Since this issue of Craccum is all about sex, let’s look at the topic from a psychological standpoint. You’ve seen it portrayed in popular media, and you may or may not have had your own encounters with it. But, what are the motivations behind people wanting to have sex, and how do these motivations impact your relationship and wellbeing?
I know, you’re probably thinking: well Flora, there are a LOT of different reasons why people want to have sex. You’d be right to think that, because researchers have asked people (a large portion were university students) to list different reasons to have sex, and found over 200 different and unique reasons for why people engage in sex. These motivations can be grouped into two different categories: having sex for approach goals, and having sex for avoidance goals.
Having sex for approach goals means to have sex because you want to get closer to or be more intimate with the other person; you want to be affectionate, or you want to show them how much you love them. Basically, you just want to achieve a positive outcome.
Avoidance goals, on the other hand, are reasons such as you wanting to have sex to prevent an argument from happening, doing it so they don’t breakup with you or lose interest in you, or you don’t feel like you can say “no.” The motivations behind these sexual encounters are to avoid negative outcomes.
You may be thinking: well aren’t these two pretty similar? And for some, isn’t having sex to prevent a breakup a positive outcome?
Well, it was found that over a period of a few weeks, people who had sex for approach goals ultimately felt more satisfied in both their relationship and sex lives. Furthermore, these motivations were also associated with better personal and interpersonal wellbeing.
Conversely, people who had sex for avoidance goals felt less relationship and sexual satisfaction, and these motivations also showed negative associations with personal and interpersonal wellbeing.
The consequences of your motivations extend to more than just yourself; one person’s motivation for having sex influences the other person’s relationship and sexual satisfaction. Over time, having sex for avoidance goals predicts decreases in relationship quality and sexual desire for everyone in the relationship.
What this means then, is that despite the efforts you put into your sex life to avoid negative outcomes, you may end up getting caught in a vicious cycle, as your efforts may only create more reason to have sex for avoidance goals. In fact, it is perhaps better to kindly turn down the other person’s advances than to have sex for avoidance goals.
Contrary to popular belief, having sex with your partner after fighting (also known as ‘makeup sex’) is actually not as great as it’s made out to be in the media. While the research on this isn’t abundant, it has been found that having sex after conflict was less enjoyable than having sex on days without conflict, although it does temporarily buffer against the negative effects of conflict experience (sex really does wonders for your love life). However, in the long-term, it doesn’t appear to buffer against changes in relationship satisfaction; probably because when people have sex after fighting, it tends to be for avoidance goals.
Perhaps, having more approach goals than avoidance goals when engaging in ‘makeup sex’ will allow people to reap more benefits from it.
So, having the right motivations for sex is important. Ultimately, it does appear to be best for your relationship, your sex life, and overall wellbeing, to have sex for approach goals.
Of course, this comes with caveats. As there are typically two people in a relationship (and it also takes at least two to have sex), it’s important to consider everyone’s sexual motivations because one’s motivations will impact others.
For further reading:
Kim, J., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2018) – The relationship implications of rejecting a partner for sex kindly versus having sex reluctantly.
Maxwell, J. A., & Meltzer, A. L. (2020) – Kiss and makeup? Examining the co-occurrence of conflict and sex.
Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007) – Why Humans Have Sex.
Muise, A., Impett, E. A., & Desmarais, S. (2013) – Getting it on versus getting it over with: Sexual motivation, desire, and satisfaction in intimate bonds.
Impett, E. A., Peplau L. A., & Gable, S. L. (2005) – Approach and avoidance sexual motives: Implications for personal and interpersonal well-being.