Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

The Certainty of the Sexual Self-Concept

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

The Certainty of the Sexual Self-Concept

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This study sought to examine how men and women perceive the sexual component of their self-concept and the certainty with which they hold those views. Replicating the results of a previous study, it was found that men perceived themselves as more sexually experienced, responsive, and deviant than women whereas there was a tendency for women to perceive themselves as more sexually attractive and romantic. In terms of certainty about one's self-concept, as predicted, women were more certain than men about their sexual attractiveness and the romantic component of their sexuality. Furthermore, the variables of erotophobia-erotophilia, self-reported sexual experience, and masculinity and femininity were related to people's perceptions and certainty of their sexual self-view. The findings have implications for understanding how individuals acquire, maintain and modify their sexual self-concept.

Key words: Sexual self-concept Correlates Certainty


Psychologists have long been interested in how individuals acquire a sense of self. This characteristic, referred to variously, in the literature as self-view, self-concept, self-knowledge, or self-schema (Andersen, Woods, & Cyranowski, 1994; Jones & Davis, 1965; Markus, 1977, Markus & Wurf, 1987; Pelham, 1991), is thought to both influence, and be influenced by, behaviour. Researchers in social cognition have therefore sought to understand how individuals process, interpret, and draw inferences from personal experience in acquiring their self-views.

Although one might expect that the dynamics involved in the development of a person's sexual self-view would be similar to those associated with development of self-view in other spheres of life, Garcia & Carrigan (1998) suggest that the area of sexuality may be problematic in this respect. For example, social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) proposes that we acquire knowledge about ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and most theories concerning the development of self-concept appear to be based on these more-or-less public transactions. The problem is that most people treat their sexual lives as a private matter and do not easily disclose to each other the more intimate details of their sexual attitudes and behaviours. In addition, the anxieties and emotions that can accompany sexual experiences and relationships may have made it difficult for many individuals to develop a sense of their sexual selves either by thinking about their own sexuality or acquiring self knowledge through interpersonal communication about their sexual experiences (Garcia & Carrigan, 1998).

Despite these potential impediments, some researchers have attempted to operationalize the concept of sexual self-view and to draw inferences about its influence on behaviour. Andersen et al. (1994) developed and employed a Sexual Self-Schema Scale to assess the relationship between this measure of self-view and sexual outcomes for women treated for gynaecologic cancer. They found that sexual self-schema had some utility in predicting women's risk for possible sexual side-effects of gynaecologic cancer treatment (e.g. reduced desire, arousal, and orgasm) and in explaining the outcomes.

More recently, Garcia & Carrigan (1998) examined the influence of gender differences in sexual self-knowledge. They found that men scored higher than women on self-perceived sexual experience, sexual deviancy, and sexual responsiveness while women scored higher than men on perceptions of themselves as sexually attractive and romantic. These differences closely parallel gender stereotypes and suggest, as anticipated, that women and men do indeed internalize conventional social expectations in their views of self. Similarly, masculinity scores for men were positively correlated with their self-ratings for sexual experience, sexual deviancy, and sexual responsiveness and femininity scores for women were positively correlated with their self-perceptions of being sexually attractive and romantic. …

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