The concept of attachment was originally introduced by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. They have studied the behaviour of infants when they were separated from their mothers. They observed that infants who were securely attached to their mothers were more likely to explore their surroundings and were more resilient when faced with stressful situations.
In contrast, infants who were not securely attached to their mothers were more likely to be clingy and fearful. Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work led to the development of attachment theory, which is a framework for understanding the nature of human relationships. Attachment theory has been expanded upon by other researchers, and the concept of attachment styles has been particularly influential.
What are attachment styles?
Attachment styles refer to the way that people interact with and respond to others in their social and personal relationships. There are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized. One’s attachment style can also affect their interpersonal relationships by making them more or less likely to develop close attachments with others, and by affecting how comfortable they are with intimacy and trust.
Secure individuals are thought to have a strong sense of self-worth (i.e., a positive model of self) that comes from positive interactions with others throughout their lives. They also develop a sense that other people are trustworthy and dependable (i.e., a positive model of others) through their history of successful interactions. Consequently, they tend to have positive expectations about their partners, as well as develop a sense of comfort when seeking support and intimacy in their relationships.
The Power of Self Worth
Additionally, their strong sense of self-worth allows them to have a healthy balance between intimacy and autonomy within their relationships since their self-worth does not depend on the constant approval of others. Considering the above, it is not surprising that securely attached individuals are able to have relationships characterised by more trust, satisfaction, and commitment, and less conflict, jealousy, and emotional ambivalence.
Attachment and Sexuality
Besides intimacy and trust, the way an individual is attached to others affects their sexual life as well because attachment influences the way they interact with others. In their research on attachment styles and adolescent sexual behaviour, Tracy and colleagues (2003) found that securely attached adolescents reported lower levels of erotophobia (i.e., fear of sex or sexual intimacy) compared to the other three attachment types.
Securely attached adolescents have also been found to be more selective in their partner choice and more likely to have sex within a committed relationship. In line with these findings, not only they are less accepting of casual sex but also less likely to have one-night stands or have sex with a stranger, as well as be the perpetrator or the victim of sexual aggression.
Displays of Secure Attachment
In general, existing research shows that securely attached individuals appear comfortable with their sexuality and enjoy a variety of sexual activities. Those who are securely attached tend to be more trusting and intimate with their partners, which leads to a more fulfilling sexual relationship.
Attachment is the deep feeling of closeness, love and security that you feel with your partner. It is the sense of being safe and protected that you feel when you are with them. Thus, a secure attachment can be seen as one of the key factors in a happy and long-lasting relationship.
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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.
Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental psychology, 28(5), 759.
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.
Tracy, J. L., Shaver, P. R., Albino, A. W., & Cooper, M. L. (2003). Attachment styles and adolescent sexuality. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 137–159). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.