Right now I’m reading Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson.

Dr Johnson brilliantly thought to apply Bowlby’s attachment theory (infant/parent bonding, the need for touch in order to thrive, etc) to adults, and developed her Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.

Johnson talks about “Solace Sex” in her chapter entitled Bonding Through Sex and Touch:

We have a vital need from our earliest moments to the end of our days for touch…[and] North Americans are among the world’s least tactile people and suffer from “touch hunger.” In children, a lack of touch, of holding and caressing, seems to slow the growth of the brain and the development of emotional intelligence, that is, the ability to organize emotions.

Males may be particularly vulnerable to touch hunger…right from birth, boys are held for shorter periods and caressed less often than are girls. As adults, men seem to be less responsive to tender touch than are women, but in the men I see, they crave it just as much as do the women…I think of this whenever my female clients complain that men are obsessed with sex. I would be, too, I say, if sex were the only place apart from the football field where I ever got touched or held.

Johnson describes Solace Sex as an attempt to gain comfort and safety through touch:

Solace Sex occurs when we are seeking reassurance that we are valued and desired; the sex act is just a tagalong. The goal is to alleviate our attachment fears…[and] the main emotion directing the sexual dance is anxiety.

Solace Sex can help keep a relationship stable for a while, but it can also feed into raw spots and negative cycles. When anything happens in the mutual desire department, there is instant hurt and negativity. If this kind of sex is the norm in a relationship, partners can get caught in obsessively trying to perform to please or in being so demanding that it turns off sexual desire. When physical intimacy becomes all about tamping down attachment fears, it can drive lovers apart.

She shares this poignant quote from one of her male clients, explaining his demands for sex “every morning and every night” which were exhausting his wife and straining their marriage:

“Yes, well. It’s really not about the sex in the end, is it?…The only time I am really sure you love me, the only time I feel really safe with you, is when I have you in my arms or when we are making love and I am really turning you on and you are responding to me with your body. Then I know you love me and want me….I am just scared all the time, so making love is like my security blanket.”