Why We Have Sex

Why do we have sex? Well, beyond the fact it feels good it seems that there are two main motives behind our desire to get down. Two recent studies from the University of Toronto examine two broad rationales behind sex in long term relationships. Basically it all comes down to avoidance or approach.

As stated in the research, “approach motives pursue a positive outcome, (‘I want to increase intimacy with my spouse” or ‘I want to feel closer to my partner.’). Avoidance motives aim to evade a negative outcome, (‘I want to avoid conflict” or “I don’t want to feel guilty.’) ”

I think most people would cop to the fact that sex can serve as a healing aspect to their relationship but also that we use it to achieve different outcomes. I actually don’t think it is a bad idea to have sex even if it is out of avoidance. At least you are having sex, and I don’t mean this flippantly. Of course, I’m not talking about people who feel coerced into intercourse. Having physical contact can cause all sorts of positive biochemical responses. The act itself releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which can help to soothe your own central nervous system as well as create feelings of warmth towards your partner. So even if on the surface you are trying to “avoid” conflict or guilt, having sex is still good for you.Why We Have SexSome people will take issue with this fact, saying that no one should have sex out of negative motivations but all of us at one time or another have had a positive outcome come out of negative reinforcement. Think about dieting or exercise. It’s good for you to work out even if you don’t want to. I believe this concept is especially important to women, who we know benefit from having sex even if they do not feel aroused. Research has indicated that women often need physical stimulation in order to get aroused — not the other way around. If women wait to become aroused it may never happen. Why is that? Simply stated, we are not like men whose sex drive is driven by testosterone. Plus one could argue that men are socialized to initiate sex more than women are anyway.

Regardless, it is good to examine your motivations. If you find that you are having sex more often than not out guilt or avoiding conflict, it should serve as red flag that perhaps something is a miss in other aspects of your relationship. The occasional avoidance sex can still serve to bring us closer together. Sometimes it does pay to “just do it.”


 is the resident sexologist at Adam & Eve and also runs a private practice and media consulting business. She has a Doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Her professional affiliations include AASECT, SSSS, and the American Board of Sexologists. She also has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and completed a postgraduate degree in Marriage, Family and Addictions Recovery Therapy.

© Copyright Dr. Kathleen Van Kirk