Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sex and Attachment




Written by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Dr. Marie-Pierre Fontaine-Paquet, Psy.D., C.Psych.


Are you struggling with sex in your relationships?

How you relate to your partners sexually are affected by how you relate to each other outside of sex.

In the CFIR blog post 'Anxiety and Your Relationships', we describe how attachment theory may help you to understand your experience of your self and others in your relationships. We also talk about the concept of attachment style, which includes ways of seeing your self (“Am I worthy of love and care?”) and others (“Are you there for me, will you respond when I need you?”) in your close relationships. Sex can be viewed as an attachment behavior, and thus your attachment style affects how you engage in sex. Attachment anxiety and avoidance can interfere with enjoying sex and creating an enriching and fulfilling erotic life.

If you are anxiously attached, you might have doubts about your self-worth and attractiveness, and about your partner’s availability to meet your feelings and needs. Sex can be a way to obtain reassurance about these things – about whether your partner finds you beautiful or sexy, and about whether your partner loves you, cares about you and wants to be close to you. When sex is a way for you to obtain reassurance and to soothe your deep fears about your self or your relationship, you may become demanding and critical of partners when they do not respond to you sexually in the ways that you hoped.

If you are avoidantly attached, you might find it difficult to be close to your partner during sex because you fear rejection by your partner. You might tend to keep more distance during sex and be more focused on tasks and duties, and on performing in such a way that is pleasing to your partner. It might be difficult for you to access your true desires, feelings, and needs and to share these with your partner. You might also struggle with understanding and being attuned to your partner’s feelings and needs when you are so focused on performance and tasks during sex.

When sex becomes a place filled with fear, it may be difficult for both partners to be in touch with, explore and share their erotic potentials and all that sex has to offer.

Here are some tips on how to deal with attachment anxiety and avoidance during sex:

For the anxiously attached:


  • If you have doubts about your self-worth and attractiveness, start working on nurturing a more positive relationship with yourself and your body – as opposed to overly relying on your partner’s responses to reassure you. Try to explore what makes you feel sexy and nurture these parts of yourself.
  • Try not to over-interpret your partner’s cues as being related to you, how much they care about you and your relationship. Learn to calm yourself and to take a step back to notice all of the other factors that may be influencing your partner’s responses to you.

For the avoidantly attached:


  • Develop more awareness of your true desires, feelings, and needs. Try to take a risk to share these with your partner and talk about what interests and excites you in sex – instead of avoiding taking risks by distancing yourself during sex or even avoiding sex altogether.
  • Learn to be more present to your own and your partner’s desires, feelings, and needs during sex. Recognize when you are distancing from yourself and your partner, and remember that the more you distance, the more you can create distress in your relationship.

A psychologist can:


  • help you find and create a more fulfilling sex life by working with you individually and/or as a couple.
  • assess your attachment style and its impact on your sex life, help you understand your sexual desires, emotional reactions, and needs, and help you communicate these to your partner more effectively.
  • help you learn how to respond to your partner’s desires, feelings and needs to help you build a more secure and satisfying sexual relationship.

Especially when couples feel stuck in constant negative interactions as a result of fears that block sexual fulfillment and erotic exploration, a psychologist can help you better understand these moments and help you create more security in your relationship. Over time, sex can feel less dangerous and become a space to explore and connect in movement, touch and shared emotions of excitement and joy.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Treatment Service.