Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Adult Attachment; Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identity; and Sexual Attitudes of Nonheterosexual Individuals

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Adult Attachment; Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identity; and Sexual Attitudes of Nonheterosexual Individuals

Article excerpt

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) college students from 12 university campuses (N = 177) participated in this study that examined the relationships between adult attachment, LGB identity, and sexual attitudes. Findings indicated that adult attachment was significantly related to LGB identity and sexual attitudes and that an LGB identity variable moderated the relationship between attachment avoidance and sexual permissiveness attitudes. Findings, counseling implications, and future research directions are discussed in terms of attachment and LGB identity theory.


Attachment theory originated as a conceptualization of the process by which infants form bonds with caregivers. According to this theory, the quality early interactions between infants and caregivers significantly contributes to the development of a child's internal working models. The internal working model of self refers to a child's beliefs about his or her worthiness to be responded to and cared for by the primary attachment figure. The internal working model of others reflects a child's degree of confidence that the primary attachment figure will be available and responsive to his or her needs (Bowlby, 1969). It is believed that individuals' attachment styles, once formed in early childhood, tend to remain relatively stable throughout life and become a framework guiding their various forms of psychological and social functioning in adulthood (Bowlby, 1969).

Contemporary adult attachment perspectives conceptualize individuals' attachment on the basis of two orthogonal dimensions: anxiety and avoidance. This two-dimensional adult attachment model is consistent with the internal working models of self and of others as proposed by attachment theory and has received clear empirical support (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998). Adults with a high level of attachment anxiety are believed to possess a negative model of self. They tend to present characteristics such as a lower sense of self-worth than the norm, fear of rejection and abandonment in relationships, emotional dependence, less social self-confidence than the norm, and obsessive/dependent love styles (i.e., within interpersonal relationships; Collins & Read, 1990). On the other hand, individuals with a high level of attachment avoidance are believed to have developed a negative model of others and tend to demonstrate mistrust of people around them, discomfort with closeness in relationships, low intensity of love experiences, and an excessive need for self-reliance (Feeney & Noller, 1990). On the basis of a person's scores on any instruments (e.g., the Experiences in Close Relationships questionnaire [ECR]; Brennan et al., 1998) that measure the two dimensions of anxiety and avoidance, researchers sometimes classify individuals into four categorical attachment styles: secure (low on both dimensions), preoccupied (high on anxiety but low on avoidance), dismissive (low on anxiety but high on avoidance), and fearful (high on both dimensions).

Attachment and Sexual Attitudes

Given that attachment pertains to an individual's proximity-seeking and that sexual behavior is an expression of close intimacy, the attachment perspective provides a useful framework to understand individual differences in sexual expression. Findings from empirical studies are generally consistent with the directions predicted by attachment theory. For instance, because of the fear of abandonment and negative self-concept possessed by anxiously attached individuals, people high in attachment anxiety tend to engage in sexual intercourse at an earlier age, tend to have more lifetime partners, report lower sexual self-efficacy, are more likely to consent to unwanted sexual intercourse and to engage in sexual intercourse to gain partners' approval, and perceive greater enjoyment regarding the affectionate component of sexual activity than do individuals with other attachment models (Bogaert & Sadava, 2002; Feeney, Peterson, Gallois, & Terry, 2000; Gentzler & Kerns, 2004). …

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