You run into your friend Daisy at the park — or rather, she runs into you, practically wiggling with excitement and trying to get as close as possible to your face. Part of why most people love dogs is that dogs are the best at greeting. Their joy at seeing you reads all over their bodies. I think it is almost a universal truth that people prefer to be happily met by others (and that almost no one likes hearing “Oh, it’s you again” when running into someone).
Something as seemingly simple as a greeting can point to the health of a relationship and a person’s style of attachment. Cornell Professor Cindy Hazan, whose research has focused adapting attachment theory to adult romantic relationships, has outlined four distinct adult attachment styles:
1. Comfortable (securely attached)
These people are not the least bit insecure. Trusting and being emotionally close, positive, optimistic, happy happy joy joy, etc. are a piece of cake for them.
2. Clingy (anxious-preoccupied)
This type will have texted you three times within the last 10 minutes wondering if you’d like to come cuddle, and where are you?! If you don’t respond they just text you five more times.
3. Independence seeker (dismissive-avoidant)
“I just want to be single” or “let’s just keep this casual” is the mantra of these independence seekers. They might want to bang you but no way are they sleeping over at your place.
4. Uncomfortable/insecure (fearful-avoidant)
I imagine these people’s relationship stories sound a lot like the beginning of Woody Allen’s sentences. They don’t really ever know what’s going on because while they want to get close with someone, at the same time they are terrified of actually doing it.
But how do these attachment styles translate to the sexual aspects of a relationship?
One of my friends recently complained that her boyfriend doesn’t really touch her during sex. This struck me as odd and relatively impossible, but then it dawned on me that certain people’s “sex style,” if you will, is not all that intimate.
Obviously people have sex in different ways with different people, and thus their sex style might change based on the circumstances. But at least in my experience, looking back at my relationships (committed or otherwise), I can see ties between sex styles and attachment styles.
Here’s how the four translate into sex:
1. Going with the flow and having fun
These people are game to try things and are probably so comfortable in their bodies they might be walking around campus naked right now. Sex with these people is like a nicely choreographed dance with a good amount of improv thrown in — they have no trouble leading or following. Sexual intimacy goes hand in hand with physical intimacy, and perhaps emotional closeness as well.
2. Having sex to prove their attachment
Sex in this case is used to foster intimacy and I think sometimes sex is sadly the only way these people know to truly connect with others. The people of this sex style have trouble differentiating between when they need a really good hug and when they are really horny.
3. Having sex, not making love
Oh these ones ... They might know how to fuck, but they’re often not able to do anything but fuck — making love and all the other finer variations of the sex/intimacy mélange are not to be found with them. The sex might be awesome but there probably is not going to be much pre- or post-coital cuddling.
4. Having sex to figure shit out
They sporadically jump from style number two to style number three without much rhyme or reason, because they’re too scared to be comfortable. It’s either sex to prove a connection with someone or sex to prove nothing’s there.
I don’t think these are totally static styles and they are obviously stereotyped; I myself have experienced all of these either on my end or from someone I was sleeping with. Some sexual dynamics I’ve had with people have been fulfilling in the moment as well as overall, and with others the enjoyment came from the physicality and dimmed afterwards.
One of the sex styles might seem to be the ‘normal’ one, or the one we should all be striving to achieve. However I dislike that notion of normality. I think we should all evaluate how we’re thinking about sex, what mindset we’re coming at sex with and what mindset our partner might have towards sex (in general and in the moment). Sometimes you might want to have sex, with no emotional strings, for whatever reason is relevant to you. Can that be enjoyable? Yes, and it could be exactly what you wanted or needed at that moment.
What kind of sex style do you want to have? Do you really just need a hug, or some deeper assurance of your relationship? Do you just want bang the hot guy studying in the stacks with you? Once you get a hold of how you think about sex, it can be easier to have the sex that you want to have.
Lauren C. is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Below the Bellybutton appears alternate Thursdays this semester.