pregnant?
- Or maybe I am not sure if the sexual activity I want to engage in will create a chance of pregnancy?
- Or maybe I am a cis-male (a person assigned male sex at birth and also has a male gender identity) and have a partner who can get pregnant and I am also wanting to prevent pregnancy and want to talk about this together?
- Am I trying to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
- If so, what information do I need to play safe and where can I get the safer sex supplies I might need?
- How can I communicate my desire to use safer sex supplies with my sexual partners?
- Are they on the same page in terms of wanting to prevent STIs?
- Can I talk to this person/people about the decision to be sexual?
- Are there specific things I want to talk to this person/people about such as what our expectations might be, what sexual activities we want to explore, our sexual histories, safe words, how to gather consent, etc..
- Is the sexual activity legal in terms of age of consent (in Canada, the age of consent is 16, but there are additional details like the close in age exception, as well as sexual exploitation caveats to this that are important to understand)
- What can I do to ensure that sexual exploration is consensual? (What is consent? Find out here!)
Sometimes, people go through these questions and realized they aren’t ready. That is absolutely okay. Only you can determine when you are ready to have sex, no one else.
It’s also really important to consider if you are the partner of someone who is not ready to have sex that it is okay for them to say no. Your role as a supportive partner is to accept that no, without shaming or guilting your partner. It’s just as important to learn how to take a no as it is to be the one saying no.
Other things to consider
How do people know what they like sexually?
It can be really difficult to know what you like sexually and how to ask for that from a partner if you aren’t sure what it is you like. Self-pleasuring or masturbating to see what one likes sexually is a great way to identify what feels good. The added benefits of masturbation are numerous including stress release, insomnia relief, relaxation, and of course, pleasure!
How can I tell my partner what I want?
Just like everything we do as human beings, at first, it can be really challenging to talk to a partner about what you like sexually. Once you’ve figured out what you are interested in, consider practicing asking for what you want, what you like, and what feels good for you. Many people, no matter what their age, find this difficult. It’s never too late to start practicing this and engaging your partner in a conversation about what you want.
*trans masculine definition adapted from: http://transhealth.phsa.ca/trans-101/glossary#G