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.