Exploring the Interrelationships Among College Students' Attachment Orientations, Sexual Motives, and Sexual Risk-Taking



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Background: The sexual risk taking behaviors and attitudes of college students are important phenomena to examine due to the potential for negative outcomes, including contraction of STIs or unintended pregnancy. Purpose: As most of the current research on college students’ sexual behaviors has been descriptive and atheoretical, this investigation conducted an attachment theory-guided study of the interrelationships among their adult attachment orientations (i.e., relative levels of attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety), sociosexual orientation (i.e., domain-specific perspectives on uncommitted sex, which varies from restricted to unrestricted), sexual motives, and their sexual risk behaviors (e.g., frequency of condomless sex and casual sex). Methods: Six-hundred and thirty undergraduate students between the ages of 18 to 24 at the University of Houston participated in this study by completing online measures assessing adult attachment, sociosexual orientation, sexual motives, and sexual risk behaviors. Results: Findings indicated that insecure attachment (i.e., high levels of attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety) was related to some, but not all, aspects of sexual risk-taking behaviors, and also related to a less restricted sociosexual orientation in some domains. Additionally, there was evidence of an indirect effect of adult attachment orientations on sexual risk behaviors and attitudes through theoretically-expected sexual motives. Lastly, participants’ gender moderated the indirect effects of sexual motives in explaining the relationship between attachment anxiety and one sexual risk behavior (i.e., use of alcohol prior to sex). Conclusion: Adult attachment orientation influences motives for engaging in sex, attitudes towards sex, and participation in sexual risk behaviors. Several important implications of these findings for future research and clinical practice are discussed.



Attachment, Sexual risk-taking, Sex Motives