Sex and Our Psychological Needs

All humans possess fundamental psychological needs. If we do not meet our psychological needs, we suffer, sometimes severely. Just like we need food, shelter, and sleep to survive, we also need to fulfill our psychological needs to remain mentally healthy and stable.

Psychologists have studied a number of psychological needs, but you can really narrow them down to four fundamental needs: security,1 self-esteem,2 autonomy,3 and connection.4

To be happy, stable people, we need to meet all four of these needs consistently. If we are not meeting these needs, our minds will actually begin to rationalize ways to get them met, even at the expense of our physical or mental health. If one is never able to meet their need for esteem, they will become chronically depressed and sometimes commit suicide. If one never meets their need for autonomy, they will fall into a state of codependence or learned helplessness.

Woman in shower

On top of psychological needs, we have psychological and social strategies to meet those needs. Some strategies are more abstract and some are obvious. For instance, sports fulfill our needs for connection, and if we win, for esteem. A healthy family unit can provide for our needs of connection, esteem and security. Learning martial arts can fulfill our needs for security and esteem. Getting good at math to impress our teacher can fulfill our need for esteem. Experimenting with drugs can fulfill our need for autonomy and connection. So on and so on.

So here’s the doozy:

How do we know this? Because there is no evidence that celibacy or asexuality is actually physically or psychologically unhealthy. You don’t die from not having enough sex. In fact, there are many health risks because of sex. One could even argue that there are psychological and health benefits from not having sex.

Sex Is Great…

  • For reproduction and the propagation of the human race (obviously).5
  • It increases emotional attachment to your partner,6 which is good for life satisfaction, emotional well-being and child rearing (provided you’ve picked the right partner.)
  • It brings various health benefits e.g. lower blood pressure,7 higher immune levels,8 lower risk of heart attack,9 lower risk of prostate cancer.10
  • It’s fucking fun.

… But Approach With Caution

  • The flipside of propagating the human race: unwanted pregnancies11
  • Risk of catching sexually transmitted infections12
  • Ejaculation weakens men’s sperms.13 Ironically, the more sex you have, the less likely you are to conceive. So, uh, slow down there, bucko.
  • Sex doesn’t only bring health benefits. It also comes with certain risks e.g. prostate cancer for men with a history of sexually transmitted infections,14 increased risk of a heart attack for men with heightened risk factors.15

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have sex (I’m the last one who would argue that). In fact, sex is great. Sex is awesome. Sex makes us happier and healthier people. I’m simply pointing out that it is not a biological/psychological need, but rather simply another drive.

On the other hand, if psychological needs go unmet for long periods of time, it will absolutely fuck us up physically and psychologically. People develop neuroses, addictions, and even delusions to get their needs met. Research shows that social isolation is more harmful than alcoholism or smoking.16 Depression and stress are related with all sorts of terrible physical issues.17,18

No one ever killed themselves because they were too horny. They do it because of a lack of connection or self-esteem.

The idea of sex as a strategy to meet psychological needs sounds weird to many because sex is also a physiological drive, like eating or sleeping. But unlike eating or sleeping, you can go your whole life without sex and not be any worse off for it.

The fact is, as humans, we’ve actually evolved to use sex to meet our psychological needs, not our physical needs.