Looking for attachment in all the wrong places: Out of control sexual behavior as a symptom of insecure attachment


A study that was implemented by the Sexuality, Attachment and Trauma Project has resulted in the discovery that there is a relationship between hypersexual behavior and an insecure attachment style.  Specifically, just as we at the SAT Project had speculated, when we assessed people as having hypersexual behavior they also assessed as having high levels of attachment anxiety and avoidant behaviors. When we looked closely at the data we collected from the study we discovered that the insecure attachment style that seemed most related to hypersexual behavior is what we call an insecure-avoidant attachment.  Basically what that means is that those of us who struggle with hypersexual behavior actually want a connection but are fearful of exposing the vulnerability required in intimacy. Because of this fear, we resolve the need for connection through anonymous, commercial or cyber sexual experiences.

The fascinating aspect of this finding is that we are actually using hypersexual behavior as a way to solve our attachment desires.  Unfortunately that solution eventually becomes a problem as it starts to take on a life of its own.  So, we are not people that want to be disconnected but actually deeply desire connection but have not felt safe enough to connect in ways that are more vulnerable and intimate.  That fear seems to stem from the experience of unreliable care that we may have experienced in our families of origin.  Basically when our caretakers are preoccupied by life stressors such as relationship, work and financial struggles or have had their own addictions and compulsions it can result in us as children assuming that others will not be there.  A resilient child will find ways to deal with that unreliable care and one strategy is to seemingly stop desiring care and love.  However, the idea that we can stop desiring care and love is an illusion that we are trying to believe is true.

This illusion of self-reliance continues into our adulthood and can result in what is called a vandalized sexuality.  Ideally, our sexuality is supposed to help us connect in creative, spontaneous, caring ways.  When we experience this unreliable care our sexuality gets distorted and we use it in ways that end up causing us distress.  The good news is this attachment style can be changed.

The avoidant attachment issues that we discovered in our research can be changed through the use of individual and group therapy such as that which we offer at the SAT Project.  Attachment patterns can be altered through the use of our type of therapy, which focuses on understanding our history and how our attachment patterns have developed and then what to do about changing them.  This type of therapy helps us break away from the shame we experience about our attachment patterns and behaviors and this becomes the beginning step towards change.  From that point forward we can start to help you to experiment with becoming more vulnerable and intimate and recognizing that your past does not have to dictate your future.  In this therapy you can learn how to navigate and negotiate relationships, which then enables you to have the intimacy and connection you deserve.

-Michael Crocker