When Insecurity Dampens Desire: Attachment Anxiety

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Running head: ATTACHMENT AND CHANGES IN SEXUAL DESIRE

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When Insecurity Dampens Desire: Attachment Anxiety in Men Amplifies the Decline in Sexual Desire during the Early Years of Romantic Relationships

Moran Mizrahi1,2, Harry T. Reis1, Michael R. Maniaci3, and Gurit E. Birnbaum4

Word count: 8,246 November 26, 2018 1 University of Rochester 2 Ariel University Center of Samaria 3 Florida Atlantic University 4 Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya

Authors' Note. We would like to thank Yossi Hasson, Rina Baumel, and Marc McIntosh for their assistance in recruiting our samples, and David de Jong, Stephanie O’Keefe, and Christine Walsh for their help in maintaining contact with our participants in Study 2. This research was supported by the Binational Science Foundation (Grant #2011381 awarded to Gurit E. Birnbaum and Harry T. Reis) and the Fetzer Institute. The authors declare no conflict of interest with regard to other research, authorship, and/or publications. This research was conducted in accordance to APA ethical standards in the treatment of the samples and the data. The datasets analyzed for the current manuscript are available from the corresponding author upon request. Send Correspondence: Moran Mizrahi, Ph.D. Department of Behavioral Sciences Ariel University Center of Samaria 3 Kiryat HaMada, Ariel, 40700, Israel Email address: [email protected]

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Abstract Sexual desire is typically high during early relationship stages and decreases gradually over time. In the present research, we adopted an attachment-theoretical perspective to investigate why sexual desire for romantic partners erodes more rapidly for some people than others. We employed two samples of developing relationships (dating couples, N = 62; and newlyweds, N = 175) and examined the effects of attachment insecurities on sexual desire in prospective longitudinal designs. Results showed that attachment anxiety moderated the trajectory of men's sexual desire, such that over time, highly anxious men declined in desiring their partner, whereas less anxious men's desire did not drop. Attachment avoidance also predicted lower levels of initial desire in both sexes. These findings suggest that avoidance generally interferes with relationship initiation for both sexes, whereas anxiety in men interferes with the maintenance of desire over time, possibly because of sensitivity to increasing interdependence. Key words: attachment; longitudinal; relationship development; romantic relationships; sexual desire

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When Insecurity Dampens Desire: Attachment Anxiety in Men Amplifies the Decline in Sexual Desire during the Early Years of Romantic Relationships One of the most commonly observed phenomena in romantic relationships is the progressive diminishing of sexual desire over time: High levels of desire typically characterize early relationship stages, whereas desire tends to be lower in long-term romantic couples (e.g., Birnbaum, Cohen, & Wertheimer, 2007; Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994). Although this decrease is of enduring interest to scholars and clinicians alike, surprisingly few studies have been conducted to directly investigate the nature and predictors of change in sexual desire in romantic couples. The few studies that have examined changes in sexual desire are diary studies focusing on daily fluctuations (e.g., Muise, Impett, Kogan, & Desmarais, 2013), crosssectional studies (e.g., Sprecher & Regan, 1998), or studies that focused on sexual dysfunctions (e.g., Angst, Hengartner, Rössler, Ajdacic-Gross, & Leeners, 2015) or desire at middle age (e.g., Hällström & Samuelsson, 1990). Other studies looked at constructs related to sexual desire (i.e., sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction; McNulty, Wenner, & Fisher, 2016), but did not directly consider factors that moderate the trajectory of desire over relationship development. In the present research, we followed the course of sexual desire in two samples of developing relationships over periods of 8 months and 18 months. Using attachment theory as an organizing framework (Bowlby, 1969/1982, 1973), we examined the role of attachment insecurities in moderating the decline in sexual desire over time. The Course of Sexual Desire over Time Sexual desire serves as a powerful motivator to attract potential partners to each other and hold them together as a relationship develops (Birnbaum, 2018; Hazan & Zeifman, 1994). Although sexual desire appears to be most influential in early relationship stages, when it may determine the fate of potential romantic relationships (Berscheid & Reis, 1998),

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desire is also important for the maintenance of long-term relationships, where it may promote intimacy and commitment in interdependent couples (e.g., Birnbaum & Finkel, 2015; Gonzaga, Keltner, Londahl, & Smith, 2001; Hazan & Zeifman, 1994; Rubin & Campbell, 2012). For example, previous findings have indicated that both men and women feel that sex enhances intimacy in their relationships and fosters their emotional connection (e.g., Birnbaum & Gillath, 2006; Meston & Buss, 2007). Other studies have suggested that sexual desire explains the association between intimacy-related motivations and sexual satisfaction (Muise, Impett, & Desmarais, 2013), and demonstrated that low sex frequency and sexual satisfaction predict higher rates of divorce in married couples (McNulty et al., 2016; Yabiku & Gager, 2009). For these reasons, a better understanding of the longitudinal course of sexual desire may be helpful in designing interventions that promote relationship stability (Reis & Mizrahi, 2018). Sexual desire is typically high during early relationship stages (Acker & Davis, 1992; Baumeister & Bratslavsky, 1999; Sternberg, 1986) and decreases gradually, with many longterm couples having difficulties maintaining their earlier levels of desire over time (e.g., Acker & Davis, 1992; Birnbaum et al., 2007; Michael et al., 1994). This decline is commonly attributed to several factors, such as the effects of strain, monotony, familiarity, and lack of novelty, which are characteristic of committed long-term relationships (e.g., Aron & Aron, 1986; Caughlin & Huston, 2006; DeLamater & Sill, 2005; Perel, 2007). However, none of the studies that focused on the decline in sexual desire over time directly examined empirical evidence for these potential explanations. A few studies have identified factors that may help romantic partners to sustain desire in their long-term relationship, such as being responsive to their partner's needs (Birnbaum et al., 2016) and adopting a communal approach to dyadic sexual interactions (Muise et al., 2013). These findings suggest that relationship quality may buffer against the decline in sexual desire and imply that people who suffer from relationship

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deficiencies may be more prone than others to erosion in desiring their partner. Still, no existing longitudinal studies have examined whether individual differences can account for the decline in sexual desire over the early years of a relationship. Attachment Insecurities and Sexual Desire A robust literature has demonstrated that attachment orientations shape the construal of experiences in romantic relationships (see review by Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016). In particular, securely attached individuals are more likely than insecure individuals to have long, stable, and satisfying relationships characterized by trust, intimacy, warmth, and support (e.g., Hazan & Shaver, 1987; Kirkpatrick & Davis, 1994; Mikulincer & Florian, 1999; Simpson, 1990). Conversely, insecurely attached individuals are more inclined to have difficulties in their intimate romantic relationships, with different dynamics characterizing attachment anxiety and avoidance (see review by Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016). For example, highly anxious individuals’ relationships tend to be organized around hyperactivation of the attachment system, which is characterized by intense efforts to motivate partners who are perceived as insufficiently responsive to provide care and support (Collins & Read, 1990; Downey, Freitas, Michaelis, & Khouri, 1998). Alternatively, highly avoidant individuals are characterized by efforts to suppress attachment-related needs and maintain emotional distance and self-reliance in their romantic relationships, in line with their goal of deactivating attachment concerns (Main, 1990; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016). Research has demonstrated that attachment-related interpersonal goals specifically explain variations in the construal of sexual experiences with romantic partners (see reviews by Birnbaum, 2016; Dewitte, 2012). For example, anxiously attached individuals tend to inject relational concerns into their sexual experiences and appear to be hypersensitive to signs of rejection within sexual interactions (Birnbaum, Reis, Mikulincer, Gillath, & Orpaz, 2006). Consequently, they may suffer from intruding thoughts and worries during sexual

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activity that impede their ability to freely enjoy these interactions (Birnbaum et al., 2006; Leclerc, Bergeron, Brassard, Bélanger, & Lambert, 2015). Disappointing sexual experiences, together with inhibited communication of sexual needs (Davis et al., 2006; Goldsmith, Dunkley, Dang, & Gorzalka, 2016), may make highly anxious people prone to feeling low sexual desire and satisfaction (e.g., Birnbaum, 2007a; Burri, Schweitzer, & O'Brien, 2014; Leclerc et al., 2015; Stefanou & McCabe, 2012). Highly avoidant individuals are also inclined to report low desire for their partners (see reviews by Birnbaum, 2016; Stefanou & McCabe, 2012), yet for different reasons. Avoidant individuals tend to feel uncomfortable with the intimacy inherent in sexual contact, which may lead them to employ various strategies to emotionally detach themselves from their partners during sex. For example, previous findings have indicated that avoidant adolescents were less likely to enjoy sexual encounters relative to their less avoidant peers, and reported engaging in sex out of self-enhancing motives (e.g., losing their virginity) rather than relationship-related motives or a motivation to gratify sexual urges (Tracy, Shaver, Albino, & Cooper, 2003). In adults, high avoidance also relates to opportunistic, self-serving goals for having sex (e.g., self-worth affirmation, coping with negative emotions; Cooper et al., 2006; Schachner & Shaver, 2004), instead of intimacy-related goals (Brassard, Shaver, & Lussier, 2007). Indeed, avoidant people are inclined to experience estrangement and alienation during sexual interactions (Birnbaum & Reis, 2006; Birnbaum et al., 2006), and their detached stance may be associated with low desire (e.g., see review by Birnbaum, 2016). The Present Research In the present research, we sought to deepen our understanding of the detrimental effects of attachment insecurities in the sexual arena, by investigating their role in predicting declines over time in sexual desire. We focused on developing relationships and employed

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two samples of newly dating couples and newlyweds. This period represents a major turning point in most couples' lives, when they are transitioning from their status as an emerging couple to a relatively greater degree of interdependence (e.g., see review by Murray & Holmes, 2011). In most Western couples, sexual activity plays a significant function in this process (see review by Birnbaum, 2018), and our use of these two samples was specifically designed to allow us to examine the role of sexual desire in this transition. Furthermore, as our samples were collected in two different nations (Israel and the US), our design allowed us to examine whether our reasoning applies in two somewhat different cultural contexts. Building on the literature described above, we predicted that sexual desire would be lower and decrease more gradually among people who are characterized by high anxiety or high avoidance. Because sexual desire may reflect the contribution of both one's own and partner's attachment orientations, we examined both actor and partner effects. Attachment insecurities are manifested somewhat differently in men and women in the sexual arena (see review by Birnbaum, 2016), reflecting differences in how men and women experience sexual activity (e.g., Birnbaum & Laser-Brandt, 2002). For example, in long-term relationships, men's sexual satisfaction tends to reflect the frequency of sex, whereas women's sexual satisfaction depends to a relatively greater degree on the quality of sexual encounters (Birnbaum & Laser-Brandt, 2002; Birnbaum et al., 2006). These differences accord with evolutionary models (e.g., Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001; Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Ellis & Symons, 2010) and socialization approaches (DeLamater, 1987; Eagly & Wood, 1999; Gagnon & Simon, 1973) to gender differences in human sexuality. Nevertheless, previous research does not permit a firm hypothesis about which sex's sexual desire may be more strongly influenced by attachment insecurities. For this reason, Study 1 treats the possibility of sex differences as an exploratory question. Study 1

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In Study 1, we followed the course of desire in newly dating couples and examined whether attachment anxiety and avoidance can explain the trajectory of sexual desire toward a current romantic partner. Study 1 assessed attachment in terms of relationship-specific predispositions; that is, attachment insecurities referring to a specific partner. In prior research, these relationship-specific tendencies have predicted relationship outcomes above and beyond more general (i.e., dispositional) attachment orientations (e.g., Cozzarelli, Hoekstra, & Bylsma, 2000; Pierce & Lydon, 2001; Treboux, Crowell, & Waters, 2004). Examination of relationship-specific attachment insecurities seems especially relevant to the initial stages of romantic relationships, which are characterized by distinct experiences with a new partner that may override more dispositional tendencies (Eastwick & Finkel, 2008). We recruited couples whose relationship ranged from 2 to 4 months, and followed them in an 8-month prospective design across three measurement waves. This strategy allowed us to study newly dating couples who are somewhat committed to each other (e.g., dating exclusively) and track them during the first year of their relationship. In line with a contextual approach to attachment insecurities (e.g., Baldwin, Keelan, Fehr, Enns, & KohRangarajoo, 1996; Pierce & Lydon, 2001), we measured relationship-specific anxiety and avoidance in each measurement wave. Method Participants. Eighty-three Israeli couples agreed to participate in this study in exchange for 200 ILS (about $57 U.S.).1 The couples were recruited from universities in central Israel via flyers, word of mouth, or advertisements in student-oriented websites. To be eligible, partners (a) had to be in a (non-marital) exclusive and heterosexual dating relationship, ranging from 2 to 4 months, and (b) currently sexually active (defined as having had vaginal sex at least once with each other). Overall, 62 couples completed the study; twenty couples (24%) dropped out because they broke up, and one couple (1.2%) dropped out

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because one partner left the country for a long time. There were no significant differences in demographics or the main study variables between couples who completed the study and those who did not, and we did not include data of dropped out couples in the main analysis. At the beginning of the study, relationship length ranged from 2 to 4 months (M = 3.12, SD = 0.91). Women ranged in age from 21 to 32 years (M = 24.53, SD = 2.85), and from 12 to 17 years of education (M = 13.77, SD = 1.42). Men ranged in age from 20 to 32 years (M = 25.87, SD = 2.65), and from 12 to 17 years of education (M = 14.10, SD = 1.95). In total, 49% of the participants worked full time, 43% of them were students, and the rest were unemployed or employed part time. All participants reported being secular. Most of the couples (88.9%) were not cohabiting at the beginning of the study. Measures and procedure. We followed the couples in three measurement waves in an 8-month prospective longitudinal design. At Time 1, couples who met the inclusion criteria were emailed a link to survey measures, which included an informed consent form, background questionnaires, sexual desire, and relationship-specific attachment measures. The couples answered further survey measures that are not relevant to the current article. An experimenter had a telephone conversation with each partner and emphasized that their responses were confidential, password-secured and available only to the research team; that they should complete the survey in private; and that they should not discuss their answers with their partner. All study procedures were approved by the research ethics board at BarIlan University. Four and 8 months after the first measurement, a researcher contacted the couples via telephone and verified whether they were still dating. Couples who were still dating were sent links to the second and third surveys, containing the same questionnaires and instructions as in Time 1. Of the couples who were still dating, all participants completed the first measurement wave, 96.8% completed the second measurement wave and 93.5% completed the third measurement wave.2

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Relationship-specific attachment orientations. Relationship-specific attachment anxiety and avoidance were assessed using a shortened version of the Experience in Close Relationships Scale (Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998), previously validated by Mikulincer and Florian (2000). We slightly adapted the items to reflect attachment to current romantic partners. The measure consisted of 16 items; eight items tapped relationship-specific attachment anxiety (e.g., “I worry a lot about my relationship with my partner”), and eight items tapped relationship-specific attachment avoidance (e.g., “I find it difficult to allow myself to depend on my partner”). Participants rated the extent to which each item described their feelings towards their current partner on a 7-point scale ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (7) strongly agree. Cronbach’s alphas assessed were adequate for both relationship-specific anxiety (.78, .84, and .81 for men and .83, .84, and .90 for women, at Times 1, 2, and 3, respectively) and relationship-specific avoidance (.73, .78, and .81 for men and .74, .78, and .76 for women, at Times 1, 2, and 3, respectively). On this basis, two relationship-specific attachment scores (anxiety and avoidance) were computed for each participant on each measurement wave by averaging the relevant items. Sexual desire. Sexual desire was assessed with a single item taken from the Israeli Sexual Behavior Inventory (ISBI; Kravetz, Drori, & Shaked 1999) and was slightly adapted to reflect desire towards a current partner (i.e., "How often do you desire sexual intercourse with your partner?"). Both partners rated this item on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (very often) to 5 (never). The item was reverse coded for the analysis, such that higher scores represented higher sexual desire. Results and Brief Discussion Table 1 presents means and standard deviations for the study variables at each measurement wave. A series of paired-samples t-tests showed that overall, men reported

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higher levels of sexual desire than women at all measurement waves. Moreover, women were significantly higher than men in relationship-specific anxiety at Time 2. No other gender differences were significant. Analytic approach. We analyzed our data with a dyadic growth-curve model using multilevel modeling in SPSS 21. Within-person variability was represented at the lower level (Level 1) and between-persons and between-dyads variability was represented at the upper level (Level 2), following recommendations by Kashy and Donnellan (2008, 2012). Sexual desire growth trajectories were computed for men and women using a two-intercept model within an Actor–Partner Interdependence Model (APIM; Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). The inclusion of both relationship partners in the same model allowed us to statistically control dependencies between partners nested within the same relationship. The two-slope twointercept approach simultaneously estimates separate intercepts and slopes for male and female partners (Raudenbush, Brennan, & Barnett, 1995). This analytic approach allows Level-1 error terms to correlate across partners and thus more accurately estimates the error structure of nested dyadic data than a three-level model would (Bolger & Laurenceau, 2013; Kashy & Donnellan, 2012).3 We used robust maximum likelihood estimation with heterogeneous compound symmetry for the error structure, which allows the covariance structure to differ for men and women. To control for couple differences in relationship length, relationship duration was used as the time metric in all analyses. To that end, for each couple we grand-mean centered relationship duration at the first measurement wave and then added fixed values of four and eight months for the second and third measurement waves, respectively. Therefore, the latent intercept in this model represents sexual desire at the first measurement wave (2 to 4 months into the relationship), whereas the latent slopes estimate change per month in levels of sexual desire over the 8-month span of the study. Relationship-specific anxiety and avoidance

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assessed at each measurement wave were used as level 1 predictors. Finally, in order to simplify interpretation, prior to the analysis all predictors were grand-mean centered. Power analysis. Power was estimated by a program developed by Ackerman and Kenny (2016), which was designed to determine the sample size needed to detect small and moderate effects for APIM. We used this program similarly to previous longitudinal studies in couples (van Scheppingen, Chopik, Bleidorn, & Denissen, 2018; Weidmann, Schönbrodt, Ledermann, & Grob, 2017), as no other existing tool was specifically designed for estimating the statistical power in dyadic growth models, to the best of our knowledge. Following recommendations by Ackerman and Kenny (2006), and based on previous research (Mizrahi et al., 2018), we expected actor effects to be medium in size (i.e., β ~ .25), and partner effects to be smaller (i.e., β ~ .15). We estimated medium correlations between actor and partner effects (i.e., r ~.30) and between residuals (i.e., r ~ .30). Assuming an alpha level of .05, power was .74 for actor effects and .35 for partner effects. Model results. We first tested whether time (i.e., relationship duration) predicted change in sexual desire, in order to examine the normative decline in desire in men and women. To that end, in this initial analysis we included time as a single predictor. On average, sexual desire dropped significantly over time for both men (B = -.03, p = .013) and women (B = -.04, p = .010). To test our hypotheses, we added simultaneously actor and partner effects of relationship-specific anxiety and avoidance on sexual desire. Table 2 reports estimates of the growth parameters in ratings of sexual desire. At Time 1 (intercepts in Table 2), both women and men who were high on relationship-specific avoidance reported lower levels of desire towards their partner, although this finding was marginally significant for men (p = .069). Moreover, there was a marginally significant partner effect for women's avoidance, such that women's relationship-specific avoidance predicted higher desire in their male partner in the initial assessment.

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Next, we examined the slope of change over the eight months of the study (right-hand columns of Table 2). As mentioned above, on average, sexual desire dropped significantly over time for both men and women. The trajectory of change in men's desire, however, was moderated significantly by relationship-specific anxiety. Men who were higher in relationship-specific anxiety across all measurement waves showed significantly steeper drops in their reported sexual desire over time (see Figure 1). Simple-slope tests revealed that for men who were relatively high in attachment anxiety, sexual desire dropped significantly over the 8 months of the study (+1SD in relationship-specific anxiety, B = -.08, t = -3.25, p = .001). On the other hand, men who were relatively low on relationship-specific anxiety did not drop significantly over time in their desire for their partner (-1SD in relationship-specific anxiety, B = -.00, t = -0.20, p = .853). No other effects were significant. To summarize, we found that desire dropped over time for both men and women overall. However, relationship-specific anxiety predicted a steeper decline in men's desire, consistent with our hypothesis, whereas relationship-specific anxiety did not moderate the decline in women's desire. Also, relationship-specific attachment avoidance predicted lower initial levels of desire in both men and women, indicating that being emotionally distant from a new relationship partner is associated with relatively low sexual desire toward this partner. Our gender-specific finding that relationship-specific anxiety moderated decreasing desire over time only among men was an exploratory question rather than an a priori hypothesis. We therefore felt that replication was necessary to establish its validity and we defer discussion of this result until after that replication.4 Study 2 Study 2 was conducted with newlyweds. The transition from dating to marriage is a major turning-point in couples' lives, characterized by often-substantial increases in commitment and interdependence (e.g., see review by Murray & Holmes, 2011). Increases in

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interdependence may create a variety of complex situations that were irrelevant in previous relationship stages (e.g., taking care of households and children, managing a joint bank account and expenses, interacting with in-laws; Holmes, 2002). Moreover, at this relationship stage, novelty gives way to familiarity and habit, and sexual desire, which may thrive in the context of change and uncertainty, tends to decline (e.g., Sims & Meana, 2010). It is plausible that the effect of attachment insecurities on sexual desire over time might be particularly salient as interdependence increases and amplifies its destructive manifestations. The decline in sexual desire that typically occurs during this stage, accompanied with a decline in sex frequency, may reduce couples' ability to rely on sexual activity to buffer against the negative implications of everyday conflicts (McNulty et al., 2016; Russell & McNulty, 2011). Indeed, previous studies have shown that low sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction were associated with lower relationship quality and higher rates of divorce during the first years of marriage (McNulty et al., 2016; Yabiku & Gager, 2009). In Study 2, we sought to replicate the findings of Study 1 with a larger sample of couples who are at a more advanced stage of relationship development. For that purpose, in Study 2, we followed 175 newlywed couples in a prospective longitudinal design in four measurement waves over 18 months. In this study, we used dispositional attachment orientations, assessed at the first measurement wave, as predictors of the trajectories of sexual desire. This approach follows the literature on dispositional attachment orientations, which indicates that they are not expected to change over short intervals (e.g., see Fraley, 2002, for a review of stability and change in attachment orientations). Furthermore, we used items tapping arousal during sex and sexual satisfaction as proxies for sexual desire. This strategy was based on previous findings that have indicated that the subjective experience of sexual desire and sexual arousal are highly correlated in both sexes, and that most men and women find it difficult to differentiate between these sexual

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feelings (e.g., Graham, Sanders, Milhausen, & McBride, 2004; Mitchell, Wellings, & Graham, 2014). We included an item tapping satisfaction with sex life based on recent studies that have demonstrated that sexual satisfaction is closely linked, and conceptually similar in predicting various outcomes, to sexual desire (Dosch, Rochat, Ghisletta, Favez, & Van der Linden, 2016). Other studies have similarly suggested that sexual desire and satisfaction are strongly connected (e.g., Muise et al., 2013; Rosen, Bailey, & Muise, 2018). Method Participants. One hundred and seventy five North American newlywed couples were recruited from online sources and bridal show registries.5 Couples received monetary incentive ($50-200 U.S.) according to their compliance with the longitudinal procedure.6 To be eligible, both spouses had to be (a) less than 50 years of age, (b) not drug or alcohol abusers, and (c) cohabiting with no reported instances of domestic violence or hospitalization for emotional disorders. Of 214 eligible couples who completed the screening procedure and returned consent forms, 175 participated in the 4-wave longitudinal study on which this article is based. At the beginning of the study, marriage length ranged from 1 to 16 months (M = 7.17, SD = 3.47). Women ranged in age from 18 to 50 years (M = 27.33, SD = 4.73), and men ranged in age from 20 to 49 years (M = 29.02, SD = 5.64). In total, 75% of the participants were Caucasian (5% Hispanic), 7% were AfricanAmerican, 12% were Asian, and 6% were multiracial or other. In terms of education, spouses indicated their highest level of attainment: 31% of the sample had a post-baccalaureate degree, 49% were college graduates, 15% had some college, and 5% had a high school diploma. Seventy-six percent of the participants worked full time, with the rest not working or employed part time. Median annual household income fell in the range between US$80,000 and US$89,999. Eighteen couples (10.3%) had a child living with them and another 10 couples (5.7%) were expecting a child.7

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Measures and procedure. We followed the couples in four measurement waves in an 18-months prospective longitudinal design. At Time 1, a researcher contacted both spouses by telephone to establish their eligibility. Couples who met the inclusion criteria were first emailed a link to consent forms, and upon completion, were emailed another link to survey measures (i.e., background questionnaires, sexual arousal and satisfaction, and attachment measures). The couples answered additional survey measures that are not relevant to the current article. Ethical considerations were similar to Study 1 and all study procedures were approved by the University of Rochester Research Subjects review board. Six, 12, and 18 months after the first measurement, the couples were sent additional surveys, containing questionnaires and instructions as in Time 1. Dispositional attachment orientations were assessed only in Time 1. Dispositional Attachment orientations. Dispositional attachment anxiety and avoidance were assessed using a shortened version of the Experience in Close Relationships Scale (Brennan et al., 1998). The measure consisted of 18 items; nine items tapped attachment anxiety (e.g., “I worry that romantic partners would not care about me as much as I care about them”), and nine items tapped attachment avoidance (e.g., “I prefer not to be too close to romantic partners”). Participants rated the extent to which each item described their feelings in close relationships on a 7-point scale ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (7) strongly agree. Cronbach’s alphas were adequate for both attachment anxiety (.91 for men and .92 for women) and attachment avoidance (.80 for men and .92 for women). On this basis, two attachment scores (anxiety and avoidance) were computed for each participant by averaging the relevant items. Sexual Desire. To assess sexual desire we created a composite using two items tapping arousal during sex with one's partner (e.g., "Over the past 4 weeks, how often did you feel sexually aroused ('turned on') during sexual activity or intercourse?," "Over the past 4

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weeks, how would you rate your level of sexual arousal ('turn on') during sexual activity or intercourse?") and one item tapping sexual satisfaction (e.g., "Over the past 4 weeks, how satisfied have you been with your sexual relationship with your partner?"). Both partners rated these items on a 5-point scale, ranging from almost never or never/very dissatisfied (1) to almost always or always/very satisfied (5) for sexual arousal and sexual satisfaction, respectively. Cronbach’s alphas assessed were adequate (.70, .81, .80, and .83 for men and .82, .81, .82, and .87 for women, at Times 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively). On this basis, one sexual desire score was computed for each participant during each measurement wave by averaging the items. Results and Brief Discussion Table 3 reports means and standard deviations for Study 2 variables at each measurement wave. A series of paired-samples t-tests showed that, similar to the findings of Study 1, men reported significantly higher levels of sexual desire than women at all measurement waves. Moreover, women were higher than men in dispositional anxiety. We analyzed the data with a dyadic growth-curve model similar to Study 1, except that in the current analysis attachment anxiety and avoidance from the first measurement served as the main predictor variable. All participants completed the first measurement wave, 94.9% completed the second measurement wave, 93.1% completed the third measurement wave, and 90.0% completed the fourth measurement wave.8Assuming an alpha level of .05, power was .99 for actor effects and .74 for partner effects. We modeled relationship duration similarly to Study 1, this time using the duration of marriage as a reference point for relationship duration. This decision was based on the understanding that the transition into marital life may bring about changes in previous relationship dynamics (e.g., see review by Murray & Holmes, 2011). Thus, the latent intercept represents initial levels at the first measurement, whereas the latent slopes represent

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estimated change in these levels per month over the 18-month span of the study. As in Study 1, prior to analysis all predictors were grand-mean centered. Similar to Study 1, a preliminary analysis that examined the normative decline in desire as a function of time, showed that desire decreased in both men (B = -.01, p = .017) and women (B = -.01, p = .013). Table 4 reports estimates for the growth parameters for desire. Similar to Study 1, men who were relatively high on dispositional avoidance were lower in their sexual desire in the initial assessment. Contrary to Study 1, this association was not observed among women. However, women's attachment anxiety marginally predicted lower levels of sexual desire at the beginning of the study. As for slopes of change over the 18 months of the study, consistent with the results of Study 1, sexual desire dropped significantly for both men and women over time. Also consistent with the findings of Study 1, the trajectory of change in men's desire was significantly moderated by dispositional anxiety. Men who were higher in dispositional anxiety showed significantly greater drops in their reported sexual desire over time. As shown in Figure 2, simple-slopes tests revealed that for men who were relatively high in anxiety, desire dropped significantly over time (+1SD in anxiety, B = -.03, t = -3.95 p = .001), whereas men who were relatively low on anxiety did not show a significant decrease over time (-1SD in anxiety, B = .00, t = .33, p = .738). No other effects were significant. Overall, the results of Study 2 replicated Study 1's findings with regard to men. Men who were higher on dispositional avoidance reported lower sexual desire in their relationship with their new spouse. Moreover, although anxious men did not differ from their less anxious counterparts on their initial level of sexual desire, they declined significantly more in sexual desire over time. Findings with regard to women's desire differed somewhat from Study 1, such that dispositional avoidance did not predict lower levels of these factors in newlywed women, whereas anxiety marginally predicted low initial desire in newlywed women. These

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results suggest that men's desire is more closely related to attachment insecurities than women's desire, so that both anxiety and avoidance appear to play a role for men in diminished sexual desire for their partners. General Discussion Sexual desire is a powerful feeling that attracts potential partners to each other and holds them together as their interdependence increases (e.g., Birnbaum, 2018; Hazan & Zeifman, 1994). Our research corroborated past research on the fragility of desire as time passes, even during the first years of marriage, often described as the "honeymoon" phase of romantic relationships. Our findings showed that sexual desire decreased over time in both men and women, among both newly dating couples and newlyweds. Moreover, and unique to these studies, attachment anxiety moderated this decline in men, such that men who were anxious about their relationship decreased significantly in desiring their partner, whereas less anxious men did not show a significant drop in desiring their partner over time. Our findings also demonstrated that attachment avoidance was associated with initial low desire in men in both studies, and in dating women in Study 1. Although the decline in sexual desire is of interest to researchers and clinicians alike, surprisingly few longitudinal studies have explored the factors that influence this decline. In particular, our findings extend previous research in several ways. First, prior studies have been limited to explaining daily fluctuations in desire over relatively brief intervals (e.g., few weeks to few months; Muise, Impett, Kogan et al., 2013) or focused on sexual dysfunctions (e.g., Angst et al., 2015) or middle age (Hällström & Samuelsson, 1990). The present studies account for the trajectory of desire over relatively long intervals in normally functioning young adults. Second, by following two samples of dating couples and newlyweds, our findings demonstrated the course of desire during two important transitional stages, from casual to serious dating, and during the first two years of marriage. Thus, our findings capture

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the course of sexual desire during two developmental stages characterized by meaningful increases in interdependence. Third, our findings shed light on the effect of attachment insecurities on sexual desire over time, and in particular on gender differences in this effect. A particular effect of note is that low-anxious men’s sexual desire did not decline over time in either study, suggesting an important qualification to the general conclusions of prior research (e.g., McNulty et al., 2016; Sprecher & Regan, 1998). These effects were replicated within different approaches to attachment orientations: the traditional trait-level perspective and as relationship-specific. The gender difference in the effect of anxiety on the trajectory of change in desire that replicated in the present two studies is somewhat at odds with previous research, which has demonstrated similar detriments of attachment anxiety on sexual desire and satisfaction in both genders (e.g., Leclerc et al., 2015; Mizrahi, Kanat-Maymon, & Birnbaum, 2018). However, it is consistent with previous findings positing that anxiety manifests differently in the sexual arena for men and women (e.g., see reviews by Birnbaum, 2015, 2016). Our findings may signify anxious men's reaction to increasing interdependence. Studies have shown that anxious men are more inclined than anxious women to be highly invested in the sexual aspects of their relationship (e.g., see review by Birnbaum, 2016). For example, highly anxious men are more likely to dismiss their personal sexual needs in their sexual fantasies and focus on sexually pleasing their partner (Birnbaum, 2007b), and are more inclined than anxious women to avoid extradyadic affairs (e.g., Bogaert & Sadava, 2002; Gangestad & Thornhill, 1997; Gentzler & Kerns, 2004). Highly anxious men also have been reported to feel that they have to coerce their partners to have sex (Brassard et al., 2007) and may overestimate their role as sex initiators (O’Sullivan & Byers, 1992). This complex combination of high investment in the sexual arena, intensified desire to please one's partner, and feeling rejected following attempts to

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initiate sex, may make anxious men feel emotionally exhausted over time in sexual interactions with their partner. Therefore, an increase in interdependence may lead them to perceive the sexual arena as highly demanding and less of a source for rewarding gratification and warm connections. Perhaps anxious men unconsciously protect themselves from feeling rejected in sexual interactions by progressively lowering their sexual expectations over time. Therefore, they may be especially sensitive to erosion in sexual desire for their partner. Another explanation for this gender difference arises from a comparison of men and women's trajectories, which showed that the trajectory of anxious men was similar to women's overall trajectory (see Figures 1 and 2). Women’s sexual responses are more attuned to relational context than those of men (e.g., Basson, 2000; Birnbaum et al., 2007; Birnbaum & Laser-Brandt, 2002), who tend to adopt a more individualistic and pleasure-centered orientation toward sexuality. Our findings suggest that attachment anxiety leads men to be more relationally attuned in desiring their partner and less attuned to the pleasure-centered components of their sexual desire, similarly to women's sexual response. Alternatively, secure men's desire may be more pleasure-centered and thus less likely to erode as a function of increasing interdependence, at least in the early relationship stages that we studied. This reasoning suggests that anxiety shifts men’s orientation toward sex in their romantic relationships away from the typical masculine trajectory and instead more closely resemble that of women. These possible mechanisms warrant more explicit attention in future research. Attachment avoidance predicted low initial desire in dating women and both samples of men, and these results are consistent with our prediction. Past research has indicated that attachment avoidance is associated with a general detached stance toward relationship partners and a tendency to minimize intimate, including sexual, interactions (e.g., see reviews by Birnbaum, 2016; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016). This distanced stance toward intimate interactions is particularly salient when emotional concerns are activated, as they would be

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during sexual interactions with a romantic partner (e.g., Birnbaum et al., 2006). Yet, perhaps because avoidant persons are inclined from the outset to greater emotional distance from their partner, the trajectory of their decline in desire was not affected by increasing interdependence in either study. Of note is the absence of partner effects in both samples, except for a marginally significant association between a partner's avoidance and higher initial levels of desire in dating men. These results contradict previous work that has found a connection between having a more avoidant partner and low dyadic sexual desire and satisfaction (Butzer & Campbell, 2008; Mizrahi et al., 2018). Yet, previous studies did not focus exclusively on developing relationships, which may be characterized by different processes relative to more established stages (e.g., Eastwick & Finkel, 2008; Mizrahi, Hirschberger, Mikulincer, Szepsenwol, & Birnbaum, 2016). Limitations and Conclusion Taken together, our findings demonstrate that attachment insecurities may dampen sexual desire in the early years of romantic relationships. These findings should be interpreted in the context of several limitations. First, Study 1 used a somewhat small sample, which may have obscured other possible effects. Second, our single-item measure for sexual desire in Study 1 might have been limited in capturing the broad nature of sexual desire (even though, as this item focuses directly on the desire to have sex with one's partner, it seems to have high face validity). Single-item measures are common in studies conducted with repeated measures, where repeated exposures can be burdensome to participants, and previous longitudinal studies have demonstrated similar developmental trajectories compared to multi-item scales (e.g., Gnambs & Buntins, 2017). In Study 2, we used items tapping sexual arousal and satisfaction as a proxy for desire, based on recent findings that suggest merging sexual feelings into a single construct (Graham et al., 2004; Mitchell et al., 2014),

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and that have demonstrated that desire and sexual satisfaction are strongly connected (Muise et al., 2013; Rosen et al., 2018). Still, it is possible that there may be noteworthy differences among these three concepts, and we encourage additional research exploring them. Third, although we tested our predictions in two somewhat different cultural contexts, our findings are limited to Western couples. Sexual desire by both partners is a strong prescriptive desire among Western couples, and it is unclear whether the normative decline in sexual desire, or its links to attachment insecurity, would be observed in other cultures, in which sexual desire may play a different role in relationship maintenance. Furthermore, because the trajectories of sexual desire over time may differ among heterosexual and samesex couples, and these differences may confound with our results in a way that we could not have enough statistical power to address, we did not include same-sex couples in the current analysis. Future studies may address questions of similarities and differences in the trajectories of sexual desire and its contribution for relationship development, in different cultures and sexual orientations. Finally, our studies were limited to identifying the moderating role of attachment anxiety in the decline of sexual desire over time. It will be important for future studies to more specifically determine the mechanisms responsible for this effect and examine our theoretical model over a longer period of time: from dating to beyond the second year of marriage. In our view, plausible candidates include worries about sexual competence, high perceived demands of sexual interactions, and lack of psychological differentiation from a romantic partner. These limitations notwithstanding, our findings suggest that attachment insecurities interfere with relationship development at early transitional stages. Our findings indicated that attachment anxiety may be particularly problematic in men, and marital therapists, when working with anxious men who suffer from problems in sexual desire, might therefore

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consider paying more attention to attachment-related issues and relational conflicts. Importantly, however, our findings also identify a more positive pattern among low-anxious men, who did not show the oft-noted decline in sexual desire over time. These findings imply that desire is more fragile when it is fueled by relational worries rather than by pleasurecentered urges. In conclusion, our research highlights the fragility of desire during the first years of interdependent romantic relationships and suggests that attachment theory may offer useful insights into comprehending and potentially addressing these trends. Further work is needed to extend our understanding of how attachment-related processes may buffer or exacerbate the decline in sexual desire in developing and established relationships.

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Notes 1. Other findings from this sample may be found in Szepsenwol, Mizrahi, and Birnbaum (2015), which focused on the association between relationship satisfaction and the functioning of the sexual behavioral system, and in Mizrahi et al., (2016), which focused on longitudinal changes in relationship-specific insecurities. Neither of these articles examined or reported results relating to the outcome variable reported in the current article. 2. Attrition analysis showed that men and women who did not complete the second and third measurement waves did not differ from people who completed the survey in the initial measurement wave in all study variables. 3. A three-level model necessarily assumes that the error terms between dyad members at level 1 are uncorrelated, which is unlikely in the case of couples (e.g., couples may have watched a funny movie together so both will be in a good mood, or they may have struggled through a conflict, so both will be in a bad mood). 4. Relationship-specific insecurities may be considered specifically relevant for relationship outcomes at the early stages of romantic relationships, when people normally have distinct experiences with a new relationship partner, which may override the more global and dispositional attachment-related expectations (Eastwick & Finkel, 2008). Alternatively, the couples in Study 2 were more established, such that relationship-specific experiences at this relationship stage may be assimilated in the global orientation, and thus have less distinct implications for relationship outcomes. 5. Other findings from this sample may be found in Reis, Maniaci, and Rogge (2014, 2017), which focused on compassionate acts and relationship satisfaction and on the association between compassionate acts and everyday emotional well-being, respectively. These articles did not examine or report any of the variables reported in this article. 6. See Reis et al. (2014, 2017) for further information.

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7. Women who were expecting a child at baseline reported significantly higher anxiety at baseline and less desire 6 and 18 months later, relative to women who were not expecting a child. Furthermore, men who reported having children living with them at baseline were significantly higher in desire 18 months later, than men who did not. No other differences were significant. Controlling for these variables did not change the pattern of the results. 8. Attrition analysis showed that men who did not complete the second measurement wave (Time 6) reported lower desire at baseline. Moreover, men who did not complete the third (Time 12), and fourth (Time 18) measurement waves reported more dispositional attachment insecurities (anxiety and avoidance) and less sexual desire at baseline. Attrition did not affect the results for women. An analysis that included only people who completed all measurement waves yielded similar results as reported in the main analysis. The only differences found were that the effect of women's anxiety on initial desire became significant and the marginally significant interaction effect of men's avoidance over time became nonsignificant.

38

ATTACHMENT AND CHANGES IN SEXUAL DESIRE

Table 1 Descriptive Statistics and Gender Differences for Study 1 Variables Men

Women

t

p

M

SD

M

SD

Sexual desire

4.48

0.53

4.15

0.70

2.89

.005

Anxiety

3.70

0.15

4.13

0.26

-1.58

.118

Avoidance

2.03

1.72

1.92

1.81

1.56

.123

Sexual desire

4.43

0.60

4.02

0.77

3.71

.001

Anxiety

3.50

0.01

3.93

0.27

-2.08

.041

Avoidance

2.19

1.74

0.97

1.73

1.11

.269

Sexual desire

4.26

0.74

3.79

0.87

3.19

.002

Anxiety

3.42

0.09

3.80

0.52

-1.57

.122

Avoidance

0.98

1.73

0.84

1.80

1.16

.251

Time 1

Time 2

Time 3

39

ATTACHMENT AND CHANGES IN SEXUAL DESIRE

Table 2 Regression Estimates and 95% Confidence Intervals for Sexual Desire Growth Parameters and Moderating Effects Intercept (2 to 4 months)

Slope (per month)

B

SE

t

p

[95% CI]

B

SE

t

p

[95% CI]

4.56

.07

61.17

.001

[4.42, 4.71]

-.04

.01

-3.02

.003

[-.07, -.01]

Actor anxiety

.13

.08

1.72

.086

[-.02, .29]

-.04

.01

-2.47

.014

[-.06, -.00]

Partner anxiety

.04

.05

.70

.483

[-.07, .14]

-.00

.01

-.16

.866

[-.02, .02]

Actor avoidance

-.20

.11

-1.82

.069

[-.42, .16]

-.02

.02

-.95

.341

[-.06, .02]

.17

.09

1.86

.064

[-.01, .35]

-.01

.01

-.70

.486

[-.04, .02]

4.10

.09

43.80

.001

[3.92, 4.30]

-.05

.01

-2.67

.008

[-.08, -.01]

.02

.07

.30

.763

[-.11, .16]

.00

.01

.20

.840

[-.02, .03]

Partner anxiety

-.12

.09

-1.33

.183

[-.31, .06]

.01

.01

.72

.472

[-.02, .05]

Actor avoidance

-.43

.11

-3.78

.001

[-.65, -.20]

.00

.02

.83

.830

[-.04, .05]

Partner avoidance

-.03

.13

-.24

.811

[-.29, .23]

.00

.02

.25

.798

[-.04, .06]

Men Growth parameters

Partner avoidance Women Growth parameters Actor anxiety

Note. Growth parameters refer to the overall trend in desire beyond attachment insecurities. For the intercept (left column) it refers to overall desire at time 0; for the slope (right column) it refers to the overall trajectory of desire over time.

41

ATTACHMENT AND CHANGES IN SEXUAL DESIRE

Table 3 Descriptive Statistics and Gender Differences for Study 2 Variables Men

Women

t

p

M

SD

M

SD

Sexual desire

4.13

0.82

3.68

1.05

5.57

.001

Anxiety

3.21

1.40

3.58

1.46

-2.62

.009

Avoidance

2.80

1.00

3.00

1.33

-1.80

.073

3.86

1.11

3.60

1.11

3.27

.001

3.90

1.11

3.40

1.15

4.71

.001

3.68

1.24

3.27

1.37

4.39

.001

Time 1

Time 2 Sexual desire Time 3 Sexual desire Time 4 Sexual desire

40

ATTACHMENT AND CHANGES IN SEXUAL DESIRE

Table 4 Regression Estimates and 95% Confidence Intervals for Sexual Desire Growth Parameters and Moderating Effects Intercept (1 to 16 months)

Slope (per month)

B

SE

t

p

[95% CI]

B

SE

t

p

[95% CI]

4.05

.05

71.86

.001

[3.94, 4.16]

-.01

.00

-3.05

.002

[-.02, -.00]

.01

.04

.20

.835

[-.08, 0.10]

-.01

.00

-2.84

.005

[-.02, -.00]

Partner anxiety

-.03

.04

-.78

.431

[-.12, 0.05]

.00

.00

.71

.473

[-.00, .01]

Actor avoidance

-.22

.06

-3.23

.001

[-.35, -.08]

.01

.00

1.83

.066

[-.00, .02]

Partner avoidance

-.04

.04

-.96

.335

[-.14, .04]

-.00

.00

-.55

.582

[-.01, .00]

Growth parameters

3.90

.06

65.56

.001

[3.78, 4.02]

-.01

.00

-2.42

.015

[-.02, -.00]

Actor anxiety

-.09

.05

-1.87

.061

[-.18, .00]

-.00

.00

-0.29

.766

[-.00, .00]

Partner anxiety

.05

.05

.95

.339

[-.05, .14]

-.00

.00

-1.44

.150

[-.01, .00]

Actor avoidance

.04

.05

.92

.356

[-.05, .14]

-.00

.00

-1.28

.200

[-.01, .00]

-.06

.07

-0.88

.380

[-.20, .07]

-.00

.00

-.00

.997

[-.01, .01]

Men Growth parameters Actor anxiety

Women

Partner avoidance

Note. Growth parameters refer to the overall trend in desire beyond attachment insecurities. For the intercept (left column) it refers to overall desire at time 0; for the slope (right column) it refers to the overall trajectory of desire over time.