How attachment can affect your sex life
The repeated exposure to your primary caregivers has an enormous influence on how you developed as a human being and, in some cases, can lead to what is called insecure attachment. This can become programmed as a subconscious response to relationships.
If you need to subconsciously worry about things like abandonment, rejection/acceptance then you will rely on your primary attachment style to manage this. You will either exhibit an anxious, avoidant or disorganised style as your primary.
If you have experienced a safe, secure, reliable and consistent bonding with your primary caregiver, then you are likely to have a secure style of attachment.
They are generally developed in the first 18 months of your life, and continue to be reinforced dependent on your experiences up to around aged seven years.
Let me quickly run through the three types of insecure attachment as far as relationships are concerned:
Fearful of abandonment and rejection – will show as needy and clingy once triggered.
Their nervous system is easily dysregulated by any threat to their connections in relationships.
Leads to them exhibiting behaviours that try and pull their partners back towards them.
Can rely entirely on others for their own happiness.
Signs of anxious attachment – always wanting to know where someone is, what time you will be home, who you are talking to, meeting with, can’t cope if messages/calls aren’t answered when they need.
Also fearful of abandonment and rejection – though reactions are different.
There are two types of avoidants: Those who are always guarded, have their walls up to avoid connection, emotional intimacy, openness and vulnerability.
Second are those who at first want to feel loved and give love and allow themselves to connect, but when it gets too much they are triggered and retreat to a safer emotional space.
Easily overwhelmed by relationships – need space.
Traits of both anxious and avoidant styles. Triggered by adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s). May have been abused by a caregiver, but still wanted to be loved by them. Want to be able to love but feel very unsafe doing so – anxiously avoids connection.
How does this show up in someone’s sex life?
Anxious – likely to allow their own sexual boundaries to be challenged and ignored as they want the person to accept them. Can engage in more unsafe and promiscuous sexual activity. Find it difficult to speak up when their own likes/dislikes are ignored and go along with what their partner desires.
They will do what they can to make their partner happy and give over control.
Can see sex as love – the more sex the more someone loves them.
Avoidant – also often engage in casual sexual relationships to avoid deeper emotional intimacy. You may find they are the ones who prefer the ‘friends with benefits’ approach – either as a way of not getting involved in the first place or changing the dynamic of the relationship.
They want the physical connection and to meet these needs, but not the emotional. To connect sex and emotions triggers insecurity.
Can appear as though they don’t care. Can avoid foreplay and ‘pillow talk’ in order to keep it on a purely physical level.
There is a difference between the hormonal responses to sex – women will release more oxytocin than men – oxytocin is the ‘love hormone’ and is linked to connection. Men do release it but release more dopamine – the ‘pleasure hormone’ leading them to want more sex. They also release prolactin, ‘the sleep hormone’, so they may just not be able to keep their eyes open for very long.
Both types can see themselves as not enough, easily disposable.
Statistically around 40% of the population has an insecure style and women tend to be more on the anxious scale and men avoidant.
Woman who are avoidant and use sex for physical fulfilment and men that are more anxious and crave more connection are generally stigmatised as this doesn’t fit into a lot of ‘societal norms’.
This isn’t to say that sex will be an unfulfilling experience for those who use it for their own reasons, but it is likely. This is because the actual needs we have to connect are not being met and they will be living in their own heads and trying to manage their space, rather than being present. Especially if someone is going against what they really want to be doing in order to please someone else.
I have had clients with both types of attachments and in the middle of sex they have thought ‘what am I doing here? Why am I doing this? This isn’t what I want’.
A clear indication that something much deeper is at play.
People with secure attachments on the whole are not attracted to these types of behaviours and don’t embark on relationships with people that have serious attachment issues, as they recognise them as unhealthy and subconsciously and maybe consciously won’t entertain them. They have the ability to set and stick within their own healthy boundaries when it comes to sex.
Which is a shame for the insecure people as they could show them a secure way of relating.
Someone with an insecure attachment would be unlikely to be attracted to a secure person regardless, or accept a secure relationship, as it wouldn’t fit their style.
Those with insecure attachments that get together can also develop co-dependent relationships.
There are other factors that will determine how your sex life plays out. Your early sexual experiences, the attitudes towards sex of your caregivers and your wider group of influence, religious beliefs etc. But your attachment will play a major role in your ability to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life.
The good news is… this can all be addressed and changed.
By looking at and understanding your own attachment, the outcomes this leads to, what needs it elicits, emotions to be processed and then deciding on doing something differently, you can start to let go of those outdated styles that keep you stuck, discontented and unfulfilled.
Be good to yourself.