Sexual relationships and sexual risk-taking in the context of living with, and recovering from, BPD: service user priorities for care

Understanding sexual relationships and sexual risk-taking in the context of living with Borderline Personality Disorder, and identifying service users priorities for care, is an essential first step to providing effective mental health support in this neglected but meaningful aspect of life.

Start date

1 October 2023


36 months

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey

Funding information

Full tuition fee cover, stipend of c £17,000 p.a. and a £3,000 Research Training Support Grant.


Maintaining sexual intimacy or negotiating sexual safety can be made difficult by symptoms, medication side-effects, and mental illness stigma. This project is the first to explore how people living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) understand the role of sexual relationships and sexual risk-taking in their experience of, and recovery from, BPD and to identify priorities for care. BPD is a serious and prevalent mental health difficulty which is characterised by difficulty regulating emotions, sensitivity to being rejected or abandoned, and difficulty understanding one’s own and others’ thoughts, feelings and wishes. These features can make forming healthy intimate relationships challenging, yet current knowledge about sexual relationships in the context of living with, and recovering from, BPD is limited.

Working across sites in Australia and the UK, the successful candidate will receive rigorous training in research methods and project management and will be responsible for conducting four studies: i) an integrative review of existing evidence adopting a relational lens; ii) an online questionnaire to identify service users’ priorities for information and care; iii) arts-based qualitative interviews with adults with BPD to elicit rich contextual experiences of negotiating sexual intimacy, relationships and safety in the context of BPD; and vi) interviews with mental health professionals to explore how best to embed key findings into education, training and practice. Ensuring that the research captures the experiences of diverse populations – including LGBTQIA+, minoritized ethnic groups, and working class populations – will be an essential part of the studentship.

Working in the UK with Dr Hannah Frith and Dr Cassie Hazell at the University of Surrey, and with Professor Brin Grenyer at the University of Wollongong in Australia, the studentship offers a distinctive opportunity to compare Australian/UK cultural contexts with differing sexual norms, mental health systems and service user support systems.


Related links

Project Air Clinical Intervention and Practice Research Group

Please note that this studentship award is part of a wider studentship competition. Those successful in being shortlisted will be put forward to a central panel consisting of University of Surrey and University of Wollongong staff who will then assess the applications and select four of the nominated candidates for funding.

Eligibility criteria

Open to UK and international candidates.

Applicants are expected to hold a minimum of an upper second-class honours degree (65 per cent or above) in psychology (or a related discipline) and a masters degree in a relevant subject with a pass of 65 per cent or above.

IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Psychology PhD programme page on the "Apply" tab. Please clearly state the studentship title and supervisor on your application. In place of a research proposal you should upload a document stating the title of the project that you wish to apply for, the name of the relevant supervisor and a personal statement. The statement should explain how your previous experience has prepared you for doctoral research and this project in particular. Explain how this PhD will support your career aspirations (maximum 500 words).

Studentship FAQs

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Application deadline

Contact details

Hannah Frith
27 AC 05
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689433

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