237 reasons to have sex

But why stop there?

By Catherine Price

Published July 31, 2007 5:00PM (EDT)

Today's New York Times contains a column by John Tierney that attempts to answer the age-old question of why, exactly, people have sex. Warning: Anyone who is having sex purely "because I love my partner" or "because I wanted to produce the miracle of life" is living in an innocent world, blissfully unaware of the unromantic possibilities that I shall now paraphrase.

According to Tierney, who in turn is paraphrasing this article from the Archives of Sexual Behavior, there are at least 237 reasons that people have sex. They include, in no particular order, "to feel closer to God," "because I was drunk," or to "burn calories," "get rid of a headache," "fall asleep," "keep warm" or "change the topic of conversation."

Luckily the top reason was still "I was attracted to the person" -- and fun, love and emotional connections were also among the top reasons listed. But still, people. "It seemed like a good way to burn calories"? Can't we at least pretend to be a little bit romantic?

Tierney points out that while the list supports some stereotypes -- for instance, women are more likely than men to cite emotional reasons for having sex -- it contradicts others. Whereas women are more likely to be thought of as having sex to boost their social status or win raises and promotions, the study's findings "suggest that men do these things more than women," one of its authors reports. (Then again, Tierney reports that men have sex "because the opportunity presented itself" more often than women -- so who knows what their deeper motivations truly are.)

Personally, I think it's less important to understand the myriad reasons people might have for fornicating than it is to make sure that your partner's reasons match your own. In other words, if one of you is getting busy because you're too lazy to reach for an Advil, and the other is hoping for a spiritual connection with God, you're probably going to end up with headaches even the most powerful orgasm can't relieve.

But for those of you out there who are fascinated by the possibilities (and feel that 237 is not a long enough list), Tierney is encouraging readers to supply the 238th reason to have sex. Click on his Tierney Lab to participate -- but keep in mind that "because I wanted to have my comments posted on the New York Times' Web page" is not an appropriate reason to scromp.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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