Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Her Sexual Motivations

woman in bed

If you had asked me before, “Ever wonder why women have sex?” 

I’d probably answer, “Of course not! Why would I? Isn’t it obvious?”

But since understanding why women seek sex will improve your sex life in many ways, it is to your benefit that you know this.

You know this too, somewhere deep inside you, that women have sex either because it feels good, they want babies, or for love.

Yes, love… since many women find sex to be the deepest form of love and connection. 

And “it feels good” seems like an understatement to me. Why? Because while you may reach orgasm quicker, hers is often more powerful and could include multiple orgasms. 

Since many women are very sexually oriented, pure physical pleasure is one of her most common sexual motivations as you’ll see later.

You might even argue that there’s really only one reason why people have sex, and that is because it is coded in our genes, wired in our very being, and etched in our bones — for the survival of our species.

Although that may be true, even after the children grow up, sex doesn’t stop does it?

And, as you know, some (or many) even prevent conceiving altogether.

Anyway, there are a lot more reasons why women have sex. 

How many exactly? 

Women have 237 distinct sexual motivations according to a University of Texas study published in the August 2007 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Gasp. That’s a lot. 

And there’s probably more.

So even though our brains are designed to motivate us toward sex, according to women from all over the world, they use sex to boost their self-esteem, gain a promotion, to keep their lovers and many others as you will find out.

What Motivates Women To Have Sex

Although the top 3 reasons given were:

  • I was attracted to the person.
  • I wanted to experience physical pleasure.
  • It feels good.

There are four main categories that motivate women to have sex: physical, emotional, goal-based, and insecurity.

So let’s begin with…

Physical Reasons

I have in the past had sexual relationships with men who were strictly friends just for the pleasure of having sex. In terms of emotions, there really weren’t any except the fear that the guy might end up wanting more.

heterosexual woman, age 27

For pleasure

If you look at the top three, physical pleasure occupies two spots. And to the surprise of no one, these same two reasons are what also motivates most men for having sex.

But this one may surprise you:

Women don’t agree that men are more pleasure-driven than women. 

For some women, almost any part of her body can become an erogenous zone and sexual pleasure can be intensified just by being touched.

And how do you describe an orgasm? 

Well, check this out: 

Women describe the psychological experience of orgasm as incredible, powerful, fulfilling, satisfying, intense, exciting, euphoric, pleasurable, elated, rapturous, loving, tender, close, passionate, unifying, relaxing, soothing, peaceful, ecstatic, and wild.

However, good sex is learned; you have to work for it. 

For many women, there’s little pleasure associated with their first time having sex. And sexual science says that the more sexually experienced a woman is, the more likely she is to have an orgasm.

The reason for this is simple: 

The more sex a woman has, the more she will learn what feels good to her and how to have an orgasm.

For a man, it also takes time to get good. Fortunately, this tells you exactly how.

Exploring their sexuality

Before women were able to get a full-time job, their best option was to protect their virginity.

And those who remained chaste until marriage were considered respectable, trustworthy, and pure.

In return, they were eligible to marry well and get food, shelter, and social status that came with it. 

Now the stories told are very different. 

I was in college and all my friends had experienced [sex] and I wanted to know what it was like. Thinking about how everyone in the world knew what sex was and that people started wars and killed over it. . . it made me curious and I felt a sort of “pressure” to find out about it.

heterosexual woman, age 24

Of course, not every woman wants to lose her virginity sooner or before she gets married.

It is still influenced by cultural and religious expectations. 

But for many women in the study, they said they frequently had sex because they wanted the experience.

They wanted to try something new — a sexual technique, a position, or what it was like with someone other than their current partners. 

Some simply wanted to see what all the fuss is about, and others said it was something they wanted to do to fit in with their peers.

Several even viewed it as something they just wanted to be done with — like taking a dose of bad-tasting cough medicine.

Others were… 

Just plain curious

Of the women in the study who reported having sex out of curiosity, some were curious about what a certain person was like in bed or whether the person would live up to their sexual reputation.

While some women were curious about what sex would be like with someone of a gender they had not had sex with before.

But the one thing women were most sexually curious about was penis size.

They wondered whether penis size made a difference, and if so, what difference it makes.

The first person I had sex with was not well endowed. I figured it couldn’t get any worse than that. The second guy I had sex with was very well endowed. I wanted to experience the difference.

heterosexual woman, age 22

For many younger women, it seems they have sex because they wanted to improve their sexual skills or avoid the humiliation of being viewed as sexually inexperienced.

And if you want to have casual sex, you are likely to be more successful with a friend than with a stranger as most women prefer to have it with a friend (63 percent) than with a stranger (37 percent) — if your friend is craving for some variety in her sex life that is.


What motivates most women to be in various friends-with-benefits relationships? 

The answer is quite simple. 

Because sex with a friend provides women with a greater sense of trust, security, and safety than sex with a stranger. 

And they don’t have to deal with the complexities, commitments, and entanglements typically found in a romantic relationship.

This is more so if the woman is heavily focused on school or a career where she doesn’t have the time to be in a committed relationship. 

In short…

A sex buddy can fill her sexual needs, and sometimes even intimacy needs, without the burden of a long-term emotional bond.


If you are very handsome, that may explain why it can be easy for you to get sex.

I became friends with a man who was very handsome, but for whom I felt no desire to pursue a relationship. He asked me to stay the night in his bed, and despite having misgivings . . . I couldn’t resist. He was conventionally handsome but very edgy and nonconformist and he like[d] me a lot.

predominantly heterosexual woman, age 36

Although several women reported having sex with attractive people even when they don’t want a long-term relationship, some had sex with men simply because they were good dancers.

For some women, you have got to have personality.

And the two key personality characteristics that motivate women to have sex is a good sense of humor and self-confidence.

But you know that already, don’t you?

So let’s move on.

Emotional reasons  

Love is a powerful emotion.

So powerful in fact, that it can alter our brain chemistry, at least temporarily.

No wonder that of the more than two hundred reasons women gave for having sex, love and emotional closeness were ranked in the top twelve.

Women wrote many accounts on how love and emotional bond led them to the bedroom.

Many women reported they used sex to get love, while some had sex not to get love but, to express their love to another person.

And for many others, sex and love were intricately connected.

Um . . . is there any other reason to have sex? Seriously. Love is pretty much it, as far as I’m concerned.

heterosexual woman, age 35

But for many women, sex is a way to give or get a feeling of emotional connection. They said they…

  • desired the emotional closeness and intimacy…  
  • wanted to communicate at a deeper level and…
  • feel connected to the person and…
  • increase the emotional bond by having sex and…
  • become one with another person…

Meaning: they want to attain or enhance an emotional bond with their partner through sex.

For close couples, having sex can certainly serve as a way to intensify their bond.

Having sex with someone creates a special bond with that person which is unattainable any other way. I would do this to further how involved I am in a relationship, and to show [my] vulnerability.

heterosexual woman, age 25

And others said that feeling connected during sex intensified their desire and pleasure during sex.

If feelings of connectedness can cause women to desire sex, why then have scientists concluded that love is like a mental disorder or a drug addiction? 

Goal-based reasons  

For some women, the feeling of conquest is enough to motivate them to have sex.

In high school I remember feeling very proud of my number [of sexual partners]. . . . I would get a thrill just before sex, thinking to myself “another one! I snared another one!” Conquest.

heterosexual woman, age 26

The fact is, there is sexual competition among women.

And women would have sex out of a sense of competition.


It’s because of this:

Women are motivated to have sex to beat out rivals simply because in their view “a good man is hard to find.”

And guess what?

Women who prevailed, from our evolutionary past, in gaining access to the most desirable men, get access to better genes, access to better resources, and a boost in social status.

But that rivalry doesn’t stop even when the man is already taken.

Because desirable men are rare in the eyes of many women, some of them will try to lure already taken mates away from their existing partners in what’s called…

Mate poaching

I was younger, and I used to like my friend’s boyfriend, and another friend of mine dared me. . . So one night I went to their house and she was not there (by the way I knew at the time she was not home). I talked to him for a minute, and he started the situation. He kissed me, then touched me, and we had sex, right there in their living room. It made me feel good, superior to my friend for getting her boyfriend.

heterosexual woman, age 27

It can, of course, fail but when a woman succeeds in luring someone away from a committed relationship using sex, something else becomes another reason why women have sex:


I had sex with my ex-boyfriend whom I knew still had feelings for me even though I did not feel the same. My ex-boyfriend had begun dating my best friend and I wanted to get even with her as well as with him.

heterosexual woman, age 22

And some women took special delight in using sex to get revenge.

My ex was an asshole to me, so when we got out of a relationship, I had sex with his friend. It was fun and I enjoyed it because I knew it would piss him off.

heterosexual woman, age 22

Sexual economics

While some women barter sex out of the need to survive, for some it’s about getting what they want like…

  • I wanted to get a raise.
  • I wanted to get a job.
  • I wanted to get a promotion.
  • Someone offered me money to do it.
  • The person offered me drugs for doing it.

And for some of the women who want to live the “good” life without the drudgery of a job, they turn to “sugar daddies” who cover many, sometimes all, of her expenses in exchange for her time, company, and of course, sex.

The benefits in the form of gifts can come in many forms, from dinners at expensive restaurants to exotic vacations, luxury cars, and even apartments.

Sometimes the bartering is implicit as few of the women described it:

I love sex so there is no reason in the world not to have sex with someone who wants it with you if they are going to take the time out and buy you a nice meal.

bisexual woman, age 45

And get this…

Since most women are aware of the role of resources in making them sexually attracted to a man — and how they find stinginess to be a huge sexual turnoff — it’s no wonder that the act “He bought me dinner at a nice restaurant” proved to be one of the most effective tactics men use to attract women.

So don’t be surprised that women are more sexually attracted to men who wear expensive clothing.

Still… trading doesn’t stop even in ongoing relationships.

It just becomes more subtle.

Sometimes in a relationship you do things because you know that if you please your partner they are happy, which helps jump-start a deeds process. For example, if the house really needs cleaning and you want some help, the person is more open to helping when they are in a good mood. Also, if you need a favor such as building something your partner is more likely to say yes if you return a favor in the most pleasurable of ways!

heterosexual woman, age 25

Insecurity reasons  

A woman’s self-esteem is tied to her sexuality, her sexual experiences, and her sex appeal. 

So women have sex when they believed doing so would improve their low self-esteem.

To be honest, the reason I have slept with five out of the six men I have in my lifetime was because they were out of my league. I have a weakness for [when] someone who is nice looking, employed, and of average intelligence likes me. Usually only toothless, ugly creepy guys like me.

heterosexual woman, age 24

And when it works they can get a boost in oxytocin, the assurance of her value as a human being, the confidence to get a better partner, and a sense of sexual power.

Self-esteem is also influenced by how they feel about their bodies.

So some women with poor body images will seek out sex to try to make themselves feel better about their looks. 

In times of feeling less confident—overweight, unattractive, etc.—it has been nice to know that someone else found me attractive and “wanted” me.

heterosexual woman, age 23

To create their sense of self-worth, some women also look outwardly where they engaged in sex to try to gain friends and influence their social acceptance, to induce people to like them or to fit into a certain social group.

I felt like being a virgin excluded me from my social circle. I didn’t “get” things my sexually active friends did and felt I was often excluded from social activities for this reason. So, I had sex with someone older in order to gain acceptance into their social circle which consisted of older, highly educated individuals.

heterosexual woman, age 26

Low self-esteem also plays a role when women have sex out of… 


You see, the more insecure a person is, the more dependent that person is on a partner.

And the more threatened their relationship is, the more intense the feelings of jealousy. 

And when the woman is more committed to the relationship, half of the women will try to get their partners jealous.


Because jealousy increases her partner’s perception of her desirability, the response she gets tells of her partner’s level of commitment, and to increase a partner’s commitment.

That make the next reason obvious.

Mate guarding

Another reason why women have sex out of insecurity is to keep a partner.

Many times, in most of my long term relationships, I have had sex because I felt that to go for too long without sex would risk having my partner leave or go somewhere else for sex.

heterosexual woman, age 33

Women say they have sex because they want to keep their partners from straying or at least lessen their partners’ desire to have sex with someone else.

As a result, to protect their relationships, women use sex in many different ways like giving in to their partners’ sexual requests, acting “sexy” to take their partners’ mind off potential competitors, performing sexual favors, or succumbing to sexual pressures to entice their partners into staying.

And sometimes it works.

My husband always seems happier with [me] after we have sex when I initiate it. He spends more time with me, and doesn’t seem to gawk at other women as much.

heterosexual woman, age 30

But for most married women, they viewed having sex as their duty. 

Wife’s duty

[My] husband nags about not having enough sex, so I give in and have sex. Such is married life.

heterosexual woman, age 53

For some women, sex is a marital duty maybe because of religion.

For others, it stems from cultural expectations where it was the wife’s responsibility to raise the children, run the household, and “please” the man. 

And one benefit of agreeing to sex was because it’s often the quickest and easiest way to resolve a conflict in the relationship.

Sometimes, it was easier to just give in and do it when he wanted to rather than put up with listening to him whine and complain about how horny he was.

heterosexual woman, age 29

What’s more, declining a persistent partner’s request for sex is something many women find hard to do.

Some women are just nice…

Because several women use sex as a way to nurture people who were feeling bad about themselves…

More than a few women in their late teens and twenties have sex with men because they felt sorry for them.

As one woman reported having sex because she felt sorry for a man who was unable to get dates, and another described having sex with a man because he had just gone through a divorce and she felt bad for him.

The person was interested in me and we hung out. I liked him, but I certainly wasn’t attracted to him. He had recently been divorced, so it was a sympathy lay.

heterosexual woman, age 44

Even within a relationship, several women talked about having sex because they wanted to make their partner feel loved or to prevent their partners from feeling bad or rejected.

What makes a woman want to have sex?

As you have seen…

Most women have sex expecting that it will lead to positive outcomes, be it sexual pleasure, love and commitment, gaining revenge, or preventing a mate from straying.

On the other hand…

Some agree to have sex to please their partners, to stop them from nagging, to maintain relationships, because of duty, or because they do not know how to say no.

However, that’s not all.

Some had sex in an attempt to combat loneliness, to rid of a headache, or to relieve stress.

But some women are also deceived, coerced, or physically forced.

Now, if you want the complete story with detailed descriptions of women’s actual sexual encounters, their motives to have sex, and the theory behind why each of those motives exists in women’s sexual psychology…

why women have sex book

I suggest you take a look at Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations—from Adventure to Revenge (and Everything in Between) by David Buss and Cindy Meston. 

I certainly didn’t know what I was getting into when I started writing this, but If found the book quite the interesting read with some truly eye-opening insights on the study of why women want sex.

Best of all, it is abundant in studies like this one:

According to a survey of 152 heterosexual Canadian couples, the average lovemaking session for women lasts 18.3 minutes. This consists of 11.3 minutes of foreplay and 7 minutes of intercourse.

You’ll also find answers to interesting questions like these: 

  • Why do women desire some qualities in a mate, yet are repulsed by others? 
  • What tactics do women use to attract their preferred sex partners? 
  • Why do some women fuse love and sex psychologically? 
  • Why are erotic romance novels so much more appealing to women than to men? 
  • Why do some women have sex to keep a mate, whereas other women use sex to get rid of an unwanted mate?

Their book Why Women Have Sex confirmed, enhanced, and enriched the quantitative findings of their initial investigation of why humans have sex.

Here’s a video of the authors, David Buss & Cindy Meston at CASW 2009, talking about why women had sex and how they came up with a list of 237 different reasons.

I hope this side of women’s sexual psychology helps you in your sexual decision making whether in or out of a relationship.

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