Sexuality & Couples

Sophie Bergeron  Ph.D

Our study focused on the influence of attachment in couples’ interactions surrounding sexual intercourse when women suffer from provoked vestibulodynia (persistent pain at the entrance of the vagina during intercourse). We wanted to know whether attachment-related insecurities (fear of intimacy, fear of losing one’s partner, etc.) would be related to the way partners react to genito-pelvic pain, but also whether these insecurities would affect women’s perception of their partner’s reactions. We therefore recruited 125 couples, in which women had received a diagnosis of provoked vestibulodynia, to complete questionnaires on attachment insecurities, partner’s typical responses to pain (hostility, comforting, etc.), women’s perceptions of these responses, and measures of relational and sexual well-being.

And what did we find?

Our results show that the more women with pain are preoccupied with being abandoned by their partners or are uncomfortable with intimacy, the more they perceive their partner as being hostile or as ignoring them when they express pain during sexual activities. We also find that partners who have more fear of abandonment also report being more hostile towards their spouse when they express pain, while those who report more discomfort with intimacy report initiating positive exchanges less often (e.g. kissing, reassuring, etc.) in this context. These attachment-related issues in both members of the couple are in turn associated with more sexual distress and poorer relationship and sexual satisfaction, both in women with provoked vestibulodynia and in their partner.

Overall, these results demonstrate that attachment insecurities are associated to the way couples perceive one-another and interact, which in turn is linked to the couple’s adjustment to genito-pelvic pain. Attachment-related issues could therefore be a treatment target for couples who wish to undergo couples’ therapy for genito-pelvic pain!

For more details, we invite you to consult the complete article:

Charbonneau-Lefebvre, V., Rosen, N. O., Bosisio, M., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., & Bergeron, S. (2020). An attachment perspective on partner responses to genito-pelvic pain and their associations with relationship and sexual outcomes. The Journal of Sex Research.

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