How attachment can affect your sex life

Repeated exposure to your primary caregivers has an enormous influence on how you developed as a human being and, in some cases, leads to what is called insecure attachment. This can become programmed as a subconscious response to relationships.

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If you needed to (subconsciously) worry about abandonment, rejection, and acceptance then you will likely rely on your primary attachment style to manage this. You will typically either exhibit an anxious, avoidant or disorganised attachment style. If you have experienced a safe, secure, reliable, and consistent bond with your primary caregiver, then you are likely to have a secure style of attachment.


What are the 3 types of insecure attachment?

Attachment styles 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.

Anxious attachment

  • Fearful of abandonment and rejection – will show as needy and 'clingy' once triggered. 
  • The nervous system is easily dysregulated by any threat to their connections in relationships.
  • Showing behaviours that try and pull their partners back towards them.
  • Rely entirely on others for their own happiness.
  • Always wanting to know where someone is e.g. what time you will be home, who you are talking to and meeting with.

Avoidant attachment

  • Fearful of abandonment and rejection (reactions are different to anxious attachment).
  • There are two types of avoidants. 1. Those who are always guarded, have their walls up to avoid connection, emotional intimacy, openness, and vulnerability. 2. 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, needing space.

Disorganised attachment:

  • Traits of both anxious and avoidant styles.
  • Triggered by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
  • May have been abused by a caregiver, but still wanted to be loved by them.
  • Wants to be able to love but feels very unsafe doing so – anxiously avoids connection.

How do attachment styles affect sex?

How do attachment styles show up in someone’s sex life?

Anxious

People with anxious attachments are likely to allow their own sexual boundaries to be challenged and ignored as they want the person to accept them. They can engage in more unsafe and promiscuous sexual activity, but they find it difficult to speak up when their own likes/dislikes are ignored and go along with their partner's desires. They tend to do what they can to make their partner happy and give over control, seeing sex as love – the more sex, the more someone loves them.

Avoidant

People with avoidant attachments 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 may want the physical connection and to meet these needs, but not the emotional one - connecting sex and emotions triggers insecurity. They can appear as though they don’t care, avoiding 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 and 'easily disposable'. Research suggests that 40% of the population has an insecure style, and women tend to be more on the anxious scale and men avoidant.

Women who are avoidant (using sex for physical fulfilment) and men that are more anxious (craving more connection) are generally stigmatised as this doesn’t fit into our ‘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. They may be 'living in their own heads', trying to manage their space instead of 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 is an indication that something much deeper is at play. People with secure attachments on the whole are not attracted to these types of behaviours. And they don’t tend to embark on relationships with people that have serious attachment issues - recognising them as unhealthy. They have the ability to 'set and stick' within their own healthy boundaries when it comes to sex. This is a shame for 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 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, attitudes towards sex from your caregivers, your wider group of influence, and your religious beliefs may play a part. 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, and how to do things differently, you can start to let go of those outdated styles that keep you stuck, discontented and unfulfilled.

Be good to yourself.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, EN8 9SH
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Written by John Kenny, Love and Relationship Coach
Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, EN8 9SH

Interpersonal Relationship Coaching (IRC) is a fusion of Coaching, Counselling, Psychology, Hypnotherapy & NLP

It will help you to understand yourself and others and what you need to do to attract what you want in your life.

John Kenny is a Relationship Coach, Author, Speaker & Documentary Maker and helps people to create quality relationships!

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