Attachment styles are ways of relating to others that are learned in early childhood. There are four main attachment styles described in the literature: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized. People with different attachment styles tend to have different types of interpersonal relationships.
For example, people with an anxious attachment style might have a lot of close relationships, but they might also tend to worry a lot about their relationships and feel like they need a lot of reassurance from their partners. People with an avoidant attachment style on the other hand might have fewer close relationships, and they might be more likely to keep their distance from others emotionally.
What does Avoidant Attachment look like?
Due to early attachment experiences with caregivers, characterized by being emotionally distant and unresponsive to one’s needs, avoidant individuals develop a “negative model of others” in their relationships. This is explained by their perception of their attachment figures as unreliable and uncaring which eventually leads them to prefer not to depend on others for support. Since they value self-reliance, it is not surprising to see them uncomfortable with intimacy and interdependence.
People with an avoidant attachment style are often described as being emotionally distant or self-contained in their relationships. They may have difficulty forming close or intimate relationships. They may also believe that they are better off alone and that any type of close relationship will only lead to potential rejections. Consequently, such individuals tend to restrict expressions of emotionality and distance themselves from others to maintain a positive self-image by denying attachment needs.
Sex and Avoidant Attachments
Considering the above, sex – as one of the most intimate human activities – creates a difficult dilemma for people with an avoidant attachment style. This dilemma they are facing can potentially be solved by two strategies. Avoidant individuals either could avoid or delay the beginning of a sexual activity, or they can have sex when true intimacy is unlikely. Such strategies should not be taken as mutually exclusive since research shows that avoidant individuals can use both strategies.
Once people with avoidant attachment become sexually active, they are more likely to engage in casual sex, one-night stands, or sex with strangers compared to nonavoidant individuals. They are also more likely to prefer and engage in solitary sexual activities (e.g., masturbation). In their study, Gentzler and Kerns (2004) have found that avoidant individuals are more likely to report having unwanted but consensual sex out of a sense of obligation or responsibility (Impett & Peplau, 2002). When they are in a relationship, they may also be less likely to communicate their needs and desires to their partner, leading to less fulfilling sex life.
The Intimacy Aspect
Considering the nature of attachment in relationships, avoidant individuals do not only experience intimacy or sexual issues, but also experience low levels of relationship satisfaction. There is a strong correlation between avoidant attachment and relationship satisfaction. Individuals with avoidant attachment styles tend to be less satisfied in their relationships than those with other attachment styles. This is likely due to the fact that individuals with avoidant attachment styles are more likely to avoid emotional intimacy and close relationships, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Relationships take work
Regardless of the attachment style an individual has, developing and maintaining healthy relationships take work. Some healthy actions one can take in terms of their relationships might be as follows: (a) learning to communicate openly and honestly about feelings and needs; (b) being willing to compromise and work together to find mutually-satisfying solutions; (c) putting effort into developing trust, intimacy, and commitment. It is important to communicate openly and honestly and to be able to reflect on your feelings and experiences. If we are not able to communicate effectively or reflect on our own experiences, it is likely that our relationships will be negatively affected.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Seray Soyman is working as a Trainee Psychosexologist within the Willingness team, providing psychosexual education and sexual support sessions, as well as delivering training and workshops. She is also pursuing her master’s in Clinical Psychosociology at Sapienza University, Rome. Seray’s research interests are sex-positive behaviour, sexual habits, LGBTQIA+ studies, and sexual communication.
Ainsworth, M. S., & Bowlby, J. (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American psychologist, 46(4), 333.
Cooper, M. L., Pioli, M., Levitt, A., Talley, A. E., Micheas, L., & Collins, N. L. (2006). Attachment styles, sex motives, and sexual behavior. In M. Mikulincer & G. S. Goodman (Eds.), Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex (pp. 243–274). Guilford Press.
Gentzler, A. L., & Kerns, K. A. (2004). Associations between insecure attachment and sexual experiences. Personal relationships, 11(2), 249-265.
Impett, E. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2002). Why some women consent to unwanted sex with a dating partner: Insights from attachment theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(4), 360-370.