July 31, 2007
Why I Have Sex
Texas psychologists map the motives for our intimate connections.
An intriguing news item in this morning's New York Times reports on a University of Texas at Austin study of why people have sex. The researchers asked subjects why they had sex (or if they were inexperienced, why they would have sex if they could). They boiled down a longer list of 715 responses into a shorter list of 237 reasons, then analyzed and categorized them.
There are few surprises in the list of top responses. The researchers write: "An astonishing 123 items, or 52% of the items, showed significant gender differences." Duh!
Women tended toward more relational answers (??I wanted to express my love for the person''; ??I realized that I was in love.''). Men were more libidinous, more status oriented, and more utilitarian. Fortunately, relational factors still ranked high for men. Both "I wanted to please the person" and "I wanted to express my love for the person," were in the top ten reasons for men.
What was missing from the top 50 reasons for both sexes? Jon Tierney, writer of the Times article, noted wryly: "[The researchers] even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to have a child." Shockingly, this item showed up in the bottom 50 for men. Maybe that's just the sample bias that comes from relying largely on university students as subjects.
Nevertheless, the rarity of procreation as a conscious reason for sex poses a challenge for Christian believers. One of the key reasons that God invented sex is procreation. And while I can relate to many of the other reasons given in the study ("I was horny"; "I desired emotional closeness"), I have clear memories of having intercourse with my wife at various times precisely because we wanted a child (or another child).
My wife and I came of age just about the time the Pill was widely introduced to American society. We still thought in terms of the nexus between sex and children. In our contraceptive society, however, that intuitive connection has been culturally severed. I believe in using birth control to plan our families, but this cultural disconnect is one of the unforeseen side effects of the Pill. It sometimes seems that only among countercultural minority groups (such as conservative Protestants and Catholics, the Mormons, and Orthodox Jews) do the blessings of family and the acts of sex retain their fundamental connection.
So, to my countercultural fellows, I say, go make babies; go make families.