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Why People Have Sex (“The Naked Man” Redux)

How many reasons can you think of for having sex? Some people may assume that there are relatively few motivations (for example: physical pleasure, intimacy, reproduction, sexual release), but psychologists Cindy Meston and David Buss have identified two-hundred and thirty-seven (237) distinct reasons for engaging in sexual activity (clustered in 4 broad categories).1 There isn’t enough room in this article to identify each of them, but we can certainly touch on some of the more surprising reasons people give. 

Aside from desiring a person (feeling sexual attraction to him/her), simply being the object of someone else’s desire (“The person really desired me”) or being the object of someone else’s attention (“The person caressed me”) are both strong motivators for sex. Goal motives (“I wanted to try out new sexual techniques or positions”), love/intimacy (“I wanted to feel connected to the person”), and insecurity (I wanted to boost my self-esteem”) are also common reasons.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of the situation and how it influences people’s behavior. Some enlightening (and entertaining) situation-focused reasons people give for sex include: “I wanted to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or special occasion;” “I was bored;” “It just happened;” “The opportunity presented itself”). How romantic!

In the episode “The Naked Man” on How I Met Your Mother, the group meets a guy named Mitch who employs a strategy of appearing fully naked in front of his dates in order to get them to sleep with him. This tactic, which he calls “the naked man,” plays on what social psychologists call the power of the situation—mere opportunity. Robin (one of the focal female characters on the show) ended up sleeping with him at the end of their first date even though she initially was not attracted to him at all. Robin’s sexual receptiveness is startling to the group; they are shocked and amazed to discover that she slept with him simply because he presented himself in the nude.

If you’re wondering whether “the naked man” made it into the 237 reasons identified in the study, the answer is yes. “I saw the person naked and could not resist” not only made the list, it was among the top 50 most commonly cited reasons for why people have sex. It’s important to note that we do not have any data on the effectiveness of “the naked man” tactic in real life. In the show, Mitch claimed that it works "2 out of 3 times"; psychologists have yet to verify that statistic. It’s also important to note the context in which this behavior is done (e.g., first date vs. committed relationship) might produce different responses. But given the myriad of reasons people claim to have motivated them for sex (including the appearance of a naked partner), the notion that it would work at least some of the time is consistent with research in this area.

For more on this topic, check out the book Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations from Adventure to Revenge (and Everything in Between) by Drs. Cindy Meston and David Buss.

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1Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 36(4), 477-507.

Dr. Dylan Selterman - Science of Relationships articles Website/CV
Dr. Selterman's research focuses on secure vs. insecure personality in relationships. He studies how people dream about their partners (and alternatives), and how dreams influence behavior. In addition, Dr. Selterman studies secure base support in couples, jealousy, morality, and autobiographical memory.

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Reader Comments (1)

More and more mankind has a difficulty seeing them selves as a sexual being. In our Culture it seems people forget that we come into this world nude and we leave the same way. After the funeral is over the mortician takes the close off and then puts you in the ground synthetics cloth dose not disintegrate and gives off fumes that could kill the surrounding plant life that covers your body. So why spend money on a box when you die your spirit is all ready gone. So the body is nothing but an empty shell so why don’t we celebrate our nudity and stop being prude and except what we were given.

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