Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Factors Affecting Sexual-Self Esteem among Young Adult Women in Long-Term Heterosexual Relationships

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Factors Affecting Sexual-Self Esteem among Young Adult Women in Long-Term Heterosexual Relationships

Article excerpt

Abstract: The topic of sexual self-esteem has been widely addressed in the literature on female sexuality but few studies have addressed the factors that facilitate or hinder women's sense of sexual-self-esteem. Based on previously reported definitions of sexual self-esteem, the present study employed semi-structured interviews with 17 women aged 24-39 years in long-term heterosexual relationships (5-20 years) to identify incidents and factors that had a negative or positive impact on their current levels of sexual self-esteem. Analysis of the interviews using Critical Incident Technique identified 301 incidents of which 131 facilitated and 170 hindered sexual self-esteem. The incidents were sorted into 31 categories (14 facilitating, 17 hindering) which in turn yielded six emergent themes that characterized sexual self-esteem in relation to: husbands, boyfriends, and other males; women's bodies; self-empowerment; damaging experiences and learning; interference of life stressors and sexual scripting; and the topic of sex and engagement in sexual activity. The findings indicate that women's sexual self-esteem is impacted by many bio-psychosocial factors that should be approached holistically in counselling, therapy and education.

Introduction

Self-esteem related to sexuality has been widely addressed in the literature and researchers have thereby given women some voice in constructing the meanings of their sexuality and sexual self-esteem (Andersen, 1999; Andersen & Cyranowski, 1995; Baumeister, 2000; Daniluk, 1993; Offman & Matheson, 2004; Potgieter & Khan, 2005; Shapiro & Schwarz, 1997). Sexual self-esteem, sometimes used interchangeably with sexual self-perception, has been defined as the "value that one places on oneself as a sexual being, including sexual identity and perceptions of sexual acceptability" (Mayers, Heller, & Heller, 2003, p. 207) or as "[one's] affective reactions to [their] subjective appraisals of [their] sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviours" (Zeanah & Schwarz, 1996; as cited in Oattes & Offman, 2007, p. 89). Issues affecting sexual self-esteem have often been alluded to in the literature but we still know too little about the factors that facilitate or hinder sexual self-esteem in women. The goal of the present study, therefore, was to identify and characterize such facilitating and hindering factors. The literature review that follows provides the background and rationale for doing so.

Although sexual self-esteem is related to the global concept of self-esteem as "an affectively laden self-evaluation" or "how a person feels about him- or herself" (Leary & MacDonald, 2003, p. 401), the current body of literature provides substantial evidence for the existence of sexual self-esteem as a unique concept (Breakwell & Millward, 1997; Mayers et al., 2003; Offman & Matheson, 2004; Potgieter & Khan, 2005; Shapiro & Schwarz, 1997). Research by Oattes and Offman (2007) suggests that while the concepts of global self-esteem and sexual self-esteem are linked, sexual self-esteem remains a distinct concept that may be a mediating factor for communication in intimate relationships. Within the current study, global self-esteem and sexual self-esteem are acknowledged to be related concepts with sexual self-esteem having unique characteristics.

Various approaches have been taken to the study sexual self-esteem in different populations. Mayers et al. (2003) studied the issue of damaged female sexual self-esteem, in order to identify the effects of negative life events on sexual self-esteem in both sexes. They found that an individual's vulnerability to negative events and the impact of such events varied depending upon the person. For some individuals, the impact of a negative event on sexual self-esteem can actually develop into a disability. Offman and Matheson (2004) also addressed the issue of negative events, such as physical or psychological abuse on women. …

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