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Relationships

The Importance of "Sexploration" in a Relationship

Sexploration may enhance both sexual and relationship satisfaction for couples.

Key points

  • Sexual exploration may enhance both sexual and relationship satisfaction for couples.
  • A secure relationship may help individuals to safely explore different sexual identities, behaviors, and fantasies.
  • Sexploration may be linked to sexual communal strength, which also offers benefits for romantic partners.
Motortion Films/Shutterstock
Source: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

In 2019, Dylan Selterman and colleagues introduced the idea of “sexploration.” The authors proposed that feeling securely attached to a romantic partner might facilitate sexual exploration, including indulging sexual fantasies, trying new sexual behaviors, or even exploring different sexual identities. The concept of sexploration stems from the connection between attachment theory and sexuality and includes the notion that a supportive romantic relationship might serve as a “secure base” for sexual exploration.

The idea of a romantic partner serving as a secure platform from which to explore (sexually or otherwise) is rooted in attachment theory, which conceptualizes attachment as secure (low in feelings of anxiety and low in avoidance of intimacy) or as insecure (high in anxiety or avoidance or both). According to the authors, the existing psychological literature “strongly supports a theoretically-based link between the attachment and sexual systems.” For example, individuals who are in secure relationships use sex to bond with their partners, to express their positive feelings for one another, and to satisfy both their own and their partner’s emotional and sexual needs. However, anxiously attached or avoidantly attached individuals are more likely to use sex to fulfill their own needs, such as using sex to prevent losing a partner or engaging only in casual sex in order to avoid emotional connections.

The authors suggest that in the non-sexual aspects of our lives, “individuals draw strength from their attachment figures and utilize them for motivational/goal pursuits including career activities, pursuing interests and hobbies, and bettering health and wellness.” Individuals with a secure relationship base may also be more likely to use their romantic partners as a secure base for “sexploration,” which the authors believe may enhance both sexual and relationship satisfaction. Further, the authors argue that in romantic relationships, the benefits of a secure relationship are reciprocal: “Sexploration happens when individuals act as a secure base for their partner(s) and draw on secure base support from their partner(s).”

The long-term benefits of sexploration

To promote sexploration, romantic partners must work together to create and maintain a supportive and safe relationship. In order to provide a secure platform for your partner, the authors recommend “(a) availability, which entails reliably being present and able to provide support when necessary; (b) noninterference, which entails providing freedom to engage and explore one’s environment without constraints; and (c) encouragement, which entails conveying excitement and enthusiasm for one’s goal pursuits and challenges.” Sexploration could potentially lead to positive outcomes for romantic partners, including sharing sexual fantasies, trying new sexual behaviors, and improving sexual communication. The authors even contend that positive sexploration could facilitate better mental health outcomes and improved physical well-being over the long term.

The authors also propose that a secure relationship enables individuals to more positively explore their sexual identities. “Attachment security has been linked with greater self-acceptance and positive attitudes toward one’s own sexual identity, including within gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations.” A secure attachment style is also associated with “disclosure of sexual orientation to others, which has been linked to better mental well-being overall.” The authors state that “individuals who can more effectively draw on their secure base during identity exploration and receive the resulting support may be more likely to experience these positive outcomes.”

Serving as a secure base for one another may also be linked to sexual communal strength, which is defined as being responsive to and motivated to fulfill a partner’s sexual needs. (Read more about the benefits of sexual communal strength here.) The researchers suggest that “one’s own sexual exploration (or satisfaction) is enhanced to the degree that they serve as a sexual secure base for their partner’s sexual exploration… which is linked with greater sexual and relationship satisfaction for both partners.”

Facebook image: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

References

Selterman, D., Gesselman, A., & Moors, A. (2019). Sexuality through the lens of secure base dynamics: Individual differences in Sexploration. Personality and Individual Differences, 147, 229-236.

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