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Attachment style, working models of sexuality, and their relation to safer sex behaviour in young adults



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The purpose of this study was to explicate personality variables that are implicated in the practice of safer sex. I asked a university-based sample of young adults (mean age = 19.8 years; N = 242) to rate the degree to which they identify with particular "styles" of attachment as measured by Bartholomew's (Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994a) Relationship Questionnaire (RQ) and Relationship Scales Questionnaire (RSQ); dispositional motives, attitudes, and feelings toward sex ("working models of sexuality") as measured by Snell and Fisher's (1993) Multidimensional Sexuality Questionnaire (MSQ) and Hill and Preston's (1996) Affective and Motivational Orientation Related to Erotic Arousal Questionnaire (AMORE); and safer sex practices as measured by a revised version of Uddin's (1996) Safer Sex Behaviour (SSB) scale. I expected that patterns of attachment would be related to working models of sexuality and safer sex behaviour, and that working models of sexuality would partially mediate or explain the relation between attachment style and safer sex behaviour. A principal components analysis revealed that respondents' sexual thoughts, feelings, and motives reflected four main components: negative sexual affect, sexual confidence, sexual power/control, and sexual intimacy/pleasure. A series of regression analyses were used to test the proposed mediation model. Results indicated that (1) preoccupied, fearful, and secure styles of attachment were differentially related to negative sexual affect, feelings of sexual confidence, and desire for sexual intimacy/pleasure in ways that fit well with previous findings and theory; (2) greater feelings of sexual confidence and greater enjoyment of sexual power/control were associated with riskier sexual practices; (3) greater fear of emotional attachment was related indirectly (through sexual confidence) to safer sex behaviour; (4) greater security of attachment was associated both directly with safer sex behaviour and indirectly (through sexual confidence) with riskier sex behaviour; and (5) none of the sexual working model components served as mediators of the relation between attachment style and safer sex practices. In conclusion, security of attachment and sexual motives, thoughts, and feelings have separate and specific associations with safer sex practices among young adults: Those who are more emotionally secure in their relations with others are more likely to engage in safer sexual behaviour; individuals who are more sexually confident and motivated, and those who are more turned on by sexual dominance/control, are less likely to engage in safer sexual behaviour. The counselling implications of the present findings, and future directions for research, are discussed.





Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)







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