Your motivation for having sex really affects how satisfied you feel.
At least, that's what a new study out of the University of Toronto found. In a paper published this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a research team led by social psychologist Amy Muise investigated two motivations for having sex:
1. "Approach" goals like increasing intimacy and experiencing pleasure.
2. "Avoidance" goals like not disappointing a partner.
They found that these motivations determined how much satisfaction an individual derived from his or her sexual experience.
In one experiment, researchers recruited 517 participants who had previously been in a sexual relationship and presented them with one of eight possible scenarios involving a couple. In some scenarios, one partner engaged in sex to "feel closer to their partner," in others to "avoid disappointing their partner." Participants were than asked to rate the partner's relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction and level of sexual desire on a scale of 1-7. The researchers found that participants believed those who had sex to "feel closer to their partner" would have higher levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction.
In a second experiment, researchers recruited 108 heterosexual couples from an unnamed Canadian university. Each participant completed a background survey and a 14-day "daily experience" study. According to the paper:
On days when people engaged in sex for approach goals... they experienced greater relationship and sexual satisfaction, but on days when people engaged in sex for avoidance goals, they experienced lower relationship and sexual satisfaction.
The researchers conducted two further experiments, both of which confirmed the original findings.
So, what can we take away from this study? Having sex in order to avoid disappointing someone else is not a good idea -- it detracts from your own satisfaction, and can affect you how you feel about your relationship over time.
Previous research has looked at why people have sex, but Muise's study is one of the first to investigate how motivation translates into satisfaction. A study from 2007 identified 237 different reasons why people have sex, ranging from attraction and excitement to revenge and attention.
Researchers have also looked at whether men and women have sex for difference reasons. Under the direction of Dr. Cindy Meston, the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin identified a number of reasons why people pursue sex. They found little difference in motivation between genders. In April 2013, Meston told author Kayt Sukel: "The top three reasons for having sex were the same in both genders -- they were having it for love, for commitment, and for physical gratification.”
Here's to having sex because it's good for your relationship -- not because you're afraid of what will happen if you don't.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this piece suggested that having sex to please your partner would detract from satisfaction. According to the authors of this study, this is in fact only the case if an individual is having sex specifically to avoid negative outcomes in the relationship.
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Keeps Your Blood Flowing
According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, co-founder of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA, orgasms increase your circulation, keeping the blood flowing to your genital area. This in turn keeps your tissue healthy!
It's A Form Of Cardio
Although it can't be considered an alternative to daily exercise, having an orgasm is a cardiovascular activity. "Your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases [and your] respiratory rate increases," says Berman. And because it's akin to running in many physiological respects, your body also releases endorphins. Sounds like a pretty fun way to work your heart out.
Lifts Your Mood
Feeling down in the dumps? An orgasm might be just what you need to pick yourself up. In addition to endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin are also released during orgasm. All three of these hormones have what Berman terms "mood-enhancing effects." In fact, dopamine is the same hormone that's released when individuals use drugs such as cocaine -- or eat something really delicious.
Helps You Sleep
A little pleasure may go a long way towards a good night's rest. A recent survey of 1,800 women found that over 30 percent of them used sexual release as a natural sedative.
Keeps Your Brain Healthy
Having an orgasm not only works out your heart, but also your head. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/tips-moves/orgasm-news" target="_hplink">told <em>Cosmopolitan</em></a> that orgasms actually nourish the brain with oxygen. "Functional MRI images show that women's brains utilize much more oxygen during orgasm than usual," Komisaruk says.
It's A Natural Painkiller
One thing that Victorian practitioners may have been onto is that orgasms can work to soothe certain aches and pains -- namely migraines and menstrual cramps. (So now you know what to do next time you have a headache if you don't feel like popping an Excedrin.) According to Berman, the contractions that make up an orgasm can actually work to evacuate blood clots during your period, providing some temporary relief.
It Relieves Stress
Most of our lives are so hectic that it's hard to even imagine being relaxed. However, it turns out that <em>sexual</em> release can double as <em>stress</em> relief. Not only do the hormones help with this task, Berman says that being sexual also gives our minds a break: "When we're stressed out and overextending ourselves, [we're] not being in the moment. Being sexual requires us to focus on one thing only."
Gives You A Healthy Glow
There actually might be something to the idea that we "glow" after sex. The hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which shows <a href="http://www.ivillage.com/secret-health-benefits-sex/4-a-283856" target="_hplink">increased levels during sexual excitement</a>, can actually make your skin healthier.
Aids Your Emotional Health
Last but not least, when you know what it takes to make yourself orgasm, you may increase your emotional confidence and intelligence. "When you understand how your body works and ... [that it] is capable of pleasure on its own, regardless of your partner status, you make much better decisions in relationships," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and certified sexuality educator. "You don't look to someone else to legitimize that you're a sexual being."