The Relationships and Sexual Behaviour Study

This research project was the first New Zealand study to look at ‘out-of-control sexual behaviour’ (OCSB) and attachment.

OCSB, often given the layperson’s term ‘sexual addiction,’ more accurately involves a range of experiences including impulsive or compulsive sexual thoughts/feelings/or behaviours, which cause distress or impairment to the individual or others close to them. Many factors are thought to play a role in OCSB, and more recently attachment has been identified as one such factor. Attachment is the way that relationships with caregivers early in life shape feelings and behaviour towards intimacy and closeness in adult relationships.

The previous few studies on OCSB and attachment have found that those with OCSB report higher anxiety towards and avoidance of closeness in their adult relationships compared to those without OCSB. Previous research has also found higher levels of anxiety, depression, and substance use amongst people with OCSB. This study aimed, primarily,  to explore the link between OCSB and attachment in a New Zealand sample.

This study found that those with OCSB often have higher avoidance or anxiety towards closeness in their adult romantic relationships, and that experiences of such relationships as safe and desirable may be important in healthy sexual relating. Although the study was limited because it relied on self-report and a non-representative sample of participants, it is the first New Zealand study to demonstrate the potentially important relationship between OCSB and attachment. It is recommended that attachment styles are considered in the treatment of OCSB and further research will evaluate whether this type of treatment can reduce OCSB.