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Sexual Motivation

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Sexual Motivation

Let’s talk about sex! No, we will not be giving you the “birds and the bees” talk. Instead, we will be looking at sexual motivations.

What motivates humans to have sex? Is it the same for every person? How does biology impact sexual motivation?

  • What is sexual motivation?
  • How do hormones impact sexual motivation?
  • What are different types of sexual motivation?

Sexual Motivation Definition

What is sexual motivation? It can be defined in multiple ways, but in its simplest form, sexual motivation is the human desire and interest in participating in sexual activities. Sexual motivation can be activated by both internal (yourself) and external (others, and surrounding environment) signals. These types of motivation rely on physical and visual stimulation, as well as imagination and biological needs.

Sexual Motivation is the human desire and interest in participating in sexual activities.

Research shows that sexual motivation varies from person to person. It can be viewed on a spectrum spanning from interest to needs, goals, desires, and sexual orientation.

Sexual motivation can also be referred to as the sex drive. Regarding the sex drive, Sigmund Freud referred to this as the libido, and he theorized that it was a vital life source along with food, water, and air. For Freud, sex was for procreation, but he later included that it also represents expressions of love, self-preservation, and pleasure.

Photograph of a couple holding hands. StudySmarterIntimacy. pixabay.com.

Sexual Motivation and Hormones

One factor that plays a key role in our sexual motivation is our hormones. There are many hormones, but for sexual motivation, the two most important are estrogen and testosterone. These two hormones are known as sex hormones, and both are present in males and females. Estrogen is also referred to as the female hormone because females have much higher levels of estrogen, while testosterone is called the male hormone, as males have much higher levels of it.

Hormones are chemical messengers created in the endocrine gland. These messengers move through our bloodstream and help regulate activities that involve behavioral and psychological processes.

Sex Hormones include Estrogen (Female) and Testosterone (Male). Chemical messengers that create changes within the body during puberty and body development, and help stimulate arousal and sexual behavior.

Estrogen and Testosterone

Estrogen can activate sexual desire in females during puberty and ovulation (the peak of fertility for females), while testosterone can activate sexual desire in males during puberty. Research shows that an increase in estrogen in females and an increase in testosterone in males increase the sex drive. Both hormones play a role in sexual motivation, but they are not always the main reason we feel motivated to have sex or experience arousal. You can view these sex hormones as the gas to fill up your sex tank; the more gas you have, the longer you can go.

Estrogen: Sex hormones that are present in both males and females, but more so in females. These hormones help with developing female sexual characteristics during puberty and development.

Testosterone: Sex hormones that are present in both males and females, but more so in males.

These hormones help with developing male sexual characteristics during puberty and development. They also have an impact on the growth of male genitalia in the womb.

Sexual Motivation in Psychology

Let’s take a look at two major studies that are considered foundational when it comes to the study of sexual motivation in psychology.

Kinsey’s Research and the Kinsey Scale

Dr. Alfred Kinsey conducted a study involving large-scale surveys and interviews that began at Indiana University during his sexualities course. In both the survey and interview process, people were asked several questions regarding their sexual preferences and sexual habits. The purpose of this study was to gather data about human sexuality and sexual orientation.

This large-scale survey and interview process took place between the years 1938 and 1956. Kinsey and his team collected data from around 20,000 people. Kinsey himself did at least 2,000 interviews!

From his research, Kinsey observed that many people had sex with both males and females.

  • 50 percent of the males in his studies had either been sexually aroused by both males and females, or experienced sex with both males and females.

  • 28 percent of the females in his studies had either been sexually aroused by both males and females, or experienced sex with both males and females.

Kinsey concluded that sexual preferences could change over time and that sexual orientation does not correlate with gender identity. Just because someone is female, it does not always mean that they will be attracted to males. The same goes for males and nonbinary genders. Some people prefer heterosexual or homosexual sex, while others prefer both.

Along with his conclusions, Kinsey created the Kinsey Scale. This scale showed that sexual orientation is a spectrum and not everyone fits perfectly into heterosexual and homosexual categories.

Kinsey’s research is important because it was created during a period when sex was not talked about and sexual taboos and stigmas were widespread and very strong. It also showed that sex is a natural part of life and that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things.

Masters and Johnson Research Study

William Masters and Virginia Johnson conducted a study by watching people having sex. Masters and Johnson accepted over 700 volunteers. The researchers observed intercourse in different positions, masturbation with and without aid (i.e. sex toys), and the different ways people react during sex. While the volunteers were performing sexual acts, the researchers would record biological stimuli (e.g. blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration) as well as sexual arousal (e.g. female and male lubrication and ability to climax/orgasm). Masters and Johnson then wrote a book based on their study results called Human Sexual Response (1966), and created a sexual response cycle depicting four phases that both men and women go through during sex.

Those four phases are:

Excitement

The first phase is exhibited by sexual arousal and the enlargement of genitalia (i.e. erect penis, erect nipples, and erect clitoris).

Plateau

The second phase is exhibited by self-lubrication and the increase of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration (breathing).

Orgasm

The third phase is exhibited by muscle contractions; the peaking of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration; and the release of bodily fluids.

Resolution

The fourth phase is exhibited by the relaxation of muscle contractions, the softening of genitalia, and a decrease in the peaking of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration (the return to normal body conditions).

Types of Sexual Motivation

Why do people have sex? There are many reasons, but let’s look at the three different dimensions of sexual motivation.

Need for Intimacy

Intimacy (both sexual and asexual) is a human desire as we are social creatures that rely on personal relationships. Intimacy motivates sexual arousal and behavior because people want to experience the closeness that it can provide. Through sex, people can feel connected, and sex can help fulfill the desire to be wanted or loved.

During sex, the brain releases the hormone oxytocin, which creates feelings of closeness and bonding. Sex can also create intimacy because it correlates with procreation, and the act of bringing a life into this world creates a sense of family and belonging.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the cuddle hormone!

Need for Pleasure and Excitement in Life

Another reason why people have sex is because of the feelings associated with this activity. Sex is often viewed as a pleasurable activity, and many people look forward to the gratifying outcome. Sex can also create excitement during foreplay, or even just thinking about the act; this can also motivate people to have intercourse. When you think about or have sex, the brain releases the hormone dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure, happiness, and contentment.

Coping with Stress

Studies show that sex and masturbation can help relieve stress. Other studies have also shown a positive correlation between sex and sleep, because both activities create tiredness and feelings of relaxation. However, too much sex can also lead to the opposite effect: more stress. It’s important to know your limits when it comes to sex.

Brain Areas Responsible for Sexual Motivation

The brain and body areas responsible for sexual motivation include the sex hormones and two structures located within the brain: the amygdala and nucleus accumbens.

Current research shows that the nucleus accumbens releases dopamine to regulate sexual arousal, while oxytocin is released by the amygdala during sex and sexual arousal. Both help with sexual arousal by releasing these chemical messengers to signal good feelings toward sex.

The hypothalamus helps with engaging in sexual behavior, but it does not motivate sexual desire. The amygdala and nucleus accumbens help with sexual motivation but not with actually engaging in sex.

Types of Sexual Motivation

Why do people have sex? There are many reasons, but let’s look at the three different dimensions of sexual motivation.

Need for Intimacy

Intimacy (both sexual and asexual) is a human desire as we are social creatures that rely on personal relationships. Intimacy motivates sexual arousal and behavior because people want to experience the closeness that it can provide. Through sex, people can feel connected, and sex can help fulfill the desire to be wanted or loved.

During sex, the brain releases the hormone oxytocin, which creates feelings of closeness and bonding. Sex can also create intimacy because it correlates with procreation, and the act of bringing a life into this world creates a sense of family and belonging.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the cuddle hormone!

Need for Pleasure and Excitement in Life

Another reason why people have sex is because of the feelings associated with this activity. Sex is often viewed as a pleasurable activity, and many people look forward to the gratifying outcome. Sex can also create excitement during foreplay, or even just thinking about the act; this can also motivate people to have intercourse. When you think about or have sex, the brain releases the hormone dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure, happiness, and contentment.

Coping with Stress

Studies show that sex and masturbation can help relieve stress. Other studies have also shown a positive correlation between sex and sleep, because both activities create tiredness and feelings of relaxation. However, too much sex can also lead to the opposite effect: more stress. It’s important to know your limits when it comes to sex.

Brain Areas Responsible for Sexual Motivation

The brain and body areas responsible for sexual motivation include the sex hormones and two structures located within the brain: the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens.

Current research shows that the nucleus accumbens releases dopamine to regulate sexual arousal, while oxytocin is released by the amygdala during sex and sexual arousal. Both help with sexual arousal by releasing these chemical messengers to signal good feelings toward sex.

The hypothalamus helps with engaging in sexual behavior, but it does not motivate sexual desire. The amygdala and nucleus accumbens help with sexual motivation but not with actually engaging in sex.

Sexual Motivation - Key Takeaways

  • Sexual motivation is the human desire to partake in sexual activities and the interest in sexual objects.
  • The two sex hormones are estrogen and testosterone.
  • Created by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, “Kinsey’s Research'' involved large-scale surveys and interviews that began at Indiana University during Kinsey’s “Sexualities” course. In both the survey and interview process, people were asked several questions regarding their sexual preferences and sexual habits.
  • Kinsey’s research is important because it was created during a period when sex was not talked about and therefore, taboos and stigmas were created.
    • Kinsey’s Research shows that sex is natural, and that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things.
  • Conducted by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, “Masters and Johnson’s Research” was a real-life study in which Masters and Johnson watched people having sex.
  • Masters and Johnson then produced a book, Human Sexual Response, and created a sexual response cycle that depicted the four phases that both men and women go through during sex.
    • Those four phases, in specific order, are excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution

Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual Motivation

Sexual motivation is the desire or interest in having sex.

Hormones do have an influence on human sexual motivation. The two main sex hormones are estrogen and testosterone. 

Sexual motivation does not bnot depend on the hypothalamus. Other brain areas help with sexual motivation.

Internal stimuli like hormones influence sexual motivation. External stimuli like sexual foreplay and affection also influence sexual motivation.

We can use sex to become intimate with others, experience pleasure, and cope with stress.

Final Sexual Motivation Quiz

Question

Define sexual motivation. 

Show answer

Answer

The human desire to partake in sexual activities and the interest in sexual objects. 

Show question

Question

What term did Sigmund Freud use when referring to the sex drive? 

Show answer

Answer

Libido 

Show question

Question

Define hormones. 

Show answer

Answer

Chemical messengers are created in the endocrine gland. 

These messengers move through our bloodstream and help regulate activities that involve behavioral and psychological processes. 

Show question

Question

What are sex hormones? 

Show answer

Answer

Estrogen (female).

Testosterone (male). 

Chemical messengers that, firstly, create changes within the body during puberty and development, and second, help stimulate arousal and sexual behavior. 

Show question

Question

Define estrogen. 

Show answer

Answer

Sex hormones which are present in both males and females, but more so in females. These hormones help with female sex characteristics during puberty and development. 

Show question

Question

Define testosterone. 

Show answer

Answer

These sex hormones are present in both males and females, but more so in males. These hormones help with male sex characteristics during puberty and development, as well as impact the growth of male genitalia. 

Show question

Question

When does estrogen activate sexual desire in females? 

Show answer

Answer

Estrogen can activate sexual desire in females during puberty and ovulation (the peak of fertility for females). 

Show question

Question

When does testosterone activate sexual desires in males? 

Show answer

Answer

Testosterone can activate sexual desire in males during puberty.

Show question

Question

What is the 1st phase in the sexual response cycle made by Masters and Johnson? 

Show answer

Answer

Excitement 

Show question

Question

What is the 2nd phase in the sexual response cycle made by Masters and Johnson? 

Show answer

Answer

Plateau

Show question

Question

What is the 3rd phase in the sexual response cycle made by Masters and Johnson? 


Show answer

Answer

Orgasm

Show question

Question

What is the 4th phase in the sexual response cycle made by Masters and Johnson? 


Show answer

Answer

Resolution

Show question

Question

What is the "Kinsey Scale"? 

Show answer

Answer

A scale that showed that sexual orientation is a spectrum. Heterosexual and homosexual labels don't fit everyone perfectly. 

Show question

Question

Why is Dr. Alfred Kinsey's research important?  

Show answer

Answer

Kinsey’s research is important because it was created during a period where sex was not talked about and therefore taboos and stigmas were created. Kinsey’s research shows that sex is natural, and that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. 

Show question

Question

What did the 1st phase of Masters and Johnson's sexual response cycle exhibit? 

Show answer

Answer

Sexual arousal and the enlargement of genitalia (i.e. erect penis, erect nipples, and erect clitoris.) 

Show question

Question

What did the 2nd phase of Masters and Johnson's sexual response cycle exhibit?  

Show answer

Answer

It is exhibited by self-lubrication and the increase of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration (breathing). 

Show question

Question

What did the 3rd phase of Masters and Johnson's sexual response cycle exhibit? 

Show answer

Answer

It is exhibited by muscle contractions, the peaking of heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and the release of bodily fluids. 

Show question

Question

What did the 4th phase of Masters and Johnson's sexual response cycle exhibit? 


Show answer

Answer

It is exhibited by the relaxation of muscle contractions, the softening of genitalia, and a decrease in the peaking of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration (in other words, a return to normal body conditions).

Show question

Question

Who has testosterone in their system? 

Show answer

Answer

It's present in males and females, but males have more

Show question

Question

The term "sex hormones" is referring to both estrogen and testosterone. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Where are hormones created? 

Show answer

Answer

Hormones are created in the endocrine gland. 

Show question

Question

Who has estrogen in their system? 

Show answer

Answer

It's present in both males and females, but females have more. 

Show question

Question

At what university did Dr. Kinsey do his large-scale survey on sexual preferences and sexual habits? 

Show answer

Answer

Indiana University

Show question

Question

What was the purpose of "Kinsey's Research? 

Show answer

Answer

The purpose of this study was to gather data about human sexuality and sexual orientation. 

Show question

Question

What was the name of the book written by William Masters and Virginia Johnson? 

Show answer

Answer

Human Sexual Response (1966) 

Show question

Question

Referring to Masters and Johnson's "sexual response cycle", what is one example of the excitement stage? 

Show answer

Answer

An erect penis

Show question

Question

Referring to Masters and Johnson's "sexual response cycle", what is one example of the plateau stage?  

Show answer

Answer

Self lubrication

Show question

Question

Referring to Masters and Johnson's "sexual response cycle", what is one example of the orgasm stage?   

Show answer

Answer

Release of bodily fluids

Show question

Question

Referring to Masters and Johnson's "sexual response cycle", what is one example of the resolution stage?    

Show answer

Answer

The relaxation of muscle contractions

Show question

Question

The plateau phase is exhibited by sexual arousal and the enlargement of genitalia (i.e. erect penis, erect nipples, and erect clitoris). 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

The excitement phase is exhibited by sexual arousal and the enlargement of genitalia (i.e. erect penis, erect nipples, and erect clitoris). 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The orgasm phase is exhibited by muscle contractions; the peaking of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration; and the release of bodily fluids. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The resolution phase is exhibited by self-lubrication and the increase of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration (breathing) 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

How many phases are there in Masters and Johnson's response cycle? 

Show answer

Answer

Four 

Show question

Question

The hormone "oxytocin" is often referred to as what? 

Show answer

Answer

It is often referred to as the cuddle hormone. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a hormone released during sex? 

Show answer

Answer

Oxytocin 

Show question

Question

Name three reasons why people have sex? 

Show answer

Answer

  1. Humans have a need for intimacy  
  2. Humans have a need for pleasure and excitement 
  3. Sex can help cope with stress

Show question

Question

Studies show that sex and masturbation can help relieve stress. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Studies show a positive correlation between sex and sleep 


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which part(s) of the brain are responsible for sexual motivation? 

Show answer

Answer

The amygdala and nucleus accumbens 

Show question

Question

What hormone is released to regulate sex? 

Show answer

Answer

Dopamine 

Show question

Question

What hormone does the nucleus accumbens release to regulate sex? 

Show answer

Answer

Dopamine 

Show question

Question

What hormone does the amygdala release during sex and sexual arousal? 

Show answer

Answer

Oxytocin 

Show question

Question

The hypothalamus is responsible for sexual motivation. 

Show answer

Answer

False; The hypothalamus helps with engaging in sexual behavior, but it does not motivate sexual desire. 

Show question

Question

While studies show that sex and masturbation can help relieve stress, too much sex will actually lead to more stress. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Sexual motivation is the desire or interest in having sex.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Do hormones influence human sexual motivation? 


Show answer

Answer

Yes. The two main sex hormones are estrogen and testosterone. 

Show question

Question

How do internal stimuli influence sexual motivation? 


Show answer

Answer

Internal stimuli like hormones influence sexual motivation. 

Show question

Question

How do external stimuli influence sexual motivation? 


Show answer

Answer

External stimuli like sexual foreplay and affection can influence sexual motivation.

Show question

Question

What can we use sexual motivation for?


Show answer

Answer

We can use sexual motivation to become intimate with others, experience pleasure, and cope with stress.

Show question

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