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The sexual life of men with psychopathic traits

Georgia Zara (Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Turin, Italy and at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)
Henriette Bergstrøm (School of Law and Social Sciences, College of Business, Law and Social Sciences (BLSS), University of Derby, Derby, UK)
David P. Farrington (Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 3 August 2020

Issue publication date: 22 July 2021




This paper aims to explore the sexuality of individuals with psychopathic traits. Sexuality is not only a physiological need but also a way by which people connect to others. According to a Darwinian perspective, psychopathic traits are seen as adaptive responses to environmental conditions, and as a nonpathological and reproductively viable life history strategy, although superficial emotionality and a detached interpersonal style characterise individuals who are high on psychopathic traits.


Data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development are analysed. This is a prospective longitudinal study of 411 London males, with face-to-face interviews from 8 to 48 years of age.


Men who are high on psychopathic traits were likely to drift from one relationship to another, without a particular attachment to any of them, and to be sexually promiscuous. They never used contraception, which increased their likelihood of having several children from different partners.

Practical implications

Findings provide an insight into the non-criminal sexual behaviour of males with high psychopathic traits; evidence on a pattern of unsafe/risky sexual relations by males with high psychopathic traits; information on targeting risk factors to prevent the intergenerational transmission of psychopathy.


These findings are significant in highlighting the impact of psychopathic traits upon interpersonal and family dynamics in community samples, as detecting the impact of problematic intimate relationships is difficult in the absence of evident criminality. Rather than completely neglecting their children, men with psychopathic traits spent time with their sons but not with their daughters.



For funding the CSDD, we are very grateful to the Home Office, UK; the Department of Health, UK; the Department for Education, UK; the Rayne foundation, UK; the Barrow Cadbury Trust, UK; and the Smith-Richardson Foundation. For carrying out criminal record searches, we are very grateful to Gwen Gundry in the 1960s and 1970s, Lynda Morley in the 1980s, Sandra Lambert in the 1990s, Debbie Wilson in the 2000s, Owen Thomas in 2011-12, and Lisa Robinson in 2017.


Zara, G., Bergstrøm, H. and Farrington, D.P. (2021), "The sexual life of men with psychopathic traits", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 164-178.



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