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Avoidantly Attached Individuals Are More Exchange-Oriented and Less Communal in the Bedroom

Abstract

Sexual need fulfillment in a relationship is associated with both partners’ sexual and relationship quality. In the current research, we explored what underlies two approaches to sexual need fulfillment—sexual communal norms (i.e., being motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs) and sexual exchange norms (i.e., tracking and trading sexual benefits). People high in attachment avoidance are less responsive to their partner’s needs and distance themselves from intimacy. Sexuality is a domain in which partners aim to meet each other’s needs, but it may also heighten avoidantly attached partners’ concerns about intimacy. Across three studies (N = 711)—using cross-sectional, dyadic, daily experience, and longitudinal methods—endorsing sexual communal norms was associated with greater sexual and relationship quality, whereas endorsing sexual exchange norms was not associated with, or was linked to lower, sexual and relationship quality. People who were higher (compared to lower) in attachment avoidance were less sexually communal and more exchange-oriented, and their heightened endorsement of sexual exchange norms predicted lower relationship satisfaction over time. With two exceptions, the effects were largely consistent for men versus women. Findings from this research suggest that attachment avoidance underlies approaches to sexual need fulfillment in relationships.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Study 1, the association between endorsing sexual communal norms and commitment was significantly moderated by gender (b = .52, SE = .21, t[238] = 2.41, p = .02). For women, endorsing more sexual communal norms was not associated with commitment (b = .20, SE = .12, t[238] = 1.60, p = .11). However, when men endorsed more sexual communal norms, they reported significantly higher commitment (b = .71, SE = .18, t[238] = 4.07, p < .001). In Study 2, the association between actor’s sexual communal norms and sexual satisfaction was significantly moderated by gender (b = − .79, SE = .24, t[132.27] = 3.24, p = .002, 95% CI [− 1.28, .31]). Women who endorsed more sexual communal norms reported significantly higher sexual satisfaction (b = .85, SE = .16, t[146.51] = 5.46, p < .001, 95% CI [.54, 1.15]). However, for men, the association between endorsing sexual communal norms and sexual satisfaction was not significant (b = .05, SE = .18, t[150.56] = .31, p = .76, 95% CI [− .29, .40]).

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Funding

This work has been supported by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) graduate scholarship awarded to Stephanie Raposo and SSHRC Insight Grants awarded to Amy Muise and Emily A. Impett.

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Ethics approval was granted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Board of the University of Toronto-Mississauga (September 7, 2012/ No. 28083), and the Human Participants Review Sub-Committee of York University (October 27, 2017/ No. e2017–3240 and May 11, 2018/ No. e2018–124).

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Raposo, S., Impett, E.A. & Muise, A. Avoidantly Attached Individuals Are More Exchange-Oriented and Less Communal in the Bedroom. Arch Sex Behav 49, 2863–2881 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01813-9

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Keywords

  • Attachment avoidance
  • Sexual communion
  • Sexual exchange
  • Relationships