Perhaps summer love is in the air—or maybe I’ve just been watching too many reruns of Gossip Girl. Whatever the reason may be, I can’t stop thinking about all things love, sex, and relationships these days. And as much as I wish I was enjoying a hot girl summer vacation in Spain like Serena van der Woodsen, I have instead found myself chatting it up with my therapist and doing a deep dive into some of my latest insecurities.
The truth is, even though I’m in a committed relationship with a person who is kind, self-aware, and affirming, I sometimes find myself feeling insecure and anxious during or after sex. I tend to overthink a ton and often have thoughts like, “Did my partner make that face because they weren’t feeling it?” or “Was my stomach jiggling during doggy style?” And although I still have these thoughts from time to time, it has thankfully gotten much better over the years. Part of this has to do with learning about how my attachment style affects my sex life.
What is an attachment style, you may ask? If you’re new to attachment styles, that is more than OK—click here to read more about what attachment styles are and how they can affect our relationships. Essentially, there are four attachment styles (secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant) that predict how we show up in relationships. This theory believes that the emotional attachments we have as adults are actually first created by the childhood relationships we had with our parents or guardians.
Attachment styles can be a useful tool in helping us understand why we feel and act the way we do in relationships. Because of this, it can also be extremely beneficial in predicting how we show up in our sex lives as well.
Fear is the driving force for people with an anxious attachment style. If you often worry about your partner leaving, falling out of love with you, or finding someone “better,” you may have an anxious attachment. You might seek approval and make decisions based on making the other person happy as a perceived way of keeping them from leaving.
Anxious types usually have lower self-esteem and carry a fear of abandonment with them into many of their relationships. This low self-esteem often translates to the bedroom as well, where anxious types might see sex as a way of diminishing the anxiety they feel and gaining more reassurance from their partners.
Because anxious types often overthink their partner’s actions and sometimes get caught in obsessive thoughts, sex can actually be overwhelming for this group. Have you ever taken something your partner said during sex and let your thoughts run wild with possibilities about what it could mean? Before you know it, your mind has gone from “that was a weird thing to say” to “OMG they’re not attracted to me anymore!” These types of thought patterns can make sex less enjoyable for the anxious type.
Sometimes, even though anxious types crave deep intimacy and fear abandonment, they often struggle to actually reach true intimacy because they rarely show their authentic selves during sex. They are so preoccupied with trying to please the other person and cling to reassurance that they struggle to let who they are shine through.
Tips for those with anxious attachment
Acknowledgment is the key to moving past a certain attachment style, and starting small is more than enough. Next time you have sex, check in with yourself afterward. Were you in a mindset of wanting to please or get approval? Did you feel like you could be truly yourself? As you ask these questions, remind yourself that there is no shame in feeling this way.
You can even take this exercise a step further and write down the things you personally love about sex. Be specific, honest, and don’t hold back! This will allow you to start connecting with your own desires without the pressure of pleasing someone else. You can keep this list to yourself, or if you feel ready and have a sexual partner you trust, you can try reading some things off the list to them as a way of practicing how to ask for the things you enjoy.
Unlike those with anxious attachment, avoidant types might have higher self-esteem and don’t look for outward approval. The avoidantly attached individual also has difficulty trusting people or asking for help.
They may have an inner discomfort with opening up and a fear of becoming emotionally close to people, especially romantic partners. They avoid intimacy and therefore tend to pull away from people who want to be intimate with them.
Because the avoidant type finds intimacy uncomfortable, they may compartmentalize sex as something that is purely physical and attempt to avoid bringing intimacy into their sex life. They may also use sex as a way of avoiding a certain conflict or emotional conversation within a relationship.
One study found that avoidant attachment styles may have poor communication when it comes to discussing sex with a partner. This is due to their avoidance of getting too close with someone, especially because having conversations around the topic of sex requires a level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy.
Tips for those with avoidant attachment
Avoidant types sometimes cut themselves off from integrating emotional intimacy with sex as a way of escaping discomfort. Start by getting honest and asking yourself if this resonates with you at all.
Avoidant types tend to feel smothered or overwhelmed if they feel their partners wanting more intimacy, so they often push their partners away if they feel them “getting too close.” You can prevent this by communicating the space you crave. It’s perfectly normal for some people to want more space than others, but it’s important to verbalize this instead of pushing someone away. By doing this, you will be able to get the space you desire while helping your partner feel cared for in the process.
This type might have a hard time trusting partners and display inconsistent behavior in their relationships. This can be one of the most painful attachments for people because they long to be accepted and loved, but they also fear letting people in. Unlike the avoidantly attached who believe they don’t need intimacy, the anxious-avoidant types long for intimacy but fear it.
These people fear abandonment and rejection from their partners, but their fear causes them to sometimes pull away or close themselves off. When it comes to sex, this group struggles with low self-esteem and sometimes doesn’t feel they’re deserving of love and intimacy. This can lead to the push and pull of wanting to keep a partner from abandoning them, but then pushing them away if they ask for intimacy because of the belief they aren’t deserving of it.
They often look to sex to meet their needs of feeling loved, but they may seek out sex that lacks emotional intimacy as a way of avoiding it. This type longs for sex within the context of a long-term relationship, but their negative beliefs of themselves often keep them from pursuing this.
Tips for those with anxious-avoidant attachment
This type of attachment struggles with a lot of negative core beliefs about the self, which often turn to negative thoughts and actions. Start by becoming aware of some of the beliefs you hold about who you are. You can write these out in a journal or think about them while you’re driving or on a walk. The mindfulness of exercises like this can help with anxiety, and the connection helps with avoidance. This is a good place to begin your awareness.
Another great step for the anxious-avoidant (and really any of the attachment styles) is talking to a life coach or therapist.
People with secure attachment tend to have healthy levels of trust within relationships and find peace in being intimate with those they trust. They often have high levels of self-esteem and a sense of self-worth. Because of this, they can appreciate affirmations and assurance from their partners, but they don’t feel the need to use this validation as the foundation for how they feel about themselves.
When it comes to sex, securely attached people feel comfortable in who they are and can enjoy sex in the present moment. They don’t find their minds becoming as preoccupied with trying to keep their partner interested, and they feel as though they can pursue intimacy comfortably. Whether they’re engaging in sex in a committed relationship or in a casual hookup, secure types feel a strong sense of who they are that allows them to fully enjoy the moment and communicate with themselves and those they have sex with.
Yes, the secure types will still struggle, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re perfect. But this type of attachment can be something we all strive for as we continue to learn more about ourselves and pursue our own personal growth.