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What Motivates Us to Have Sexual Relations (or Not to)?

What Motivates Us to Have Sexual Relations (or Not to)?

The Internet, movies, television, video games, advertising—sex is all around us, and people seem endlessly fascinated by it. As you have learned, most people report feel- ing sexual attraction. If you are part of that majority, you know that attraction is only the first step toward having sex. People also need to be motivated to engage in sexual behavior. We experience this motivation as desire when we recognize that we want to engage in sexual activity.

The desire to engage in sexual relations is one of the most durable and power- ful motivators that we humans experience. But while many of us have a significant desire for sex, what motivates us to have sex varies considerably among individuals and across circumstances. Our sexual motivation is generally influenced by three factors: biology, our environment and culture, and individual differences. As you learn about these factors, consider how each one influences your motivation to have sex (or not to).

Biology Influences Our Motivation for Sexual Activity For much of the history of psychology, the study of sex was taboo. The idea that women were motivated to have sex was almost unthinkable. In fact, many early theo- rists argued that women were incapable of enjoying sex. In the 1950s, the pioneering work of Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues provided what was then shocking evidence that women’s sexual attitudes and behaviors were in many ways similar to men’s (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953). In his surveys of thousands of Ameri- cans, Kinsey found that more than half of both men and women reported premarital sexual behavior, that masturbation was common in both sexes, that women enjoyed orgasms, and that homosexual behaviors were much more common than most people realized (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey et al., 1953).

Kinsey’s surveys were controversial, but he showed a deep respect for collect- ing data as a way of answering a research question. More than 50 years after his work, we know a great deal more about sexual behavior based on the responses of his participants. However, his surveys did not reveal how the physical aspects of sex might affect the motivation for sex. This section examines our current understand- ings of biological motivation for sex.

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