Reasons for having sex among lesbian women.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Lesbians (Social aspects)
Lesbians (Psychological aspects)
Lesbians (Physiological aspects)
Sex (Social aspects)
Sex (Psychological aspects)
Sex (Physiological aspects)
Authors: Ronson, Ashley
Milhausen, Robin
Wood, Jessica
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality Publisher: SIECCAN, The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 SIECCAN, The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada ISSN: 1188-4517
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs Canadian Subject Form: Sexual behaviour; Sexual behaviour; Sexual behaviour
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Canada Geographic Code: 1CANA Canada
Accession Number: 302109616
Full Text: Abstract: Research suggests that lesbian women's reasons for having sex are both similar to and different from those reported by heterosexual women. However, there have been few such comparative studies and some of the quantitative findings have been inconclusive. In the present qualitative study, twenty lesbian women aged 19-42 years were interviewed about their reasons for engaging in sexual activity with a partner. Thematic analysis of their responses yielded four themes reflecting their reasons and motivations for having sex: physical, emotional, relational and psychological, and ten related sub-themes. Participants often reported more than one reason for having sex and frequently identified a combination of physical and emotional motivations. While some of their reasons were similar to those cited in prior studies by heterosexual women, other reasons suggested differences from heterosexual women in areas such as spontaneous desire and feelings regarding sexual obligation and duty in their relationships. The implications of the findings are discussed in the context of the limited research currently available on lesbian women's reasons for having sex.

Introduction

A number of quantitative studies have investigated the physiological and psychosocial reasons for having sex among heterosexual men and women (Hill & Preston, 1996; Meston & Buss, 2007; Meston, Hamilton & Harte, 2009). In such studies "having sex" has usually been stated to mean having sexual intercourse (as in these three examples) although this is sometimes left unstated (e.g., Leigh, 1989). In contrast, there are few studies on reasons for having sex among lesbian women and those quantitative studies that have included small percentages of lesbians (e.g., Meston et al, 2009) have not usually separated out the findings for the lesbian subsamples.

Given the limited research on lesbian women's reasons for having sex, studies that have compared heterosexual and lesbian women on other measures have provided a basis for inferring possible similarities and differences in their reasons for having sex. For example, to the extent that gender plays a larger role than does sexual orientation in how a person feels about relationships (Basow, 1986; Peplau, 1981), one might infer that heterosexual and lesbian women's reasons for having sex would be more similar than different in terms of the relationship aspects of sexuality. To the extent that non-genital intimacy has been reported to be more important in lesbian sexual relationships than in heterosexual relationships (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Iasenza, 2000) and that lesbian couples are thought to be more intimacy-oriented than heterosexual couples and more sensual than sexual (Nichols, 2004), one might infer that emotional reasons for having sex would be greater for lesbians than for heterosexual women. Few studies have systematically addressed these issues.

To our knowledge, Leigh (1989) is the only researcher to have provided comparative quantitative data on reasons for having sex for both lesbian and heterosexual women (see Leigh, Table 1, p. 203). In the Leigh study, heterosexual women (n=318) and lesbian women (n=52) assessed the importance to them of seven possible reasons for having sex. Responses were based on a five point scale (0-4) with 0 = "not at all important" and 4 = "extremely important". The five highest scoring reasons for lesbians (with comparison mean scores for heterosexual women) were: "To express emotional closeness" (3.5, 3.6); "For pure pleasure" (3.1, 3.1); "To please your partner" (2.6, 2.7); "Because your partner wants to" (2.2, 2.5); and "To relieve sexual tension" (2.1, 2.0) (Leigh, 1989). Since the other two reasons, "For conquest" (0.6 and 0.3) and "To reproduce" (0.2, 1.2) were negligible, these results suggest a considerable degree of similarity between the lesbian and heterosexual women in their reasons for having sex.

Rationale for the present study

Studies on lesbian women's sexuality are greatly lacking in the academic literature and particularly so in relation to their reasons for having sex. While quantitative survey research can provide useful information about large and varied samples, it limits the depth of learning about an individual's reasons for having sex when participants are forced to choose within a given, and sometimes restrictive, range of response options. Qualitative research has the benefit of acquiring detailed descriptions of a phenomenon, integrating multiple perspectives, describing process, and learning how participants interpret their experiences (Weiss, 1994). The goal of the present study was therefore to gather in-depth information on lesbian women's reasons for having sex using a semi-structured interview and applying a rigorous and methodical qualitative analysis (i.e., with a critical realist epistemology and utilizing thematic analysis). The focal question was "What are your reasons for having sex?"

Methods

Participants

Among the twenty women interviewed for the present study, three self-identified as queer and seventeen self-identified as lesbian. This smaller sample size is thought to allow the researcher to establish a "close association with the respondent" which is beneficial to the interview process (Crouch & Mackenzie, 2006, p. 483). Participants ranged in age from 19 to 42 years (M = 25.75, SD = 6.62). All were Caucasian except for one woman who identified her ethnicity as Aboriginal. Twelve of the 20 participants indicated that they were currently in a same-sex relationship (casually dating, seriously dating one or more partners, or engaged) and three were living with their partner. The mean relationship length for those who indicated that they were in a relationship was 2.18 years (SD = 3.5 and range = 1 month to 13 years).

Procedures

As noted above, the data collected for the present study on lesbian women's reasons for having sex was one component of a larger investigation that also addressed sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm. The procedures described here are applicable to the present study. Participants were recruited through poster advertisements at local queer organizations and through word of mouth in two cities in Ontario. Sampling was purposive to specifically target young-adult, pre-menopausal lesbian women. Although findings from convenience samples may not be statistically generalizable to the larger population, the fact that study respondents often acknowledge that their own experiences are similar to or different from those of others (Weiss, 1994) may provide a level of social generalizability. Potential participants who responded to advertisements for the study were screened via telephone to ensure they met the stated criteria (i.e., young adult lesbian-identified woman). Interviews were held in a private room on a university campus or at the participants' home. This study was approved by the University of Guelph Research Ethics Board.

Confidentiality

Although anonymity could not be guaranteed because of the small size of the lesbian communities within the two cities sampled, individual participants had the choice of using either a pseudonym or their real first name during the course of their interview. However, during transcription of the interviews and in the sourcing of quotes in the result, pseudonyms selected by the first author were used in place of participants' real names to conceal their identity. During the introduction to the interview, the interviewer (first author) felt it important to disclose her lesbian identity in order to more personally associate with the participants (Kong, Mahoney, & Plummer, 2002). With an "out" interviewer, the questions posed are de-essentialized (i.e., not biologically-focused, not why-focused), and can go beyond homosexualities to explore shared meanings among women (Kong et al., 2002). A less structured approach was used for the interviews because the goal was to understand the participants' thinking on the research topic (Morgan, 2002). In this type of approach, fewer and more general interview questions guided the discussion for the participants and the interviewer was thus able to explore new directions that arose within the discussion (Morgan, 2002). Following the interview, each participant completed a questionnaire containing demographic questions and a measure assessing sexual functioning (the latter is not addressed in the present study). Participants were offered a $10 gift card as a thank you for their participation.

Interview guide

The interview guide question most pertinent to the present study was "What are your reasons for having sex?" A second question on participants' definitions of having sex was also relevant and is referenced here. The other questions for the larger study on sexual desire, arousal and orgasm are not considered in this article.

Prompts

Minimal use of prompts (e.g., "can you tell me more about that?") encouraged participants to elaborate on their responses. More specific prompts were also used. For example, when participants were talking about their reasons for having sex, follow-up questions might have included: "How common is it for you to have sex for that reason?", "Do you always have sex for that reason?"), "Is there ever a time when you have more than one reason for sex?", or other specific reasons for sex as outlined in Meston & Buss (2007). If a participant had not described physical, goal-oriented, emotional, or insecurity reasons for having sex, the interviewer sought out these reasons by asking: "Have you ever had sex for....?". The full interviews lasted for 26 to 110 minutes with a mean duration of 52 minutes.

Data analysis

All interviews were transcribed verbatim and were double checked to ensure the accuracy of the transcript. The body of data collected from the study was interpreted from the theoretical position of a critical realist. Critical realism concerns description rather than prediction and "combines constructionist and realist positions to argue that while meaning is made in interaction, non-discursive elements also impact on that meaning" (Sims-Schouten, Riley, & Willig, 2007, p. 102).

The research of a critical realist aims to "develop deeper levels of explanation and understanding," not to develop generalizable laws or identify lived experience (McEvoy & Richards, 2006, p. 69). Critical realists believe that reality allows for the testing of theories; however, this reality can never be truly understood because of our biased perceptions of existing theories and our personal interests (McEvoy & Richards, 2006). In other words, we used critical realism to help us gain a better understanding of lesbian women's self-reported reasons for having sex rather than to explain their reasons and related experiences.

Qualitative analysis

Thematic analysis was utilized to analyze lesbian women's descriptions and meanings of their reasons for having sex. According to Braun and Clarke (2006), thematic analysis is a "foundational method for qualitative analysis" (p. 78) that is used for "identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns (i.e., themes) within data (p. 79). Themes represent some level of patterned responses or meaning within the data set, where quantity of the occurrences of a theme is not as important as the nature of the theme itself (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Analysis was completed according to the five phases outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006). In the first phase, the researcher should be completely immersed in the data, becoming familiar with each participant's descriptions of the phenomena. In the second phase, as many extracts of the data as possible are coded. In the third phase of thematic analysis, the codes are organized into specific themes. At this stage, some themes become main themes while others became sub-themes. In the fourth phase, themes are deleted and merged for parsimony. In the final phase of thematic analysis, themes are further defined and refined. For the current study, codes specifically related to lesbian women's reasons for having sex (N = 87) were analyzed separately. The net result was four themes with 10 sub-themes.

Results

Participants" definitions and explanations of "sex" and "having sex"

Participants varied in their definitions of sex and having sex although a majority agreed that masturbation, fingering, oral sex, strap-on sex, and anal sex fit their definitions of sex. Some women also described kissing and cuddling as a form of sex but most viewed this activity as foreplay or as a part of sexual activity. Several participants considered having an orgasm or using penetration as sex or having sex but overall many had broad personal definitions of sex that encompassed more than specific actions and sexual behaviours. For example:

[...] Sex is definitely a spectrum for me. It all counts as sex, I don't think it's a black and white deed ... so sex for me is anything stemming from erotic desire. (Ginger, 23)

I would define it as anything past kissing and being naked I guess. (laughs) (Rosalind, 22)

Although most participants noted that the reasons they cited for having sex were the ones that most often motivated them, their explanations for those reasons revealed the complexity.

I think when I have sex because I'm completely in love and want to--I'm just feeling so much affection or love or you know overwhelming feeling, that I also may be you know sexually aroused in that moment so wanting to have those feelings, the physical feelings of excitement and I think also if you're--my partner really wants to and all of those can come together I think at the same time. Or even after a fight for example if that's your reason for reconciling, that's--all of those other feelings can also come into play. (Judy, 24)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Some participants indicated that they would begin having sex for a particular reason, then discover that it transformed into a different reason the longer they were sexual with their partner during that encounter. For example, the initial physical need for sex could change into a desire to express emotions and feelings of care for a partner. One participant stated:

Most of the time it's, I think it's complex thing and I think there's a lot going on where it might start with just wanting to get off or for pleasure and it might turn into something more emotional. (Mae, 33)

The foregoing observations provide a context for considering the themes and sub-themes that emerged from our analysis of our findings.

Reasons for having sex: Themes and sub-themes

Figure 1 presents the four key themes that reflected participants' key reasons for having sex. The reasons were classified as physical, emotional, relational, and psychological. Within each theme, the sub-themes are presented in order of those endorsed most to least frequently. As noted previously, pseudonyms are used in place of the participant's real name to identify the sources of each of the supporting quotes presented.

Theme 1: Physical reasons

Physical desire was a frequently cited reason for having sex. The four sub-themes reflecting this theme were: urges; sexual pleasure; physical connection with the partner; and physical relief.

Sub-theme: Urges

One of the most commonly cited reasons lesbian women gave for engaging in sex was simply for the sake of having sex; autonomous desire for sex led them to seek sex. One woman described this as a craving: "I mean sometimes it's--you just, your body is craving something. It might be for yourself or it might be for the other person" (Marilyn, 22). Another referred to feeling "horny" and a strong attraction: "It's like I'm horny (laughs) I guess, just out of like 'you look super hot today, let's I dunno, let's do it' (laughs)" (Marlena, 25).

Sub-theme: Sexual pleasure

Sexual pleasure was also described as an important physical motivator to have sex. Participants spoke about wanting the good feelings that came with having sex; they wanted excitement and, especially, orgasm. Sex was seen as emotionally and physically satisfying. They engaged in sex because it felt good; there was enjoyment in the act, as well as pleasure: "I guess it feels good physically" (Doris, 19). Although many of the lesbian women interviewed indicated that they viewed sexual pleasure as a sufficient reason for sex, participants often paired sex for this reason with other more emotional reasons for engaging in sex.

Sub-theme: Physical connection with the partner

Some women discussed having sex as an important way to maintain physical closeness and intimacy in their relationship. They wanted to touch their partner and be in physical contact. One participant noted: "To be able to touch somebody else too. Just to have that physical contact" (Ava, 22). Only when describing sex within relationships did women give physical connection as a reason for sex.

Sub-theme: Physical relief

Many women indicated that the physical release experienced during and after sex motivated them to engage in sex. Although the majority of women did not engage in sex when they were stressed, on occasion they did. Having sex and specifically, having an orgasm, relieved the anxiety, tension, or stress felt from school or work. Several students and former students mentioned how sex was used as a convenient study break, a way to relax amidst school stress. One participant stated:

Physiologically, it gives this very nice visceral relaxation and then you can almost de-stress. So sex is great when you're studying, it's just completely clears your mind. (Marilyn, 22)

Theme 2: Emotional reasons

The majority of the participants also indicated that emotional reasons figured prominently in their reasons for having sex (often in conjunction with physical reasons). Two sub-themes are described: emotional connection with the partner and communicate feelings.

Sub-theme : Emotional connection with the partner Several participants talked about connecting with their partner emotionally as another major reason for engaging in sex. The women described engaging in sex as a means to feel as close and connected as possible. When they felt emotionally connected during sex, a minority of participants indicated that sex led to a feeling that their bodies had merged.

One woman said:

But then there's like the next level beyond words I guess, where you just--you feel so incredibly close with that person that you just want to be "one" with them. (Barbara, 24)

For a few of the participants, sex and emotional connection had a bidirectional effect. Sex was not only a facilitator of emotional connection, but for some women, emotional connection was a prerequisite for sex to occur. "You know when relationships are fading, that connection is fading and so I want sex less when it's going downhill" (Lucy, 27).

Sub-theme: Communicate feelings

Many participants described sex as a means to communicate love and affection. Interviewees reported that they had sex to physically communicate to their partners what they could not express in words.

I guess it's just something that I'm saying to her that I can't express in words. And showing how sexy I feel she is and how I want to feel sexy for her and how much I care about her and want to take care of her, sort of thing. Those kind of messages that are hard to put in words. (Marlena, 25)

Participants often described having sex for emotional expression in conjunction with other physical reasons for sex (such as feeling horny or wanting pleasure).

Theme 3: Relational reasons

Although relational reasons for having sex were not the primary motivators for the participants (physical and emotional reasons were always reported first), more than one half of the women endorsed two reasons linked to their relationships as motivation for having sex. These sub-themes were: perceived obligation to have sex and relationship maintenance.

Sub-theme: Perceived obligation to have sex

More than one half of the participants spoke a great deal about feeling obligated to have sex, in previous relationships with men and in current relationships with women. Most reported that they did not enjoy sex with men when it had happened in the past.

Pressured especially when I was younger and that would probably be more when I was in high school or something and that would be more, I felt more from guys. I've never felt pressure from another woman to have sex. (Mae, 33)

Many participants also felt that they should want to have sex within their relationships with other women. One participant perceived a pressure to always be ready and willing for sex even though her partner was not outwardly placing this pressure on her. She indicated that sex had begun to feel very habitual and routine, as if it was a role she had to play.

Lately I've been noticing that there are instances where ... I feel like I'm supposed to for some odd reason, even though there's no pressure put on me. It's kind of like this is something that I'm meant to be doing or a thing that occurs that because it occurs and just cause I do it every day or whatever, whatever it is. It's like a normal thing, habitual kind of. (Diana, 19)

Sub-theme: Relationship maintenance

More than one half of the participants discussed how they engaged in sex to maintain harmony in their relationship. They described their role in some sexual interactions as passive; they spoke of going along with sex because the partner wanted to engage in it and indicated that they had not been in a sexual mood prior to their partners' sexual initiation. Most participants considered having sex in order to maintain relationship harmony as a natural part of being in a long-term relationship.

There's definitely times when you know you're not--I haven't been sure if I'm completely on or I haven't been you know mentally completely stimulated but I've done it anyway because you know you kind of have to do that for your partner sometimes. I mean I definitely know that my partner's done that for me (laughs). [...] I don't think there's anything wrong with that and yes I have definitely done that but don't regret doing that because I think that's quite normal too. Cause nothing can ever be on your terms all the time you know, sometimes you're gonna do things that might not be ideal but doesn't mean you're not gonna enjoy yourselfdoing it. (Marilyn, 22)

Some women suggested that if they were not motivated to have sex at the outset, they could be persuaded or convinced to have sex because they knew that they would enjoy sex once they became engaged in the act. They also noted that they wanted to be sure that their partner found sex to be satisfying and enjoyable, even if it were not their own preferred activity ar the moment.

Theme 4: Psychological reasons

Psychological reasons were the least frequently cited reasons for having sex. The two sub-themes identified were: wanting to feel desired and boosting self-esteem.

Sub-theme: Wanting to feel desired

Most participants suggested that wanting to feel desired always or usually motivated their desire for sex while fewer indicated that though they always felt desired when having sex, it was not a specific reason for them to have sex. One woman recognized she occasionally had sex because she wanted to feel desired by her partner, and was actively trying to stop using this strategy to gain reassurance.

You know, and the problem is I've recently decided to stop seeking my own personal satisfaction in myself through other people which I have done for the past five years so it's those moments when you aren't strong enough to see yourself as beautiful that through other people they make you feel beautiful and then that's to get you into a more positive headspace. But I'm trying not to have that kind of interaction. I want to make myself happy (laughs). (Marilyn, 22)

Sub-theme: Boosting self-esteem

Some participants specifically noted that they had sex in order to boost their self-esteem. One woman stated:

After my ex broke up with me, I had a really low self-confidence and I, like two girls that I slept with after was basically there's nothing there, but I just needed to know that my skills weren't the reason that she broke up with me. (Barbara, 24)

Others noted that although they did not have sex to boost their own self-esteem, making their partner feel good during sex boosted their self-confidence.

Discussion

The goal of the present study was to gather in-depth information on lesbian women's reasons for having sex using a semi-structured interview methodology. Our participants strongly endorsed physical reasons (e.g., urges, sexual pleasure, physical connection with partner, physical relief) and emotional reasons (e.g., emotional connection with partner, communication of feelings) and also, but less often, relational reasons (perceived obligation, relationship maintenance) and psychological reasons (wanting to feel desired, boosting self-esteem). It was also common for participants to indicate that they had sex for a combination of reasons, both physical and emotional, and for a variety of other reasons such as boosting their own or their partner's self-esteem or meeting their partner's wishes (with or without feeling obligated to do so).

Women in the present study characterized their reasons for having sex as numerous, evolving, and multi-faceted. They also indicated that they had multiple reasons for having sex in a single encounter and that their reasons could change as a sexual encounter progressed. To our knowledge, this finding has not been reported elsewhere perhaps because such findings are less likely to emerge from survey research in which participants are asked to indicate how often they have had sex for each of a number of listed reasons (e.g., Meston & Buss, 2007; Meston et al., 2009). The methodological approach used in the present study (epistemological stance of critical realism, use of thematic analysis) may have led us to this more nuanced understanding of lesbian women's reasons for having sex. Future quantitative and qualitative research on reasons for having sex should include event-level approaches and allow for participants to describe multiple reasons for having sex during a single encounter.

Although direct comparisons with prior studies are precluded by differences in sample characteristics and methodology, the current findings do suggest similarities between heterosexual and lesbian women in terms of sexual motivations. Participants in the present study placed a high importance on both physical and emotional reasons for having sex. Our findings parallel those of Meston and colleagues (2007; 2009) who reported that pleasure and emotional/relational reasons for having sex were the ones most commonly cited by heterosexual women. With respect to pleasure as a reason for having sex, Leigh's (1989) finding that both lesbian and heterosexual women had similarly high scores for "pure pleasure" as a reason for having sex is the only study to have reported such a direct quantitative comparison between lesbian and heterosexual women. With respect to a physical "urge" to have sex, it is of interest that this was one of the most frequently reported reasons for having sex in our sample of lesbian women. Participants' descriptions of a physical urge to have sex paralleled descriptions of autonomous sexual desire which is discussed in the literature as more characteristic of male sexual experience (e.g., Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001). Additional research is needed to determine the role of spontaneous versus triggered sexual desire among lesbian and heterosexual women.

Although relational reasons for having sex were less often cited by our participants, the perception of an obligation to have sex was commonly reported in this thematic category. In contrast, Meston and colleagues (2007; 2009) reported that duty or pressure to have sex to meet their partner's wishes was one of the least frequently endorsed reasons cited by heterosexual women. One possible reason for this apparent difference may be that participants in the present study were, on average, older than participants in the Meston and Buss' (2007) study, and that a higher proportion were currently involved in romantic relationships (ranging from 1 month to 13 years). Relationship status and duration are known to impact desire levels and feelings of obligation to have sex (Basson, 2000) and these differences in sample characteristics may partially explain the differences in obligation described above.

While many women in the present study had agreed to having sex out of a sense of duty or obligation as a way of maintaining relationship harmony, it should be noted that they were not troubled by having sex for these reasons. Research on the experience of consensual unwanted sex among heterosexual women (e.g., Muehlenhard & Peterson, 2005; Vannier & O'Sullivan, 2010) is of interest in this respect. In the Vannier and O'Sullivan study of heterosexual women, a minority reported being sexually "compliant" (i.e., willingly engaging in sexual activity that they did not desire). They did so either because they perceived an "implicit contract" between partners or because of past experiences of pressure. In both of the above studies, unwanted consensual sex was perceived as less pleasurable or less enjoyable. In contrast, lesbian women in the present study did not describe sex for duty or obligation with their female partners as less pleasurable than sex for other reasons. Some of our participants said that they began to enjoy sex as an initially "unwanted" sexual encounter progressed. It appears that their approach to sometimes having sex on occasions when they were not sparked by sexual interest or desire may, in fact, have influenced their relationships in a way that enhanced cooperation and satisfaction.

Strengths and limitations of the present study

Strengths

Conceptually, this was the first in-depth study of lesbian women's reasons for having sex. It has thus added to the limited research on this understudied population and topic. Many of our participants were eager to be part of the study. They saw the importance of research on lesbian sexuality and participation contributed to their own empowerment and to the potential empowerment of other lesbian women. The methodology of the study contrasted with that of other quantitative studies on this topic in that participants could elaborate on and explain their experiences and the interviewer could ask follow-up questions. This process facilitated our finding that participants had multiple concurrent reasons for having sex some of which emerged during a sexual encounter rather than as a primary stimulus for it.

Limitations

The present study had several of the limitations common to all sexuality research and some specific to this study. It is likely that self-selection yielded a sample of lesbian women participants who were sexually open and liberal and hence more willing to engage in a discussion about their sexual motivations than would women who were more conservative or private about their sexual lives. Lesbian women who had not yet come out would also be less likely to volunteer. Most of the women were recruited on university campuses and participants were therefore mostly young and university-educated. The small sample size was another reason why the findings cannot be generalized to all lesbian women (although the smaller sample size did allow for an in-depth examination of each woman's description of her sexual motivations). Although only one half of the twenty participants are represented in the verbatim quotes (quotes from the other 10 were less clear and concise), the latter group's comments were very much in line with those presented. We therefore consider the themes to be largely representative of the entire sample.

Some limitations result from our use of thematic analysis. Specifically, the flexibility afforded by thematic analysis can allow for variations in interpretation of the data. Further, findings are more often descriptive than interpretive, unless the research is firmly based in a theoretical framework (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Despite these limitations, thematic analysis was an appropriate form of analysis for the purpose of this study because descriptions of lesbian women's reasons were specifically sought.

Implications

The present findings have clinical importance for therapists working with lesbian clients on sexuality-related issues in general and particularly on their motives for having sex and the potential influence of those motives on the dynamics of a romantic relationship. Therapists can now consider a variety of reasons for having sex by lesbian women that are valid and not indicative of sexual problems. This type of research may also be important because women seem to distinguish between wanting sex and wanting its concomitant outcomes, e.g., emotional connection with a partner and increased intimacy (Baumeister et al., 2001; Cacchioni, 2007; Gordon, 2006; Muehlenhard & Peterson, 2005). In addition, this research may provide new insights into women's sexuality overall, which can be incorporated into discussions about female desire, arousal, and orgasm. Young lesbian women or older women coming out in later adulthood may also find this study useful in navigating their first sexual experiences and relationships.

Future research

Qualitative research on reasons for sex should be conducted on samples other than lesbian women. Further investigations could include women in relationships longer than 10 years and women of different ages (comparing women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc.) and menopausal statuses (pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women). Future research with lesbian participants could explore the differences in sexual motivations between lesbian women with FSFI scores in the sexually functional and dysfunctional ranges. Lesbian women with sexual problems may still engage in sexual activity for pleasure because the sexual repertoire of lesbian women encompasses a broader range of satisfying sexual activities that can circumvent certain problematic issues (e.g., less focus on penetration, more focus on sensuality and building arousal; Iasenza, 2000; Nichols, 2004). Interviews or surveys that examine the impact of relationship factors on sexual motivations throughout the course of a relationship and in specific sexual encounters would be useful in understanding the dynamics and potential discrepancies within lesbian sexual relationships.

Overall, the lesbian women in the present study placed a high value on physical reasons for having sex (e.g., sexual pleasure) and on emotional reasons (e.g., communicating feelings, connection) while also being motivated by relational and psychological factors such as duty or obligation and boosting their self-esteem. In this respect, they share many of the reasons for having sex reported in prior studies of heterosexual women (Browning, Hatfield, Kessler, & Levine, 2000; Carroll, Volk, & Hyde, 1985; Hill and Preston, 1996; Leigh, 1989; Meston & Buss, 2007; Whitely, 1988). Heterosexual and lesbian women may have other similarities and differences in their reasons for having sex although the methodologies employed in studying heterosexual women's reasons for having sex have made comparisons more difficult. Replication of the present study with an additional comparison sample of age-matched heterosexual women would thus be informative. With respect specifically to lesbian women's reasons for having sex, the present study provided insights into the richness and complexities of lesbian women's sexual motivations and will hopefully be a stimulus to further research on this under-studied topic.

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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robin R. Milhausen, Ph.D., Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, Rm. 219, Macdonald Institute, University of Guelph, Guelph ON NIG 2W1. E-mail: rmilhaus@uoguelph.ca

Ashley Ronson (1), Robin Milhausen (1), and Jessica Wood (1)

(1) Departrnent of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph, Guelph ON
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