Sexual Self-Concept and Sexual Self-Efficacy in Adolescents: A Possible Clue to Promoting Sexual Health?

By Rostosky, Sharon Scales; Dekhtyar, Olga et al. | The Journal of Sex Research, July-September 2008 | Go to article overview
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Sexual Self-Concept and Sexual Self-Efficacy in Adolescents: A Possible Clue to Promoting Sexual Health?


Rostosky, Sharon Scales, Dekhtyar, Olga, Cupp, Pamela K., Anderman, Eric M., The Journal of Sex Research


Research on adolescent sexual behavior predominantly has focused on sexual risk taking behaviors in efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs; e.g., Capaldi, Stoolmiller, Clark, & Owen, 2002; Raffaelli & Crockett, 2003). Whereas the continuing high incidence rates of STDs in the adolescent population are a serious public health issue, developmental psychologists and feminist theorists (among others) have sought to enlarge the research agenda from the more narrow focus on risk reduction to a broader goal of promoting adolescent sexual health (Russell, 2005; Welsh, Rostosky, & Kawaguchi, 2000). Drawing on ecological developmental theories, researchers have proposed multidimensional models of healthy sexuality that include, at the level of the individual, the development of a positive sexual self-view or sexual self-concept (Tolman, Striepe, & Harmon, 2003). To date, however, only a handful of empirical studies (reviewed below) have examined adolescent sexual self-concept as a potentially important factor in promoting adolescent sexual health.

Sexual self-concept is considered a multidimensional construct that refers to an individual's positive and negative perceptions and feelings about him- or herself as a sexual being. As with other dimensions of self-concept, the development and consolidation of one's sexual self-concept is considered an important developmental task of adolescence (Chilman, 1983; Gagnon & Simon, 1973; Longmore, 1998). Despite its developmental significance, however, only a handful of published studies have focused on assessing adolescents' sexual self-concepts and determining associations between adolescents' sexual self-concepts and sexual behaviors and experiences (Breakwell & Millward, 1997; Impett & Tolman, 2006; O'Sullivan, Meyer-Bahlburg, & McKeague, 2006; Winter, 1988).

Breakwell and Millward (1997) surveyed a sample of 474 adolescents who were 16-19 years old and found that sexual assertiveness or sexual agency (the sole dimension of female adolescent sexual self-concept that emerged in factor analyses) was associated with female adolescents' reports of higher numbers of partners and more frequent condom use. In the male adolescents, however, sexual self-concept was unrelated to these sexual risk-taking behaviors. Impett and Tolman (2006), using a modified unidimensional measure of sexual self-concept (Winter, 1988) with a sample of 116 late adolescent girls, found that sexual self-concept was associated with more sexual experience (including coital frequency) and sexual satisfaction. Sexual self-concept was not, however, associated with greater numbers of partners or earlier coital debut.

Finally, O'Sullivan et al. (2006) developed and validated a sexual self-concept inventory specifically for ethnically diverse early adolescent girls. In this study, sexual self-concept was composed of three factors, sexual arousability, sexual agency, and negative sexual affect, each of which was associated with reports of romantic and sexual experiences. Higher scores on the first factor were significantly associated with girls' reports of having a boyfriend, having been in love, kissing, fondling, and coitus; higher scores on the sexual agency factor were associated with reports of kissing and fondling experiences. Girls who reported higher levels of negative sexual affect (anxiety, self-monitoring) were significantly less likely to report these sexual experiences.

In sum, relatively little empirical work has been directed toward creating valid multidimentional measures of sexual self-concept in adolescence. Existing measures are either unidimensional (Breakwell & Millward, 1997; Winter, 1988) or focus solely on girls' sexual self-concept (O'Sullivan et al., 2006). Despite some limitations, the few studies that have used these measures have consistently found that sexual self-concept is significantly associated with sexual experiences and sexual behaviors.

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