Using sex to fill emotional void not healthy

While extreme clinginess and sexual dependency might be mistaken for love and lust in the early stages of a new relationship, over time these behaviours are more accurately interpreted, advises Suzi Godson.

Q. When my new husband and I don’t have sex I become insecure, worried and even sleepless. My husband struggles to understand why it matters so much but I feel that something is wrong if we go even a weekend without having it. When we do have sex, it’s great, but I think that maybe he is right and I do place too much importance on our physical connection. Is it possible to overvalue sex?

A. Although sex is an undeniably important expression of intimacy in any relationship, it seems to have become an unhealthy measure of personal validation for you.

To be “wanted” and “desired” makes everyone feel special, but you seem to have become so reliant on sexual endorsement that daily intercourse is the only way you can confirm your husband’s affection for you.

You already seem to have what would, ordinarily, constitute a very healthy and active sex life, yet a window of just 72 hours without sex leaves you feeling insecure and your husband is struggling to understand your anxiety.

Besides tying sex up in so many emotional knots is simply setting yourself up for rejection.

After all, if sex equates to being loved, then not wanting sex must equate to not being loved.

You do, at least, seem to recognise that your emotional frailty is irrational and although you don’t say so, I suspect the issue has become more extreme since you married.

The transition to marriage can activate a lot of deeply encoded ideas about commitment and family.We are all, to some degree, a product of the environments in which we grew up.

Early life-experiences, including how well-loved we felt, often become the template by which we measure our self-worth as adults and a negative parental legacy can have a damaging effect on a person’s capacity to form healthy relationships in adulthood.

There is research to show that “securely attached” children, who were loved and cared for, continue to be confident that their physical and emotional needs will be met as adults.

By contrast, uncertainty undermines all the future relationships of a child who is “insecurely attached”.

Further research has shown that insecurely attached children tend to be more sexually promiscuous in adolescence. Sex becomes a way of eliciting some of the closeness that might have been lacking in their childhood.

It is a phenomenon that occurs more often in women (Walsh, 1995) and is associated with a lower age at first sex, a greater number of sexual partners and more experience of unwanted sex.

Using sex to fill an emotional void is not healthy and while extreme clinginess and sexual dependency might be mistaken for love and lust in the early stages of a new relationship, over time these behaviours are more accurately interpreted.

Needless to say, obsessive-compulsive neediness is not a terribly attractive attribute and the unfortunate consequence of demanding too much from one person is that it often leads to rejection. When this happens, insecurity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s a vicious circle, but it is one that you can change, simply by becoming more self-aware. I think therapy would help you enormously. You can search for a therapist who specialises in anxiety.

Mindfulness ( www.oxfordmindfulness.org ) would help you to quiet the negative mental chatter in your head.

And you should read Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — And Keep — Love by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller.

Last but not least, you need to talk to your husband about your feelings of insecurity and what you think they might stem from.

By sharing this information, you give your husband permission to say a gentle “no” to demands that he cannot reasonably meet and by acknowledging that your sexual appetite is actually a hunger for emotional intimacy, you can begin to change the behaviour that is putting pressure on your relationship.

* Send your queries to suzigodson@mac.com 


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