ATTACHMENT THEORY'S IMPACT ON YOUR SEX LIFE

Guest written by Missy Modell, a musical parody artist and activist focused on the intersection of social justice and pop culture. Missy is the founder of YES MAM Creative, a consultancy for mission-based brands. You can find Missy on Instagram at @missymodell.

While our caregivers set the stage for how we understand emotional bonds, we have many partners that influence our styles.

QUICK LINKS:

    1. What is Attachment Theory?
    2. A Quick History of Attachment Theory
    3. Four Common Attachment Styles
    4. How Attachment Style Impacts Your Feelings About Sex
    1. Secure
    2. Anxious
    3. Avoidant
    4. Fearful-Avoidant 

What is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory focuses on the relationships between people: whether they are platonic, familial, or romantic partners. The main concept behind attachment theory is how our deep connections were shaped in early childhood and can translate to attachment style in adulthood. This manifests in how we give/receive affection, trust, and intimacy. They are very instrumental in how we navigate relationships and relate to sexual experiences.

A Quick History Of Attachment Theory 

British psychologist John Bowlby was the first to explore the theory, describing attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." He was originally interested in understanding the separation anxiety that children experience when held apart from their primary caregivers. He found that attachment was characterized by clear behavioral and motivation patterns. When children are frightened, they will seek out their primary caregiver in order to receive both comfort and care. 

“Primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant's needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world.” (Verywell)

While our parents or primary caregivers set the stage for how we understand emotional bonds, throughout life we experience many different kinds of partners and supportive figures that influence our styles.

Four Types of Attachment Styles

  1. Secure Attachment
    Characterized by the ability to form and maintain secure, loving relationships based on trust and stability.
  2. Anxious Attachment
    An insecure attachment style characterized by a deep and overwhelming fear of abandonment. 
  3. Avoidant Attachment
    Another insecure attachment style that’s marked by fear of closeness, intimacy, and vulnerability. Avoidant attachments are often distant and lack trust.
  4. Fearful-Avoidant Attachment
    A combination of both anxious and avoidant attachment. It’s characterized by a fear of closeness despite a strong and powerful desire to be loved and accepted.

How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Feelings Around Sex

People with Secure Attachment Styles...

  • Do not rely on sex for validation 
  • Feel comfortable with intimacy and exploration, both solo and with partner
  • View their sexuality through a positive lens
  • Are more likely to freely express their needs

People with Anxious Attachment Styles...

  • Have more unfulfilling sexual experiences
  • Feel insecure and clingy around new sexual partners 
  • Use sex to feel connection and validation (i.e. the belief that the more sex one has, the more loved they are)

People with Avoidant Attachment Styles...

  • May have more casual sexual experiences
  • Experience discomfort with intimacy, either avoiding experiences altogether to feeling disconnected from the experience itself
  • Keep sexual experiences “surface level” and find it difficult to feel connected
  • May avoid foreplay, as it is too intimate 

People with Fearful-Avoidant Attachment Styles...

  • May feel unworthy of sex and desire
  • Demonstrate unpredictable behavior
  • Feel disconnection during sex, despite feeling love for partner

One of the strongest predictors of sexual satisfaction is the ability to talk honestly about sex and feel safe while doing it. It’s also important to pay attention to the styles of your partner(s), as this also attributes to sexual wellbeing. For example, anxious and avoidant attachment styles are more likely to pair up with one another, also known as the “Anxious-Avoidant Trap.” Why? The anxious person feels more anxious as the avoidant partner pulls away, thus creating a vicious cycle of what may be perceived as passion. On the other hand, secure attachment styles are the most likely of all the types to experience high sexual satisfaction. 

Not secure? No problem. We as humans have the ability to evolve and change. In reflecting on your attachment, processing emotions, and doing internal work, in time you can be able to let go of the behaviors that keep you feeling unfulfilled and stuck in old habits.

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Further Readings:

Episode 38: Attachment Style Coach: Expanded Podcast
What Your Attachment Style Says About Your Sex Life: Well & Good
The New Science of Adult AttachmentAmir Levine, M.D. & Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.

WITH PLEASURE,

LOVERS