What is Sexual Motivation?

Sexual motivation refers to a person's overall desire for sexual activity. It is an unusual motivation. Generally, among lower animals, the term 'drive' is commonly referred to as sexual motivation. It means a certain internal force drags the animal to be involved in reproductive behavior. On the contrary, humans are not simply driven by any internal force; rather, the sexual motivation in humans is due to several factors such as biological (hormones, genes), environmental (familial upbringing, chemical exposure) and physiological factors (culture, desire) which further determine engagement in sexual activities.

Sexual response cycle

When a person becomes sexually aroused and engages in sexually stimulating activities, they go through a sequence of physical and emotional changes known as the sexual response cycle.

The sexual response cycle is divided into four stages by Master and Johnson:

  1. Excitement phase: During this phase physiological arousal starts increasing rapidly. It ultimately increases blood pressure, breathing rate, and muscular tension. In men and women, certain physical changes occur that revert upon attainment of the normal condition such as the erection of the penis and swelling up of testes; while in the female, the clitoris swells and hardens, vaginal opening further gets lubricated.
  2. Plateau phase: This phase is the maintenance of the excitement phase, where the physiological arousal continues. Here, men may release a small amount of fluid from the penis, and in women, retraction of the clitoris occurs, which is under the clitoral hood.
  3. Orgasm phase: In this phase, physiological arousal reaches a peak. This leads to ejaculation of seminal fluid in men. Muscular contraction in the pelvic area along with the sensation of pleasure occurs both in men and women.
  4. Resolution phase: Here, physiological arousal drops down to the normal level. Men usually experience the refractory period longer as they age. During this phase, they are not responsive to any stimulation.

The sexual response cycle occurs in phases. If there is a problem in any phase, it ultimately results in sexual dysfunction, which further prevents individuals from experiencing satisfaction from sexual activity. There are four types of sexual dysfunction; namely, desire, arousal, orgasm, and pain disorder.

The cognitive function mood where a person seeks attention, anxiety impulse irritability, and sex appetite aggression, which ultimately result in the release of chemical such as Noradrenaline, Dopamine, and serotonin.
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Image credits: https://upload.wikimedia.org/ | Nikpapag

Factors responsible for sexual motivation

As per psychology, sex drive is determined by certain factors, such as biological, physiological, environmental, and social factors, among which physiological correlates play a vital role. Hormones are the key component of sexual motivation. Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and androgen play an important role. Men produce more androgen, and women produce more estrogen.

Biological factors

Main biological factors include:

  1. Hormones: These are directly linked to human sexual behavior. In the male, minimum testosterone levels are mandatory to maintain normal sexual attraction, which reduces if it does not meet the minimum requirement. However, in females, there is a strong correlation between hormones and desire.
  2. Genes: It is observed by the researchers that homosexuality has genetic basis. The sexual preference is more likely to be the same in identical twins rather than fraternal twins. The research on the role of genes in sexual preference has not concluded yet and the researchers are still exploring the relation between genetics and the sexual preference of an individual.
  3. Prenatal factor: According to psychology, during a critical period in prenatal development, the amount of hormone strongly affects the brain's organization, which ultimately influences and sexual orientation.
  4. Differences in the hypothalamus size: A study carefully examined the anatomical variation in the brain of homosexual and heterosexual organisms. Variation is due to the size difference in the hypothalamus, that is, in homosexual men, it is smaller than in heterosexual men. The medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus in the brain is the region responsible for the execution of sexual behavior. The limbic part of our brain is involved in maintaining behavioral and emotional responses. The research on the structure of brain in sexual preference has not concluded yet and the researchers are still exploring the topic.

Environmental factors

Biological reasons alone are insufficient to explain the origins of homosexuality. Henceforth, researchers proposed that some environmental situations influence sexual desire. They have since argued that certain environmental factors influence sexual desire. Some researchers include biological aspects, such as hormones, in their environmental considerations. Environmental factors that influence sexual orientation include prenatal exposure to chemicals, childhood abuse, molestation, and familial upbringing.

Physiological factors

The physiological factor is one of the most influential factors; it includes:

Erotic stimuli: This stimulation makes both the partners sexually aroused externally and internally. External stimulation occurs due to involvement in activities such as reading, listening, or hearing sexual, exciting material, whereas internal stimulation occurs when one dreams about fantasies and past sexual experiences.

Desires: For motivation, people tend to have an infinite number of ways which include the act of expressing love so as to have physical enjoyment to cope with varied situations and emotions known as a positive sexual incentive.

Cultural context: This has a strong impact on the sexual behavior or sexual attraction of an individual. It informs people about sexual scripts, which lay down rules to judge accordingly for a given situation. For instance, people follow the sexual script to decide whether to begin a sexual activity or to wait to receive from another side. Social status determines gender role, which further determines one’s attitude toward sexual activity.

Intercourse vs COVID-19 (coronavirus disease of 2019): In a few studies, coronavirus has been found in the semen and vaginal secretions of patients who have or are recovering from COVID-19. Even anal routes of sexual interaction have exposed persons to this virus through fecal matter remnants. More research is needed to corroborate these findings. As a result, people are afraid to engage in sexual activities. More studies are yet to confirm these findings. Essentially, people are hesitant to engage in sexual activities that directly affect their sexual motivation.

Evolutionary explanation

Gender differences can be explained with the help of evolutionary theories. It is only based on the idea of a prenatal investment that men and women make to produce offspring. From a biological point of view, energy investments by men are higher during intercourse, while women utilize more energy during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Difficulty in evolutionary explanation

  1. The use of evolutionary explanations for gender differences in sexual behavior is criticized by many people.
  2. Sexual orientation is usually a controversial topic that people do not tend to agree with fact that how the term should be defined. It usually refers to the direction of one's erotic interest. As in the case of heterosexual individuals, they are attracted to people of opposite gender and homosexual are attracted to people of the same gender. Few people equate it with sexual attraction, while some with sexual behaviors. Researchers strongly believe the fact that certain biological and environmental factors contribute to sexual orientation.

Sexual reward connects sexual desire, preference, and performance

Sexual behavior is solely controlled by the action of hormones and neurochemicals in the brain such as neuroendocrine. The sexual reward can be studied with the help of animal models, as in male and female rats. (Pfaus, et al.) did so by inducing a sexual conditioned place or scent in the partner. The rats experienced early sexual behavior for the partner that is scented with neutral or obnoxious odor on subsequent exposures.

Context and Applications

This topic is significant in the professional exams for undergraduate and graduate courses, especially for physiology and psychology students.

Practice Problems

Question 1) Who discovered sexual motivation?
a. Rosalind Franklin
b. Gregor Mendel
c. Charles Darwin
d. Sigmund Freud

Answer- Option d.

Explanation- Sigmund Freud was the first person to encompass the act of seeking pleasure and sexual motivation. He also coined the term libido.

Question 2) Sexual motivation decreases with ____.

a. Age
b. Sex
c. Gender
d. Puberty
Answer- Option a.

Explanation- A person's sex life declines upon aging, as it changes the way the body and mind function, which eventually affects sexuality.

Question 3) The four types of sexual dysfunctions are desire disorder, arousal disorder, orgasm disorder, and?
a. Pain disorder
b. Mood disorder
d. Mood swings
Answer- Option a.

Question 4) Factors such as hormones, cognition learning, and ______ affect sexual motivation.
a. Environment
b. Communication
c. Culture
d. Daylight
Answer- Option c.

Explanation- If you were raised in an environment where most people believe that sex is wrong or to be dreaded for religious or cultural reasons, you might restrict your own early sexual motivation and exploration.

Question 5) Energy investments by men are ______ during intercourse.
a. Lower
b. Higher
c. Medium
d. Normal
Answer- Option b.

Explanation- Men invest more energy during intercourse from a biological standpoint, but women use more energy during pregnancy and lactation.

Recommended questions

  1. How does age affect motivation?

Answer- Age plays an important role in affecting the motivation as with aging human shows visible changes. This eventually affects sexual function and interest. In addition to this, common health issues in older people eventually affect their sexual desire and performance.

2. How does sexual motivation differ in boys and girls?

Answer- Sexual motivation differs greatly in boys and girls. Boys tend to be sexually motivated from the puberty period, whereas girls seek more emotional connection as a starting material for sexual contact.

3. What is the difference between sexual battery and sexual motivation?

Answer- Sexual battery is touching of intimate parts of another person without that person's consent for sexual gratification. Sexual battery is a crime, whereas sexual motivation is sex drive, an impulse that stimulates sexual need either through direct sexual activity or through sublimation.

Common Mistakes

One of the common mistakes that a person commits is that they fail to characterize sexual drive and sexual motivation. Sexual drive (also known as libido) is a biological component of desire, whereas sexual motivation is referred to as a person's overall desire for sexual activity due to psychological influences. It is an unusual motivation.

  • Sexual Orientation
  • Cognitions and arousal
  • Limbic system
  • Sexual self-stimulation

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