Reasons to Engage in Sex

By Isadora Alman

If I pose the questions “Why would anyone engage in sex? Why would you?” does the answer seem obvious? It isn’t always. Really.

Just for starters here are some possible reasons any person might: To express love, to feel loved, out of lust, to feel womanly or manly, to feel powerful, for sensual pleasure, for tension relief, to pacify a partner, because it’s expected, because saying “no” is too difficult, because the opportunity is there, to cement the pair bonding, to make a baby, because there’s nothing good on T.V. (I guess that dates me. Nowadays there’s streaming of anything one wishes.)

I hear a lot of Tsk tsk-ing about “today’s hook-up culture”. The implication being that in days of yore people always had sex for noble reasons, nothing so base as “because it feels good” or as uncomplicated as “because I can”. One of the Letters to the Editor I read in a local paper recently was someone objecting to the wider availability of Plan B, the morning after contraceptive. The writer’s position was that with such an easy antidote to an unplanned pregnancy available there would be “no consequences to casual sex”, as if an unwanted child should be a penalty one pays for promiscuity!

My reason for writing this piece is not as an investigation into the ethics of any sort of sexual interaction, but to look at the many reasons any two people might engage in sex and the ramifications of that on sex in general. At issue is the consequence of “not being on the same page.”

I remember counseling a couple several years ago in which the husband wanted his wife to occasionally indulge him in an essentially harmless fetish of wearing a particular outfit when they made love. She refused, insisting that she didn’t feel comfortable in the clothes he provided. Eventually she acquiesced but with an “Oh, all right (big sigh)” attitude. How pleasurable do you think it was for a loving husband to feel his wife was only indulging his touch with the greatest of effort?

Another couple I saw was an enthusiastic young man who wanted to marry the woman with whom he came into my office. The young woman was there to finally convince him that she had no such intentions and had gone to bed with him once on a whim. For her it was a single casual act; for him it had meant a declaration of love with an implied promise of love forever after.

These are two specific scenarios that generalize into a very common one – what sex means to one partner often does not mean the same to the other. When that happens, one person is bound to be disappointed, at the very least. Such misunderstandings can create anger, heartbreak, blasted self-esteem, questioning of one’s judgment and sometimes one’s very sanity.

Even within an ongoing loving couple one turning to the other out of a need to feel wanted and the other responding out of automatic lust or to seize the opportunity for any sex on offer damage can be done. Enough of these bruising misalignments of purpose in a couple’s bed will lead to irreparable damage to the relationship. I see this all too often in my office.

Is there a remedy? My favorite for most relationship problems: Communication! If you have a special need or want for a particular sexual act speak up: “Are you interested in making love tonight? I’m in need of some skin contact.” Or “Let’s get busy. I want to show you how much you turn me on.”

If you think your partner might be in a different frame of mind, say what’s true for you: “I’m restless. Let’s have sex.” Or “It’s been too long since we’ve had sex and I’m hungry. Are you game?”

Will this avoid all sex at cross purposes? Probably not. Many people are just not in the habit of being truthful about sexual matters. Many other people have no idea what motivates them. What such open communication will do is avoid some of the disappointment for some people some of the time and help you to understand yourself and your behavior much better. That’s an improvement at the very least.

Written by Isadora Alman, M.F.T.
She is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of “Ask Isadora.”
This blog was originally published on Psychology Today.