We investigated sexual motives as mediators of the relationships between adult attachment orientations and women’s casual sexual behavior. Female heterosexual undergraduates (N = 221) provided self-report data on multiple attachment orientations underlying attachment styles, sexual motives, and hookup behavior. Proximity-seeking (i.e., turning toward others to share experiences and in times of need) and self-reliance (i.e., preferring not to ask for help or to depend on others) were both associated with number of hookup partners. Sexual motives mediated some of these relationships. Intimacy motives explained how proximity-seeking positively related to hookup behavior, whereas enhancement motives explained how self-reliance negatively related to hookup behavior. These results suggest that attachment orientations associated with both secure and insecure attachment styles predict women’s casual sexual behavior through different sexual motives. These results also suggest that women’s casual sexual encounters do not necessarily reflect insecurity, dysfunction, psychopathology, or maladaptation. To promote healthy hookup behaviors among women, both emotional as well as sexual needs associated with different attachment orientations should be considered.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: Assessed in the strange situation and at home. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
Armstrong, H. L., & Reissing, E. D. (2015). Women’s motivations to have sex in casual and committed relationships with male and female partners. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 921–934. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0462-4.
Birnbaum, G. E. (2007). Attachment orientations, sexual functioning, and relationship satisfaction in a community sample of women. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24, 21–35. doi:10.1177/0265407507072576.
Birnbaum, G. E. (2015). On the convergence of sexual urges and emotional bonds: The interplay of sexual and attachment systems during relationship development. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and research (pp. 170–194). New York: Guilford Press.
Birnbaum, G. E., Reis, H. T., Mikulincer, M., Gillath, O., & Orpaz, A. (2006). When sex is more than just sex: Attachment orientations, sexual experience, and relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 929–943. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1249.
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment (2nd ed.). New York: Basic Books. (Original work published 1969).
Brennan, K. A., & Shaver, P. R. (1995). Dimensions of adult attachment, affect regulation, and romantic relationship functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 267–283. doi:10.1177/0146167295213008.
Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46–76). New York: Guilford Press.
Calzo, J. P. (2014). Applying a person-centered approach to understanding how attachment, gender beliefs, and homosociality shape college men’s sociosexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 221–233. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.724119.
Cooper, M. L., Shapiro, C. M., & Powers, A. M. (1998). Motivations for sex and risky sexual behavior among adolescents and young adults: A functional perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1528–1558. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1998.
Cooper, M., Pioli, M., Levitt, A., Talley, A., Micheas, L., & Collins, N. (2006). Attachment styles, sex motives, and sexual behavior: Evidence for gender-specific expressions and attachment dynamics. In M. Mikulincer & G. Goodman (Eds.), Dynamics of romantic love: Attachment, caregiving, and sex (pp. 243–274). New York: Guilford Press.
Davis, D., Shaver, P., & Vernon, M. (2004). Attachment style and subjective motivations for sex. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1076–1090. doi:10.1177/0146167204264794.
Drouin, M., & Landgraff, C. (2012). Texting, sexting, and attachment in college students’ romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 444–449. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.015.
Drouin, M., & Tobin, E. (2014). Unwanted but consensual sexting among young adults: Relations with attachment and sexual motivations. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 412–418. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.11.001.
England, P., Shafer, E. F., & Fogarty, A. C. K. (2008). Hooking up and forming romantic relationships on today’s college campuses. In M. S. Kimmel & A. Aronson (Eds.), The gendered society reader (pp. 531–547). New York: Oxford University Press.
Fielder, R. L., & Carey, M. P. (2010). Predictors and consequences of sexual “hookups” among college students: A short term prospective study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1105–1119. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9448-4.
Flack Jr., W. F., Daubman, K. A., Caron, M. L., Asadorian, J. A., D'Aureli, N. R., Gigliotti, S. N., et al. (2007). Risk factors and consequences of unwanted sex among university students: Hooking up, alcohol, and stress response. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22, 139–157.
Garcia, J. R., Reiber, C., Massey, S. G., & Merriwether, A. M. (2012). Sexual hook-up culture: A review. Review of General Psychology, 16, 161–167. doi:10.1037/a0027911.
Garneau, C., Olmstead, S. B., Pasley, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). The role of family structure and attachment in college student hookups. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1473–1486. doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0118-9.
Gentzler, A. L., & Kerns, K. A. (2004). Associations between insecure attachment and sexual experiences. Personal Relationships, 11, 249–265. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2004.00081.x.
Gute, R., & Eshbaugh, E. (2008). Personality as a predictor of hooking up among college students. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 25, 26–43. doi:10.1080/07370010701836385.
Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis. New York: Guilford Press.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511–524. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.521.
Impett, E. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2003). Sexual compliance: Gender, motivational, and relationship perspectives. The Journal of Sex Research, 40, 87–100. doi:10.1080/00224490309552169.
Jones, M. C., & Furman, W. (2011). Representations of romantic relationships, romantic experience, and sexual behavior in adolescence. Personal Relationships, 18, 144–164. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01291.x.
Katz, J., & Schneider, M. E. (2015). (Hetero)sexual compliance with unwanted casual sex: Associations with feelings about first sex and sexual self-perceptions. Sex Roles, 72, 451–461. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0467-z.
Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W., & Martin, C. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.
Lewis, M. A., Granato, H., Blayney, J. A., Lostutter, T. W., & Kilmer, J. R. (2012). Predictors of hooking up sexual behaviors and emotional reactions among U.S. college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1219–1229. doi:10.1007/s10508-011-9817-2.
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2003). The attachment behavioral system in adulthood: Activation, psychodynamics, and interpersonal processes. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 53–152). New York: Academic Press.
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). A behavioral systems perspective on the psychodynamics of attachment and sexuality. In D. Diamond, S. J. Blatt, & J. D. Lichtenberg (Eds.), Attachment and sexuality (pp. 51–78). New York: The Analytic Press/Taylor & Francis Group.
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Pereg, D. (2003). Attachment theory and affect regulation: The dynamics, development, and cognitive consequences of attachment-related strategies. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 77–102. doi:10.1023/A:1024515519160.
Owen, J. J., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2010). “Hooking up” among college students: Demographic and psychosocial correlates. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 653–663. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9414-1.
Owen, J. J., Quirk, K., & Fincham, F. D. (2014). Toward a more complete understanding of reactions to hooking up among college women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 40, 396–409. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2012.751074.
Paul, E. L., & Hayes, K. A. (2002). The casualties of casual sex: A qualitative exploration of the phenomenology of college students’ hookups. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 639–661. doi:10.1177/0265407502195006.
Paul, E. L., McManus, B., & Hayes, A. (2000). Hookups: Characteristics and correlates of college students’ spontaneous and anonymous sexual experiences. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 76–88. doi:10.1080/00224490009552023.
Ridge, S. R., & Feeney, J. A. (1998). Relationship history and relationship attitudes in gay males and lesbians: Attachment style and gender differences. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 32, 848–859. doi:10.3109/00048679809073875.
Rosario, M., Reisner, S. L., Corliss, H. L., Wypij, D., Frazier, A. L., & Austin, S. B. (2014). Disparities in depressive distress by sexual orientation in emerging adults: The roles of attachment and stress paradigms. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 901–916. doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0129-6.
Schachner, D. A., & Shaver, P. R. (2004). Attachment dimensions and sexual motives. Personal Relationships, 11, 179–195. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2004.00077.x.
Snapp, S., Lento, R., Ryu, E., & Rosen, K. S. (2014). Why do they hookup? Attachment style and motives of college students. Personal Relationships, 21, 468–481. doi:10.1111/pere.12043.
Snapp, S., Ryu, E., & Kerr, J. (2015). The upside to hooking up: College students’ positive hookup experiences. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 43–56. doi:10.1080/19317611.2014.939247.
Tracy, J. L., Shaver, P. R., Albino, A. W., & Cooper, M. L. (2003). Adolescent styles and adolescent sexuality. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romance and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 137–159). Mahwah: Erlbaum.
Vrangalova, Z. (2015a). Does casual sex harm college students’ well-being? A longitudinal investigation of the role of motivation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 945–959. doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0255-1.
Vrangalova, Z. (2015b). Hooking up and psychological well-being in college students: Short-term prospective links across different hookup definitions. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 485–498. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.910745.
Wang, C. C. D. C., Schale, C. L., & Broz, K. K. (2010). Adult attachment; lesbian, gay, and bisexual identity and sexual attitudes of nonheterosexual individuals. Journal of College Counseling, 13, 31–49. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1882.2010.tb00046.x.
The authors gratefully acknowledge Laura O’Brien, Nicole Jelonek, Grace Rivera, Genevieve Martin, and Rachel Bowen for their assistance with data collection and management.
About this article
Cite this article
Schneider, M.E., Katz, J. Adult Attachment and Heterosexual College Women’s Hookup Behaviors: Mediating Effects of Sexual Motives. Sex Roles 77, 419–429 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0726-7
- Sexual motives
- Casual sex