Sexual Satisfaction and Your Attachment Style
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Insecure attachment, which can take the form of being anxious or avoidant, robs many people of the opportunity to feel emotionally safe in love relationships. By protecting themselves, they create a distance that not only affects their emotional connection but also leads to feeling sexually dissatisfied. Learning more about their attachment style can help them to feel more sexually satisfied, a topic which I address in the brief video Attachment Styles and Making Love. Also, anxious and avoidant styles of attachment can lead to different difficulties.
Anxious attachment and sexual satisfaction
People who are anxiously attached struggle with feeling unworthy or unlovable, which undermines their sexual relationships in many ways:
Their need to be reassured that they are loved and lovable can eclipse their interest in the physical aspects of their intimate relationship. For themselves, they might enjoy holding and caressing, which soothe their anxiety, rather than wanting the arousal that comes with sexual intimacy. But they might also feel driven to pleasure their partner well enough to ensure that they will be loved and cared about. This focus can lead to being sexually dissatisfied and to experiencing performance anxiety that undermines their ability to “perform.” It can also reinforce their own sense of feeling alone and less worthy as a person.
Their need to be accepted and loved can prevent them from being assertive about their own sexual desires. As a result of avoiding their own desires while also attending to those of their partner, they often feel that their partner controls their sex life. Women are also at risk of engaging in sexual activity that they don’t want to engage in. In addition, there is evidence that anxiously attached heterosexual men are sometimes more sexually reserved in an effort to please their partner, whom they perceive as wanting a gentler approach.
Some anxiously attached people, especially men, may focus excessively on sexuality as they seek reassurance there. This can include wanting it with greater frequency or turning to inappropriate or forceful sexual behavior. This can upset their partners, who then try to avoid sex.
Avoidant attachment and sexual satisfaction
Those who have an avoidant attachment style don’t trust others to be emotionally available to them no matter what they do. Some ways that this undermines their love relationships can include:
They may be emotionally and sexually distant in their relationships. While they might enjoy sexual arousal, they might also be uncomfortable with gentle or caring physical touch, which can weaken their defenses. They might maintain distance by being emotionally removed within a committed relationship or by engaging only in brief relationships or one-night stands. This can also include bragging or objectifying the other person to help them feel emotionally safer and better about themselves. In each of these scenarios, their need to protect themselves makes their sexual relationships less than fully satisfying.
They might have sex infrequently or abstain from sex (maybe by turning to masturbation). For some, not having sex is the best way to prevent them from being emotionally vulnerable. These people also tend to remain emotionally aloof from their partners. Not surprisingly, this can be a significant problem in intimate relationships. While women are often less interested in sex when their relationship is highly conflicted, men’s desire for sex is less likely to be affected by relationship problems. So, men who have avoidant partners are more likely to be upset by the lack of sex.
Improving your sexual satisfaction
Attachment insecurity can affect the sexual satisfaction of both the person with this insecurity and their partner. Though this can be a difficult problem to even acknowledge, there are ways to improve your sex life once you do.
You can focus inwardly, working to feel more secure in yourself generally, as well as sexually. You might practice being more introspective about yourself, your relationship, and your sexual struggles, perhaps journaling or talking with a therapist. There are also many self-help resources to guide you in addressing attachment insecurity and sexual difficulties.
In addition, you can focus outwardly on improving your relationship in general or in the sexual arena. This includes talking honestly with your partner. While the vulnerability associated with having deeply personal conversations about sex can make anyone uncomfortable, this discomfort is magnified for anxiously and avoidantly attached people. Still, the best way to improve your sexual satisfaction is to talk with your partner about it.
Whatever your difficulty, the first steps toward improving your sexual satisfaction are to acknowledge that you are unhappy and then gain clarity on what is contributing to that unhappiness. From there, you can work toward choosing to take action that will improve the sexual satisfaction of you and your partner.