Attachment styles seem to be all the rage these days. Part of the growing popularity of attachment styles could be attributed to relationship therapists like Jeff Guenther and many others educating people on social media about their attachment styles.
Learning new things that help us understand ourselves and our relationships better is a very important part of life. So, let's look at the four known attachment styles, and how they affect the way we have sex.
Here is how attachment styles affect us in the bedroom
What are attachment styles?
Attachment styles encompass the way we attach and relate to other people, and how we form relationships and feel about them. The attachment theory was first developed in the 1960s by a British psychiatrist John Bowlby and it has been studied a lot throughout the years.
Our attachment styles play a very important role in our lives, whether we're aware of it or not. We as humans are wired to seek human connection and build relationships, and what type of attachment style we have, determines how we go about it.
Attachment styles form early in childhood, and the way we learn to connect to our primary caregivers (most often our parents) lays a foundation for our intimate relationships as adults. However, our attachment styles can evolve and change even later in life, shaped by relationships, people, and other experiences.
Researchers have found that there are four attachment styles:
People with secure attachment styles have no difficulty forming and keeping relationships. Around half of the population has this attachment style. According to Brennan, Clark, and Shaver's Two Attachment Dimension Scale, secure people are low both on the anxiety and avoidance scale.
"When you were upset as a child, and went to your parents for comfort, if they were good at quickly soothing you and creating trust by routinely being there for you, you likely developed a secure attachment style," explains licensed professional counselor, Jeff Guenther.
Here are some key characteristics of people who have a secure attachment style:
- They are reliable and consistent.
- When in a relationship, they make decisions with you.
- They have flexible views of relationships.
- They are great communicators, have no issues expressing their feelings, and are good at compromising.
- They don't fear closeness, intimacy, or commitment.
Avoidant attachment is one of the three insecure attachment styles. It's estimated that around 25% of the population has this attachment style. According to Brennan, Clark, and Shaver's Two Attachment Dimension Scale, avoidants are high on the avoidance scale and low on the anxiety scale.
"When you were upset as a child, and your discomfort was ignored or dismissed so you learned to detach from your uncomfortable feelings because you couldn't trust that your parents would ever be there for you, you likely developed an avoidant attachment," Guenther explains.
People with avoidant attachment styles tend to have these characteristics:
- Values their independence and constantly require more space.
- Often sends mixed signals and don't make their intentions clear.
- Always emphasize boundaries in a relationship.
- Have an unhealthy and unrealistic romantic view of how relationships should be.
- Are not good at compromising, communicating, and solving disagreements.
"If you're avoidant, you connect with romantic partners but always maintain some mental distance and an escape route," explains Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A., in their book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love.
People with an avoidant attachment style tend to use so-called deactivating strategies in their everyday life to keep their partners at a distance. "A deactivation strategy is any behavior or thought that is used to squelch intimacy," explain Levine and Heller.
Anxious attachment style is the second type of insecure attachment and about 25% of people have this type of attachment style. According to Brennan, Clark, and Shaver's Two Attachment Dimension Scale, anxiously attached people are low on the avoidance scale, and high on the anxiety scale.
"When you were upset as a child and your parents were not able to easily soothe you and weren't able to create trust because they were sporadically there for you, which didn't feel reliable, you probably developed an anxious attachment style," says Guenther.
"If you have an anxious attachment style, you possess a unique ability to sense when your relationship is threatened," explain Levine and Heller. When anxiously attached people feel that their relationship is threatened they enter a so-called danger zone, when they are desperately trying to re-establish the connection with their partners to ensure that everything is okay.
People with anxious attachment styles tend to have these characteristics:
- Crave intimacy and closeness in the relationship.
- They are unhappy when they're not in a relationship.
- Tend to play games with their partner.
- Have difficulty expressing their needs and communicating their feelings.
- Have trust issues and fear rejection.
- Neglect their own needs in a relationship, and always put their partner first.
Disorganized attachment style is the third type of insecure attachment style and it's the rarest as well as least understood. It's estimated that only around 4% of the world's population has this attachment style.
According to Brennan, Clark, and Shaver's Two Attachment Dimension Scale, people with disorganized attachment have high avoidance and high anxiety. So, this attachment style is a mix of the other two insecure attachment styles – avoidant and anxious.
"If you grew up in a chaotic, manipulative, threatening or abusive environment and you were just trying to survive and your parents were sometimes there for you, but also at times were very scary, you probably developed a disorganized attachment," Guenther explains.
People with a disorganized attachment style tend to have these characteristics:
- They seek either extreme closeness or extreme distance with no in-between.
- They are inconsistent with their romantic relationships.
- They have a fear of abandonment.
- They have a fear of intimacy and closeness but have a strong desire for it.
- They have severe trust issues.
How attachment styles show up in sex
Just as our attachment styles impact the way we form romantic relationships, it also greatly influences our relationship with sex and intimacy.
So, let's take a look at each individual attachment style and how they approach sex in life.
Secure attachment and sex
Obviously, people with secure attachment styles have the easiest time with sex. "Having a secure attachment is associated with higher levels of arousal, intimacy, and pleasure," explains Guenther.
Studies show that securely attached people have more overall sexually satisfying relationships because they feel the love and connection with their partner during sex, but they also are able to focus on pleasure and eroticism.
Securely attached people are receptive to their partner's needs, and they are more in tune with their own needs during sex, which means that they can better please their partner and find pleasure themselves.
Also, because securely attached people are great communicators, they are also better at talking about sex, which is a very important part of a healthy and satisfying sex life.
Anxious attachment and sex
"If you have an anxious attachment style, you feel like having sex is proof of the intimate and loving connection you have. It can soothe you emotionally, because of the deep bond you experience while you're doing it," Guenther says.
Anxiously attached people might use sex as a way to feel connected with their partner when the relationship is threatened, and so there might be a lack of focus on how erotic or pleasurable sex actually is.
Due to anxiously attached people often putting their partner's needs above theirs, it might also translate into their sex life. So, they often don't ask for what they want, and spend all of their time and effort trying to please their partner.
Avoidant attachment and sex
Avoidantly attached people tend to either abstain from sex or engage in emotion-free casual sex.
"If you have an avoidant attachment style, you typically separate sex and love," explains Guenther. Avoidant people are not focused on loving and connecting feelings with their partner, but rather the physical pleasure and performance.
Studies show that people with avoidant attachment styles tend to consume more porn and masturbate more often than other attachment styles. The reason for it is that avoidant people tend to avoid intimacy of any form (and sex is one form of intimacy), so they have less interest in sex with a partner, casual or not.
When it comes to avoidant people in long-term relationships, their attachment style can also influence the way they approach intimacy with their partners.
Remember the deactivating strategies that avoidants use to avoid intimacy we mentioned before? Well, avoiding physical closeness is one of those strategies, and that involves not wanting to share the same bed, and not wanting to have sex with their partner.
Disorganized attachment and sex
This attachment style is the most complicated and often goes from one extreme to the next. Research shows that people with higher anxiety report higher sexual desire and disorganized attachment is high on the anxiety scale.
However, people with disorganized attachment score high on avoidant tendencies, and they are prone to avoiding intimacy with a partner, sex included.
Due to that, people with this attachment style might show huge amounts of love and passion to their partner, yet completely shut down emotionally during intimate moments, due to their fear of intimacy.
Knowing your attachment style can be helpful to help you build long-lasting and healthy relationships, and it can also help you have better sex.
When you understand your behaviors and relationship with sex and love, you can then make changes and improve.
Our attachment styles are not set in stone, and even if you have an insecure attachment that interferes with the quality of your sexual and romantic relationships, it doesn't mean that things can’t change.
We have the ability to adjust and evolve, and attachment styles can shift and change as we go through life.