Is sex merely a want or a biological need?
It depends on what you mean by ‘biological need’.
There is an argument that the act of sex, in both copulatory and non-copulatory terms, is merely a ‘want’ as opposed to a biological need. However, such a view fails to take into account the very essence of being a human-being.
It is true that a human-being can go through life without ever having sex. But we know that sexual frustration can lead to the development of psychological problems. That is not to say however that a person who refrains or is refrained from having sex will necessarily suffer sexual frustration.
At a primordial* level the fundamental motivator for sex is innately biological in terms of specie reproduction. But it doesn’t just stop there. There are also neurobiological* motivators driving sex which comprise both chemical and psychological factors.
Consequently, when we talk about sex being a biological need, the term should not be confined to that of specie reproduction only; indeed, the biological need for sex transcends mere procreation. Sex therefore ought be viewed as an existential biological need.
Here are some reasons why:
Pleasure is known as the biggest motivator for sex. Even before children understand that species need to reproduce to survive, they may exhibit sexual behaviour through masturbation in toddlerhood. They do this simply because it feels good, not because they are wanting to procreate.
Love as a Psychological Motivator
Love can fulfil basic needs, like safety and security. Yet love can also be a psychological motivator, and its functions range from improving one’s emotional state to satisfying the need for attachment and intimacy. Here are some reasons that love is a psychological motivator.
Estrogens, progestins, and androgens are considered the sex hormones that incite sexual desire in men and women. Androgens, most commonly testosterone, are more prevalent in men, which is why men generally have higher sexual desire compared to women. Estrogen occurs more frequently in women, though both men and women have estrogen and testosterone.
Oxytocin and endorphins, often called the happy hormones, are released into the brain after sex, creating a sense of euphoria. These hormones can assist in relaxation. Research has shown that people who have sex more often have less stress, anxiety, and depression.
Sadness and Loneliness
It may seem strange that negative emotions can be motivators, but it actually makes perfect sense. If a person is feeling sad and lonely, they will be motivated to connect with others. This will push them to reach out to others and become more loving, giving, and kind. So, essentially, love can be a motivator to feel happy.
Identity and Purpose
A parent who loves their child unconditionally and accepts all of his unique mannerisms and quirks is teaching that child that he can comfortably be himself and be accepted and loved for that. This love essentially allows him to shape his own identity. The same can be said about romantic love. A person will try to find a lover that validates their identity, allows them to be themselves, and gives them purpose and drive.
The need for bond and attachment to others is a rudimentary need of all humans (and animals). We are social creatures. Our attachment to caregivers was vital when we were children because it provided us with a sense of love and security and helped shape our identity and self-esteem. After childhood, attachment to parents became less salient and a more social and romantic need for attachment came to the forefront. This need is, at its core, a desire for belongingness, connection and high self-esteem.
So, we can see that the act of sex can deliver a whole bunch of neurological and biological benefits to human-beings. Nevertheless, sex for pleasure, from a cultural perspective, seemingly across most cultures, including modern western culture, remains a bit-of-a taboo subject. Thus, sex, while out in the open as it were, remains largely associated with love, moreover marriage, and is thus directly connected with procreation within the family unit; pleasure, essentially being a by-product.
One of the most common problems we see in marriage and relationship breakdown is a disparity in sexual desire. Often, the partner complaining of a lack of sex will describe it as being a ‘lack of affection’. There are a number of scientific based theories as to why sexual-desire between monogamous and indeed polygamous partners might wain over-time.
Interestingly, studies of human evolution in regard to prehistoric origins of modern sexuality offers some insight as to why sexual desire between partners may diminish over time. Sometimes the problems will be driven by social factors, sometimes by neurological factors or sometimes by physiological factors – and any combination of them. Indeed, the driving factor(s) for problems in a relationship’s breakdown can be multitudinous. Thus, in addressing sexual-desire-disparity it is not enough just to identify the ‘surface factors’ because there can be a multitude of deep-seated social, neuro and biological factors causing the problem(s).
So, the answer to the question – is sex merely a want or a biological need? – is a resounding yes, most certainly sex is an existential biological need.
Couples & Relationship Counselling
CBD Counselling and Psychotherapy offers couples and relationship counselling, including for the LGBTIQ* community, and can assist in addressing sexual-desire-disparity in a relationship.
While it is never too late to seek out couples counselling, the sooner you do the better the possibility of assisting you identify and alleviate the problems affecting your relation.
*Primordial means something which existed at the beginning of time, or is something that is native, fundamental or at the earliest stages of development; for example in terms of humanity, the primordial origins of human life. The word primordial is derived from late Latin primordialis, from Latin primordium “origin”, from primus ( → PRIME1) + ordiri “to begin”.
*Neurobiology is the study of the nervous system and how the brain works. The field studies nervous system functions, brain function and the related structures such as the spinal cord. Neurobiology is a subset of both physiology and neuroscience.
*‘LGBTIQ’ is the inclusive term which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer.
LGBTIQ thus refers to specific parts of the LGBTIQ community, while sometimes sub-sects are grouped under the umbrella term “+ plus” to include questioning, asexual and/or allies.
Note: Despite the many advances in achieving equality and cultural acceptance, LGBTIQ people still regularly experience discrimination, marginalisation, bullying, and rejection. The cumulative as well as the acute effects of these experiences can and sometimes do lead to higher levels of mental health issues in LGBTIQ populations. The mental and physical damage caused by these social pressures are often an important part of presenting and/or underlying therapeutic issues. CBD Counselling & Psychotherapy has expertise in this area.
Author: Charles Pratten
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