Those with attachment anxiety tend to have sex with their partner in order to please them and express their love, whereas those with attachment avoidance tend to have sex in order to maintain their relationship, according to a study published in Personal Relationships in 2008.
Attachment theory was first proposed in 1969 “as a way to explain the motivation of infants to rely on their caregivers.” The focus on the relationship between the child and caregiver eventually gave way to a focus on romantic partners. As the authors of this study explain,
“An important component of adult attachment theory is the idea that a romantic partner’s responsiveness can shape an individual’s interaction goals, relational cognitions, and interpersonal behavior. Individuals who have responsive and available attachment figures during times of need experience attachment security and optimal functioning. […] In contrast, individuals with attachment figures who are unresponsive, unavailable, and unreliable fail to develop attachment security and, instead, develop less than optimal strategies for dealing with stressful situations.”
To cope with their stress, individuals with a partner who is unresponsive or unavailable may develop attachment avoidance or attachment anxiety. In the case of attachment avoidance, individuals emotionally withdraw from their relationship in order to prevent frustration and disappointment. In the case of attachment anxiety, on the other hand, individuals become “clingy” or more demanding in order to elicit the level of intimacy they feel is lacking.
The authors of this study found that those with attachment avoidance tended to have sex in order to prevent conflict and maintain their relationship, while those with attachment anxiety tended to have sex as a way of increasing intimacy and expressing love.
Attachment avoidance in men was also associated with having sex in order to feel good about oneself, while this was not associated with women with attachment avoidance. Those whose romantic partner had attachment avoidance were also more likely to pursue sex for their own personal pleasure.
Impett, E.A., Gordon, A.M. & Strachman, A. (2008). Attachment and daily sexual goals: A study of dating couples. Personal Relationships, Vol 15: 375–390.