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Thursday, April 7, 2022

How An Avoidant Attachment Style Can Affect Your Sex Life - Part 2

In Part 1 of this discussion on avoidant attachment style and sex, I described how this attachment style can affect your sex life. In this article, I'm providing a clinical vignette as an illustration of what I discussed in Part 1.

How An Avoidant Attachment Style Can Affect Your Sex Life

Attachment styles develop early in childhood (see my article: How Early Attachment Bonds Affect Adult Relationships).

An avoidant attachment style is one of three insecure attachment styles: anxious, avoidant and disorganized (see my article: What is Your Attachment Style?).

As I mentioned in a previous article, unless you work in therapy to overcome the issues that caused you to develop an insecure attachment style, your attachment style will continue to impact you in your adult relationships, especially in romantic relationships (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Adult Relationships).

As I mentioned in Part 1, if you have an avoidant attachment style, some or all of the following characteristics might apply to you. You might:
  • Have a discomfort with sexual activities that involve emotional closeness, like cuddling, hugging or so on.
  • Not enjoy foreplay.
  • Prefer casual, uncommitted relationships with emotionless sex (e.g, hook ups).
  • Have sexual affairs outside of your relationship.
  • Use sex mostly as a way to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Use sex as a way to gain status among your peers (e.g., bragging about how many people you slept with, and so on).
  • Have fantasies about having sex with other people (other than your partner) as a way to emotionally distance yourself from your partner.
  • Have a hard time relating to a partner who likes to feel emotionally close during sex.  This is especially problematic if your partner is someone who has an anxious attachment style and needs to feel emotionally close during sex.
  • Prefer relationships where there are few emotional demands being made on you.
Clinical Vignette
The following clinical vignette is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information removed to protect confidentiality:

Joe, who was 38 years old, sought help in therapy because his girlfriend was complaining that she was unhappy with how "cold" he was toward her when they had sex.  She liked to cuddle, hug and be hugged, but he usually pushed her away because these affectionate gestures made him feel uncomfortable.

Initially, Joe told his therapist that he didn't think he needed to be in therapy. He said therapy was for "weak people." He explained he was mostly coming to appease his girlfriend, someone he thought of as being "needy" (see my article:  Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're "Weak").

But as Joe continued with his therapy sessions and his therapist explained attachment styles to him, he got curious as to how all of this might apply to him.   

When Joe talked about his family background, he explained that his parents wanted him to be "independent" as a young child.  Also, as a child, he didn't want to be a "burden" to them (see my article: Seeing Yourself as Independent vs Experiencing Shame For Feeling Like a Burden).

He said they were usually preoccupied with their own problems, and they expected him to be able to solve his problems without their help.

When he started elementary school at age 5, he was small for his age and some of the bigger children in his class would bully him after school.  They would taunt him, call him names like "Shorty," and push him around.  Whenever this happened, he didn't know how to defend himself.

One day when he came home from school in tears, he told his mother that he was being bullied and she responded, "Stop being a crybaby! If they push you, defend yourself--push them back."  Then, when his father came home, his father told him, "Don't be weak! We can't fight your battles for you! You have to learn to take care of yourself."

Joe felt too ashamed to tell his parents that he didn't know how to defend himself.  On top of that, he felt ashamed for coming home tearful and being "weak." So, he learned to hide his more vulnerable feelings from other people and, eventually, without even realizing it, he learned to suppress his "negative" feelings altogether.

He also told his therapist that his parents didn't believe in "spoiling" children with hugs and expressions of affection, so he never experienced this with his parents. But as soon as Joe said this, he became defensive and said, "My parents were good parents.  They knew what was best for me."

It took a while in therapy before Joe could let go of his defensiveness to see that he was emotionally neglected at home and that his parents grew up under similar circumstances, which is why they didn't know how to express affection towards him or even with each other (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and Adults Who Were Emotionally Neglected as Children Often Have a Problem Trusting Others).

Over time, Joe could see how his childhood experiences at home caused him to develop an avoidant attachment style and how that attachment style affected his relationship with his girlfriend.

He grieved in therapy for the emotional neglect he experienced as a child. He and his therapist also used EMDR therapy to process the trauma related to these experiences (see my article: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and EMDR Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Although, initially, Joe believed he was in therapy to appease his girlfriend, after a while, he realized and appreciated that he needed it for himself.  This allowed him to be curious and more psychologically minded (see my article: Starting Therapy: Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness).

The more he processed his trauma with EMDR, the more open he became to his own emotional vulnerability, which allowed him to be more openly affectionate and loving towards his girlfriend (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Intimacy).

Getting Help in Therapy
To get to the root of your avoidant attachment style, you could benefit from working with a trauma therapist who has the expertise to help you overcome your childhood trauma where your attachment style first developed.

EMDR therapy as well as other trauma therapies, like Somatic ExperiencingAEDPclinical hypnosis and Ego States work are all therapies that can help you to overcome trauma.

Rather than continuing to engage in the same destructive behavior patterns based on your avoidant attachment style, seek help so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist).

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.