Within that avoidant category, a person is typically either fearful of intimacy or dismissive of it, the former showing up as anxiety about abandonment and the latter manifesting as more of a general disinterest in closeness. In either case, however, the avoidant person’s pushing-away behaviors—whether that means not returning texts, redirecting conversations from deep topics, or shielding their emotions—are often what get in the way of sexual connection.
How dating a person with an avoidant attachment style can affect your sex life
Someone with an avoidant attachment style is more likely to bottle up their emotions, which can mean stilted sexual communication—if any sexual communication at all. And when sexual communication comes up short, it can lead to gaps in understanding among both people about what they each want from the relationship, as well as the ways they can best experience pleasure within it.
“The ability to clearly communicate your sexual wants and needs is essential to making sure those needs are met.” —Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH
“No one is a mind reader,” says Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH, sex and relationships researcher at sexual-wellness app Coral. “The ability to clearly communicate your sexual wants and needs is essential to making sure those needs are met.” When there’s a lack of sexual communication, not only do needs go unmet (read: fewer orgasms), but resentment over those unmet needs can build over time and trigger other relationship issues, says Shamyra Howard, LCSW, a sexologist for intimacy marketplace Lovehoney.
Below, the experts share sexual relationship and communication tips for keeping your partner’s avoidant attachment style from getting in the way of a satisfying sex life.
5 sex tips for avoidant attachment relationships, according to experts
1. Reflect on your own attachment style.
Sexual communication is a two-way street, so in order to sync up with your partner—no matter their attachment style—it's important to know which direction you're traveling. “When you don’t know your attachment style, it’s tougher to understand the root cause of your behavior or your responses to your partner’s behavior,” says Howard, who suggests seeing a therapist who can ask you questions about past relationship and family experiences in order to figure out where you fall in the attachment framework.
It’s worth noting that people who have an anxious attachment style (who require frequent reassurance from a partner) are the ones who most often end up dating people with an avoidant attachment style. “The avoidant person’s closed-off behaviors can induce more of that anxiety in an anxious person, which is a familiar state for them,” says Megan Fleming, PhD, sex and relationship expert at Lovehoney. If you’re on the anxiously attached side of that dynamic, it may be helpful simply to be aware that you often seek additional reassurance from someone who’s not particularly prone to giving it, she adds.
2. Make yourself open and available.
If you suspect your partner’s avoidance stems from fear or anxiety rather than an overall dismissal of intimacy, you could take extra care to show up for them in order to provide the reassurance they might not even know they need. “It’s helpful to show an avoidantly attached partner that you can be relied upon and to provide a level of safety for them through consistency in your actions,” says Dr. Mark. Even if being vulnerable doesn’t come naturally to your avoidant partner, they could very well grow into that capability as they also grow more comfortable around you.
3. Try your best to slow down heat-of-the-moment communication.
Sexual encounters themselves can spur on avoidant behaviors, like, for example, springing out of bed immediately post-orgasm, says Dr. Fleming. “We’re often operating more automatically than we might think, and a person might not be able to control that first action or thought that occurs in response to a trigger,” she says.
When that happens, take a moment to approach the situation mindfully by asking, “Can we slow this down?” or “What do you think just happened?” instead of jumping to a conclusion based on your partner’s avoidant act. “Slowing down to discuss it can help both partners become more conscious of what that behavior is and where it’s coming from,” says Dr. Fleming.
4. Stay focused on how you could grow—not on what’s missing.
One common pitfall of navigating any tricky conversation is making an accusation about another person (which can spark defensiveness), rather than sharing your specific point of view. In that vein, it’s helpful to use ‘I’ statements with your partner, says Howard. “For example, instead of saying, ‘You always seem disinterested when I'm talking to you,’ say, ‘I feel unheard, sometimes, during our discussions. Will you respond to let me know you're engaged?’”
That’ll also help you home in on exactly what it is you’re feeling and communicate those feelings more effectively—which can draw out the same from your partner. Not to mention, doing so gears the conversation toward a goal, which Dr. Fleming says may be a helpful tack, as opposed to “throwing in the whole kitchen sink in a way that lets the conversation spiral into other grievances.”
5. Frame the conversation around pleasure and play.
It’s not uncommon for sexual conversations to arise out of frustration or disappointment, says Dr. Fleming, but as much as you can, it’s helpful to keep the sex in the sex talk. “So, instead of focusing on what you wish for or long for, you might focus on how the two of you could experience more pleasure when you’re together,” she says. That means highlighting the exciting or new element of any sexy suggestion you’re making, rather than the problem or issue that you’re hoping it can resolve, or the hole you’d like it to fill (figuratively, that is).
If it feels awkward to talk explicitly about a sex act, Dr. Fleming suggests pointing to an outside source, as in, “I just read about this new sex position that I’d love to try,” or “I just heard about this new sex toy on a podcast,” she says. That way, you’re offering up a suggestion that’s in the mutual interest of both parties, and in turn, sparking a conversation about pleasure that may ultimately open the door for more intimacy down the line.
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