NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, March 12, 2023

What is the Connection Between Attachment Styles and Sexual Satisfaction?

In Dr. Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, she discusses the connection between attachment styles and sexual satisfaction (see my article: Understanding the Impact of Early Attachment on Adult Relationships).

How Attachment Styles Develop Early in Life
Your attachment style is developed early in life with your primary caregiver (usually a mother). Attachment styles are broadly divided into secure and insecure attachment, and 50-60% of people develop secure attachment early in life.

Early Attachment Between Mother and Baby

People who develop a secure attachment style early in life might not have received "perfect" caregiving (nothing is perfect), but it was good enough to help them to grow up to be securely attached individuals.

Everyone else, who didn't develop a secure attachment style, is somewhere on the insecure attachment spectrum between anxious and avoidant attachment (see my articles: How an Avoidant Attachment Style Can Affect Your Sex Life and How an Anxious Attachment Style Can Affect Your Sex Life).

There is also an attachment style called disorganized attachment which is a combination of anxious and avoidant due to early experiences with highly inconsistent caregiving.  But for our purposes, I'll simplify this discussion by focusing on anxious and avoidant attachment.

Before I go further, I'd like to emphasize that if you have an insecure attachment style (either anxious or avoidant), you're not doomed to live with it for the rest of your life.  You can develop a secure attachment style by working on your early attachment wounds in therapy or over time by getting into a healthy relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style. 

Attachment Styles in Relationships
Attachment styles developed early in life have an impact on adult relationships and sexual well-being.  

Based on Dr. Nagoski's book, let's compare attachment styles in relationships in terms of emotional vulnerability, emotional security and an ability to allow a partner to meet emotional needs (see my articles:  Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Intimacy in a Relationship and Fear of Emotional Vulnerability).

Comfort With Showing Emotional Vulnerability:
Secure Attachment:       "I'm comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with my partner."

Anxious Attachment:    "If I share my thoughts and feelings with my partner, I'm afraid I'll lose my partner's love."

Avoidant Attachment:    "I prefer not to share my deepest emotions with my partner."

Feeling Emotionally Secure in a Relationship:
Secure Attachment:        "I hardly ever worry about my partner leaving me."

Anxious Attachment:     "I tend to worry that my partner will leave me."

Avoidant Attachment:    "I have a hard time relying emotionally on a romantic partner."

Ability to Turn to a Partner to Get Emotional Needs Met:
Secure Attachment:       "I feel comfortable turning to my partner in times of need."

Anxious Attachment:    "I worry I care more about my partner than they care about me."

Avoidant Attachment:    "I prefer not to get too close to a romantic partner."

Secure Attachment Style and Sexual Satisfaction
According to Dr. Nagoski, a 2012 sex research study revealed that people with secure attachment styles tend to have a healthier and a more satisfying sex life.

Secure Attachment and Sexual Satisfaction

In addition they tend to have:
  • More positive feelings about sex
  • More frequent sex
  • Better experiences with sexual arousal and more frequent orgasms
  • Better communication with their partner about sex
  • The ability to give and receive sexual consent
  • The ability to practice safer sex (such as using contraceptives)
  • The ability to enjoy sex more
  • The ability to be attentive to their partner's needs
  • The ability to comfortably link sex and love
  • The ability to have sex in a loving committed relationship
  • More sexual self confidence (see my article: What is Sexual Self Esteem?)
Insecure/Anxious Attachment Style and Sexual Satisfaction
Compared to people with a secure attachment style, people with an anxious attachment style tend to have more anxiety-driven sex with their partner through solace sex, which is an emotionally unhealthy way to have sex and can make sex less satisfying (see my article: Anxious Attachment and Solace Sex to understand the concept of solace sex).  

Anxious Attachment and Sexual Satisfaction

In addition, they tend to: 
  • Worry about sex
  • Equate the quality of their sex life with the quality of the relationship
  • Be more likely to experience pain during sexual intercourse (referring to women)
  • Be more likely to experience erectile dysfunction (referring to men)
  • Be less likely to practice safe sex (use of condoms)
  • Be more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs before sex
  • Have more sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies
  • Be more likely to get involved in coercive relationships where they are emotionally, physically and/or sexually abused or bullied
Insecure/Avoidant Attachment Style and Sexual Satisfaction
Compared to people with a secure attachment style, people with an avoidant attachment style tend to have less satisfying sexual relationships.

Avoidant Attachment and Sexual Satisfaction

They tend to:
  • Begin having sex later in life
  • Have less frequent sex with less non-penetrative sex (e.g., oral sex)
  • Have positive attitudes about casual sex outside a committed relationship so they have more one-night stands
  • Be more likely to have sex just to fit in with social expectations rather than because they really want to have sex
  • Experience sex as less connected to their personal lives and relationships
Overall, people with a secure attachment style tend to experience more relationship and sexual satisfaction.

In order to have more sexually satisfying relationships and overall sexual well-being, people with insecure attachment styles (whether it is anxious or avoidant) need to work on overcoming their early emotional attachment wounds so they can develop a secure attachment style.

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy (see my articles: What is Sex Therapy?).

Getting Help in Sex Therapy

There is no physical exam, no nudity or sex during sex therapy sessions (see my article: What Are the Most Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?)

As I mentioned earlier, people who have an insecure attachment style, whether it's anxious or avoidant, can learn to develop a secure attachment style by working on their unresolved emotional attachment wounds in therapy (see my article: Developing a Secure Attachment Style: What is Earned Secure Attachment?).

You deserve to be in a fulfilling relationship with good sex.

If you would like to improve the quality of your relationship and sexual-welling, seek help from a skilled sex therapist who is also a trauma therapist.  

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

As a sex positive trauma and sex therapist, I have helped many clients to have better relationships and improve their overall sexual well-being (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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 business hours or email me.