“I can’t come like that.”
It was something I’d inevitably say during sex with someone new.
The list of ways I couldn’t get off (via oral sex, lying on my back, without a vibrator involved…) seemed to be forever expanding.
Even in relationships with people who were invested in my pleasure, getting to climax required patience, elbow grease, and a vibrator on the power drill setting.
One girlfriend fortuitously discovered that, with the right angling of my pelvis and the exact amount of pressure against my g-spot, I could, on occasion, come sans a hand-held device.
But figuring out the correct combination of finger work and back arching to achieve this result without both of us ending up crippled by muscle cramps in a pool of our own sweat was like trying to reliably solve a Rubik’s cube.
It wasn’t that I was having shitty sex.
It was just that my orgasm always felt more like a bonus, rather than a given.
That was, up until a few months ago.
Though I’ll remain a vibrator advocate till the day I die, I no longer need one on hand to get off. I’m having multiple orgasms; the out-of-body, piss-off-the-neighbours, “You get a car! YOU get a car! EVERYONE GETS A CAR!” kind.
And it’s not because I hired a sex coach or bought an e-course on squirting.
I didn’t actually change anything I was doing in the bedroom.
All I did, was identify my attachment style.
Though it sounds like a woo-woo concept, attachment styles are simply a lens through which to better understand our relationships.
And they have a lot more to do with your orgasm than you might think.
Watch: There are some really interesting ways women reach orgasm. Post continues after video.
Attachment theory proposes our approach to relationships is influenced by the attachments we formed with our caregivers when we were children. According to this premise, people who grew up in homes where love was inconsistent or unreliable go on to develop insecure attachment styles, which are broken down into three subtypes: anxious, avoidant and disorganised.
And universal to all of these attachment styles, is an underlying fear of abandonment.
According to the modern bible of attachment theory, ‘Attached’ by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller, I have an anxious attachment style.
Anxiously attached people require regular reassurance (tick), desire frequent emotional and sexual closeness – read: lots of talking and banging – (tick, tick) and need to resolve conflict urgently, because we freak out that fighting = breaking up (also tick).
“Avoidants” as Levine and Heller refer to them, manage their fear of abandonment by creating space between themselves and their partners, which often looks like hyper-independence, shunning or walking away from conflict, and avoiding emotions (“I’m just not an emotional person”). And because sex often goes hand-in-hand with vulnerability and intimacy, they typically have a low interest in getting it on when they’re coupled up.
People with a disorganised attachment style oscillate between both of these extremes – going through periods of desiring intense closeness and then withdrawing.
The unicorns of attachment theory, securely attached people, don’t generally struggle with intimacy or independence. They tend to have been raised by emotionally consistent parents, and so are able to trust in love whilst believing they’re innately loveable. As such, they rarely find themselves in chaotic or unstable relationships, and can resolve conflict with their partners easily, without needing to retreat or demand reassurance.
Why does this matter?
Because our attachment styles are fluid, which means how secure we feel can change based on who we date. And research shows this sense of security may be the single greatest determiner of how readily we’re able to come, if at all.
A study by the University of Groningen, where scientists took brain scans of women during sexual stimulation, found a strong correlation between climax and a deactivation in the areas of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety. In short, women were only able to get off when they felt calm and safe.
This should be unsurprising news to anyone with a vagina, who’s undoubtedly already familiar with the fact getting off isn’t easy when you’re anxious. Much like the other muscles in our bodies that tense up when we’re stressed, our vaginal muscles can also freeze under stress, making sex uncomfortable and consequently not conducive to orgasm.
So if you’re someone with an insecure attachment style (hi, it’s me!) dating someone who doesn’t make you feel emotionally safe (such as an avoidant), even if the sex is hot as hell, the fear/anxiety centre of your brain is likely to stay switched on, making orgasm a near impossibility.
Listen: “I’m 30 & I’ve Never Had An Orgasm, Please Help”. Post continues after podcast.
“People are only as needy as their unmet needs. When their emotional needs are met, and the earlier the better, they usually turn their attention outward,” the writers of ‘Attached’ explain.
“This is referred to in attachment literature as the “dependency paradox”. The more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become.”
And it’s this very paradox that can make or break our orgasm.
I’ve almost exclusively been in relationships with people who required frequent space, weren’t comfortable expressing their feelings, and generally found my need for reassurance and closeness suffocating – what Levine and Heller would call “avoidant attachers”.
I also felt at my neediest and most unhinged during these relationships. Not because my partners were bad people, but because their inclination towards withdrawing was constantly activating my anxiety – something that can’t coexist with The Big O.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence the list of ways I can’t get to climax has dwindled since I started dating someone with a secure attachment style (‘Attached’ includes a quiz to help you identify both your own and your partner’s attachment style, and you can find similar ones online), or that I can have multiple orgasms and come easily, without reaching for my vibrator (to clarify, there’s nothing wrong with employing toys during sex and I’m still a big fan of vibes. They’re just more of a ‘nice to have’ than a prerequisite for me these days).
As it turns out, the key to better orgasms isn’t finding the right combination of finger work and positioning. It’s simply dating someone who doesn’t make you feel unhinged.
Nadia Bokody is a queer sex columnist, YouTuber and professional over-sharer who no longer requires a power tool to come (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Follow her on Instagram for more.Love watching TV and movies? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $100 gift voucher.