How do attachment styles affect sexuality? .Attachment styles significantly shape both our sexuality and intimate relationships.
Attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, suggests that our early experiences with caregivers shape our attachment styles. These attachment styles in turn influence how we form and maintain adult relationships, including those of a sexual nature.
There are four primary attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Attachment styles are bonding styles so regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, you have got one.
Below are some observations that I have made. Over the past quarter of a century, I’ve had a front row seat in the the intimate lives of thousands. From my vantage point as a psychotherapist, I’ve joined and accompanied men and women in the deepest most personal realms of their lives. In both individual, couples and family therapy, I’ve seen how these these bonding styles form my client’s love relationships.
So today, I’d like to share some of my observations about how attachment affects sexuality with you.
1. Secure Attachment: Flexible and Stable
The securely attached person is flexible. They can turn to their loved one for support and comfort, and self regulate when appropriate. This person, tend to feel fundamentally safe and trusting in their intimate relations. Their anxiety runs low and they don’t avoid intimate bonding.
- Effect on Sexuality: In my practice, I’ve noticed that men and women with secure attachment styles generally tend to have a pretty healthy and positive approach to sexuality. Sex plays a role in their intimate partnerships, but the size of that role is just right. They don’t avoid and minimize sex, but they don’t amplify it either. They tend to be close to their partners and consider their lover to be their dear friend. While there might be some disagreements between them, the foundations of their relationships feel solid. If you have this attachment style, you are probably pretty comfortable with emotional intimacy and are usually pretty open and communicative in your sexual relationships. In your sex life, you feel like you are both on the same team.
- Secure Attachment’s impact on sex life: Having a secure attachment style makes it easier express your desires and boundaries clearly. This is because you feel inherently valuable and safe. You also expect that the people you will love you, treat you with love and care. This is because you are used to them doing so. These deeply held core expectations lead to more satisfying and mutually fulfilling sexual experiences.
- Securely attached individuals often have a balanced approach to both emotional and physical intimacy. Because you feel fundamentally secure, you will tend have a relationships that have a high level of trust. This is not an “intellectual” trust, but a deeply felt body based experience. It’s the kind of trust that is established in your emotional brain. This kind of trust leads to a felt sense of comfort with communicating and resolving conflicts.
- Healthy Sexual Expression: Securely attached individuals tend to have a strong sense of self-worth and are comfortable with both emotional and physical intimacy. They are more likely to engage in open and honest communication about their sexual desires, needs, and boundaries. They will feel basically pretty comfortable initiating and responding to bids for closeness.
- Mutual Satisfaction: They are generally capable of forming deep emotional connections with their partners, which often translates into satisfying and mutually fulfilling sexual experiences. Securely attached individuals can express their desires and boundaries clearly and respect those of their partner, fostering an environment of trust and intimacy. This means that when sexual issues arise, they deal with them as a united front and they problem solve together.
- Emotional Resilience: Secure individuals are better equipped to handle sexual challenges or conflicts within a relationship. The securely attached person has a deep felt sense of safety and trust in their partnership. So, they are less likely to interpret sexual issues as threats to the overall relationship and are more likely to work together with their partner to resolve them constructively.
- Boundaries: Most of the securely attached clients that I have worked with have pretty healthy boundaries. Their boundaries are usually clear, predictable and also not overly rigid.
- Common Core Beliefs: “I am lovable and deserving of love. Other people are generally good and reliable”. Keep in mind, these beliefs tend to be deeply integrated. Secure individuals generally have positive core beliefs about themselves and their worthiness of love and care. They tend to believe that not only are they are worthy of healthy, loving relationships , but that they can also contribute to their ability to form and maintain fulfilling relationships throughout their lives.
2. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: Sensitive, Engaged and Prone to Distress
The anxious preoccupied person tends to have difficulty self regulating, and turns to others to help feel calm, safe and secure. Their anxiety tends to run high, and they don’t tend to avoid their partner.
- Effect on Sexuality: The clients I’ve worked with who have an anxious-preoccupied attachment style often have a strong desire for intimacy while simultaneously fearing rejection or abandonment. When it comes to their emotional life, they usually have difficulty self regulating. They rely on others to help them feel calm, safe and worthwhile. This can frequently lead to seeking constant reassurance and validation in their romantic and sexual relationships.
- Impact: in general , the anxiously attached clients I’ve worked with have tended to be more prone to sexual anxiety, insecurity and performance issues. This is due to their fear of being rejected or abandoned. When a sexual issue arose, they didn’t feel as if their partner was truly on their side. So, they had difficulty with both making requests and setting boundaries in sexual relationships. This often led to unhealthy dynamics.
- Often these men and women have had strong “people pleaser” or “fawning” sides to their personality. This has led to being overly focused on meeting their partners needs while feeling all the worry and anxiety that can go along with that. Think about it this way; if you always are putting your partner’s needs first, and doing all the mind- reading that this entails, you get to avoid asking for any real care yourself. You also get to avoid risking the activation of all the fear and shame that might go along with that.
- Anxious-preoccupied clients I’ve worked with have often struggled with both fear, jealousy and dependency. They also tended to struggle with fear of disappointing their partner. Wanting your partner to be happy and satisfied is a different thing from being afraid to disappoint.
- Sexual Anxiety: Often these clients reported performance anxiety during sex. Men may struggle to maintain an erection or reach orgasm, and this anxiety can lead to sexual dissatisfaction.
- Boundary Challenges: Typically, the boundaries are weak and these clients often deal with an emotional and sensory sensitivity. There is a reactivity that comes from being “under-boundaried”. They often have great difficulty asking for what they want and saying “no” because it activates unbearable fear, guilt or shame. Their anger is often a kind of call for attention and connection, or a way to punish their partner for withdrawing. It’s often not a way to push back and set limits.
- Common Negative Core Belief: “I am not lovable . I’m unworthy of love unless I constantly seek and prove my worth. I have to keep you happy. I can’t do it (helplessness). I can’t get what I need. Other people are good, I’m bad.
3. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: Keeping Your Emotional Distance
The dismissive avoidant person tries to handle everything on their own. They value independence over intimacy. They don’t like the idea of turning to someone else for soothing and comfort because it feels unsafe to do this. Their anxiety runs low and they also tend to avoid their partners.
- Effect on Sexuality: Individuals with dismissive-avoidant attachment styles tend to prioritize independence and self-sufficiency over emotional intimacy. They may have a tendency to avoid emotional closeness because the lack of emotional support in their early relationships taught them to rely on self regulating strategies.
- Impact: In sexual relationships, they usually struggle with emotional intimacy and have a preference for casual or non-committed encounters. In my experience, people with dismissive styles also tended to have a noticeable difficulty even identifying their own feelings. When communicating, they’ve relied on intellect and analysis and refrain from personal and emotional disclosure. Quite a few avoidantly attached clients have expressed to me how they see no use in talking about problems. and for example have said things like “Why would I say anything to my partner”? Their tendency to keep their distance stopped them from including their emotions in their relationships and connecting on a deeper level with their partners. The dismissive style has often lent itself to having casual sexual relationships with no depth.
- Boundaries: Many of the dismissive avoidant clients I worked with have rigid and inflexible boundaries. They set boundaries through keeping physical and emotional distance and usually through intellectualization. Or they make sure they are always in the “one up” superior position”. Another method I’ve seen them use for setting boundaries is through addictions and compulsions.
- Negative Core Belief: “I am self-sufficient and do not need emotional closeness. I’m good, but other people are not trustworthy. I can’t rely on others. We can only be close if you look up to me.
4. Fearful-Avoidant (Disorganized) Attachment: No Good Option
The fearful avoidantly attached person is stuck in a terrible bind. They feel completely alone and endangered. They long for closeness. They struggle to self regulate, but turning to others triggers, fear, anger, shame and numbness. In general, a person with this style tends to have both high anxiety and also will avoid intimacy.
- Effect on Sexuality: Fearful-avoidant individuals have a deeply conflicted relationship with intimacy. They both desire it and fear it. Clients I’ve worked with described often experiencing a strong push-pull dynamic in their sexual relationships. One of my clients refers to it as his “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em pattern”. The person with a disorganized attachment style often longs for intimacy and is terrified of it. Because of this conflict, many clients I’ve worked with have avoided relationships altogether
- Impact: This attachment style can lead to sexual ambivalence and unpredictability. They may engage in sexual behaviors that are risky or self-sabotaging, as they grapple with their conflicting desires for closeness and distance. Their relationships might also have many of the common survival threat brain responses and be filled with anger, fear, shame, running away and numbing
- Negative Core Belief: I am unworthy and unsafe in intimate relationships. I have no right to exist. I’m bad. Other people are dangerous and bad.
How Do Attachment Styles Affect Sexuality?
So you might be thinking about the factors that influence your emotional and sexual life. You might be wondering about how your early relationships might still be influencing you. If so, read on. You will find a few different self contemplation questions to ask yourself.
3 Facets Of Attachment Styles
Most people have a hard time seeing themselves objectively. We all have blind spots and I’ve found this to be particulary the case when it comes to attachment issues. But I’ll save that for another article. So, “How do attachment styles affect sexuality?” When it comes to considering your attachment style, I suggest you reflect on a few different things:
- What calms you? Does turning to your partner tend to help, does keeping your distance help or do both/neither,
- Deep down, what are your core beliefs about yourself and your partner?
- What threatens you? Do you tend to worry more about being abandoned, or being entangled?
If you want to dig a little deeper,
- What is your ideal relationship like?
- Is it hard to identify your own feeling needs and desires?
- Can you get clingy and needy?
- How emotionally reactive are you?
It’s important to note that attachment styles are not fixed and can evolve over time through therapy, self-awareness, and personal growth. Additionally, individuals may have a combination of attachment styles in different contexts or with different partners. Understanding one’s own attachment style and that of their partner(s) can be helpful in navigating and improving sexual relationships.
Ultimately, while attachment styles influence our sexuality, they do not have to determine your entire sexual experience. Various factors, including personal values, beliefs, cultural background, and life experiences, also play crucial roles in shaping one’s sexuality and intimate relationships.
But remember, if you commit yourself to a path of growth, that includes high quality therapy, you can change your attachment style. If you are interested in learning more about attachment, please have look around my site. I’ve written a lot on this and on similar topics. In particular, I’ve written a bunch on treating the effects of treatment of early trauma and neglect.
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