What people want from sex will probably surprise you.

Sex and sexuality are important parts of life. Aside from procreation, sex offers a number of benefits, like helping you sleep, reducing stress, improving muscle tone and circulation, and even boosting your immune system.

For most people, sex plays a significant role in relationships, as well. Orgasms are healthy any time, but they’re also great tools to help people bond.

If you imagine your perfect life - the one you’re working toward right now - sex probably plays a role.

But sex is such a confusing topic. What do women want from sex? What do men want? Are you supposed to last a long time? Do you need to run through a bunch of positions?

Questions like those can be paralyzing. They can make you hesitate to take action and prevent you from going after the sex (and the life) you really want. You may think, “Maybe it’s easier to not bother…”

Sex isn’t as complex as we often think. It’s actually quite straightforward. Let’s talk about what people want from sex.

13 Reasons People Have Sex

Before we unpack what people want from sex, we have to break down why we have sex in the first place.

Conventional wisdom says that people have sex for two reasons: Procreation and pleasure. At least that’s what we thought before a 2007 study. It turns out that the reasons we have sex are far more nuanced.

  1. Tension relief. Sex can clear tensions from relationships.
  2. Pleasure. Physical sensation is a big part, no doubt.
  3. Desirability. Sometimes we just want to feel wanted and/or we want other people.
  4. Experience-seeking. We want to do something different or be with someone different.
  5. Utilitarian. We use sex to gain an advantage.
  6. Resource gain. We think we’ll get something from having sex.
  7. Revenge. We want to hurt someone (not always the sexual partner).
  8. Social status. We think having sex will improve our social standing.
  9. Love and commitment. Sex helps build strong attachments.
  10. Expression. We use sex to show how much we care.
  11. Self-esteem boost. Sex makes us feel better about ourselves.
  12. Duty. Sometimes we feel obligated.
  13. Mate-guarding. Sex can be a tool to protect your claim on your partner.

We know what you’re thinking: “Those aren’t that surprising…” Nope, they aren’t. We’d like to think we’re all having sex for love and expression, but let’s be real: Sometimes people have sex to get things, or to seek revenge, or just to get that hedonistic physical sensation.

What’s interesting is that both men and women feel the same way.

We tend to think that “experience-seeking,” “tension relief,” and “social status” are reasons men have sex, while “duty,” “mate-guarding,” and “expression” are reasons women have sex.

But all 13 reasons apply to men and women, across cultures and sexualities. Plenty of women in that study reported having sex for the sake of pleasure, and plenty of men reported having sex because they felt obligated.

Furthermore - and this one will shock you - research shows that genital stimulation is not necessarily important to the decision to have sex. “The truth is, many people are having sex right now without pleasure or any expectation of it, says Noam Shpancer, professor of psychology at Otterbein College. “It turns out that the deep experience of sexual pleasure depends somehow on the presence, and conduct, of others.”

Basically, the common element in good sex is the other person. According to sociologist Randall Collins, human sexuality can only be understood in a social context. Sexual desire isn’t solely about the physical sensation or procreation. It’s about the connection between people.

You see, we all have psychological needs. Connection is one of those needs. An important one, in fact. Sex is a tool to meet that need. It’s not a need itself.

TV, Film, and Porn

So if our primary sexual cravings are really about connecting with another person, why are we so interested in sexual media content? Porn is usually enjoyed alone. It doesn’t connect us with other people. (To be fair, some people enjoy pornography together.)

Interestingly, 60% of people use porn to learn about sex. According to one study, 93% of men and 67% of women reported being exposed to very adult types of pornography during adolescence. Many people are exposed to porn as young as 10 or 11 years old.

For many people, pornography becomes the basis for their sexual identity. It can even influence how people build relationships.

We’ve spoken before about the perils of comparing yourself to others. It’s a sure way to create unreasonable standards for yourself that you’ll never meet. The same lesson applies when we watch other people have sex in pornographic images and videos.

If you don’t take care, porn can create unrealistic expectations for your partners. Those expectations can skew the type, variety, and frequency of sex you think you’re supposed to have.

For instance, penis inadequacy is real for guys who consume a lot of porn. They see lots of penises that are on the upper end of the size curve. Eventually they fall into the trap of assuming all penises are that big, which makes their penis inadequate.

But as it turns out, millennial women prefer average penises. So if you’ve got a regular package, there’s no reason to worry because that’s what most women want.

(Interestingly, porn actors and actors prefer a wide variety of penises, most of which are pretty average.)

It's important to remember that the people you see in pornographic content are not realistic representations of beauty. Their looks and behaviors are designed to create a specific kind of image. They take people who are already objectively beautiful and enhance their appearance with makeup, styling, airbrushing, lighting, and post-production effects.

Many actors and actresses go to extreme lengths by undergoing surgery to exaggerate their porn look. Ever wonder why that actress has an impossibly large bust? She’s creating an image and she’s well aware that it doesn’t resemble real life.

Furthermore, many of the things they do in porn (the sounds, the positions, the places, etc.) just aren’t real. They’re cultivating a fantasy. If you try them in real life, you’ll probably realize right away that they aren’t practical or enjoyable outside of the fantasy.

Know Thyself and Thy Partner

If sex is about connecting with other people, then generalized questions like “Should I make him/her dinner first” or “Does he/she just feel obligated?” or “How much foreplay should I try?” all miss the point.

Good sex happens when you find a partner with similar preferences and communicate honestly with one another. That’s the only thing we can say people want for sure.

Good sex also requires you take an honest look at your own health. Diet and exercise both support a healthy sex life. Anxiety and stress can cause erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, even in young, otherwise healthy men.

If you’re struggling with ED or PE, don’t think you’re alone. 52% of men experience erectile dysfunction, but only 25% of them decide to talk to someone about it, let alone actually take some action. If you think you may have ED or PE, talk to us.