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How Does Your Attachment Influence Your Sexual Relationships?

I saw a symposium of researchers who used attachment theory to explain differences in sexual behavior. In general, people high on attachment anxiety or avoidance (in other words, more insecure folks) have less satisfying sexual experiences.

Jennifer Pink found that anxious people were more likely to be rejected by others when making sexual advances. Avoidant people, compared other attachment styles, were more likely to reject a partner’s advances (“Not now please”) and give in to unwanted sex under some circumstances (“Well, alright I guess”). Why these contrasting results? Pink found that avoidants withhold sex to send a message that they’re not happy in the relationship and sometimes they use sex to get something they want from their partners.

Christina Stefanou found that men who were more anxious couldn’t get it up--they had higher rates of erectile dysfunction. In contrast, women who were more avoidant also had higher rates of sexual dysfunction- they instead had less self-lubrication and less frequent orgasms. Stefanou concluded that treatment strategies for sexual dysfunction should not simply focus on treating symptoms (e.g., with medication) but should also focus more on the root causes of insecurity in relationships.

Kaleigh Sands studied young adults who had multiple sexual relationships at the same time. Anxious people were consistently more anxious with all their sexual partners, whereas avoidant people were not avoidant with all their partners--they were avoidant with some but not others. Sands concluded that future research should examine associations between attachment and sex separately for each individual relationship.

Jennifer Shukusky looked at sexual “hookup” behaviors in college students. Overall, women were less likely than men to want to hookup, and they also wanted their hookups to evolve into committed relationships. Also, women who had more  attachment to their fathers had higher satisfaction with their hookups as adults than women who were less attached. In other words, women with “absent” fathers had hookups that were less satisfying.

Finally, John Sakaluk found that avoidant people have more negative attitudes towards not using condoms (they thought not using condoms was “unsexy” and “unclean”), seemingly because they perceive their sexual partners as more threatening (less trustworthy, more likely to sleep around, more likely to expose them to sexually transmitted infections). Sakaluk also mentioned that experimentally “priming” security (in other words, making people feel more secure in the moment) helped increase positive attitudes towards using condoms.

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Dr. Dylan Selterman - Science of Relationships articles Website/CV
Dr. Selterman's research focuses on secure vs. insecure personality in relationships. He studies how people dream about their partners (and alternatives), and how dreams influence behavior. In addition, Dr. Selterman studies secure base support in couples, jealousy, morality, and autobiographical memory.

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Reader Comments (1)

My avoidant attachment spilled over into my sex life. Since I started having sex as a teenager I found myself suffering from sexual dysfunctions any time a relationship with a woman would start getting serious. As long as I could keep the partner at arms length as far as emotional intimacy was concerned (ie: limiting myself to one night stands, paid sex) my sexual functioning was fine. For many years I had no idea what the problem was. I actually thought I was simply easily bored sexually. Despite dating dozens of women between the ages of 15 and 35 (when I finally got married) I had never fallen in love and ended up marrying for reasons other than that. Stuck in a one partner relationship my sex life basically stopped as I couldn't function with my wife. I didn't know this was being caused by avoidant attachment until I started seeing a psychiatrist. Although I finally got a plausible explanation of the problem he wasn't able to help me with my sexual dysfunctions and my marriage has been sexless for many years.

March 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommentersamC
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