advertisement

The Sexual Self-Perceptions of Young Women Experiencing Abuse in Dating Relationships

Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Nov, 2004 by Alia Offman, Kimberly Matheson

How we learn to think of ourselves as sexual beings is greatly influenced by our experiences in dating relationships (Paul & White, 1990). Indeed, intimate relationships are highly valued by young adults because they can provide companionship, intimacy, support, and status. However, they also can become a source of emotional and/or physical pain, particularly when the relationship is abusive (Kuffel & Katz, 2002). When the bonds of trust, care, and affection are broken through abusive interactions, the partner experiencing the abuse may develop feelings of inferiority and worthlessness (Ferraro & Johnson, 1983). Although these developments are not surprising in long-running abusive relationships, little is known about the impact of abuse in women's dating relationships. In a recent survey of senior high school students (ages 16-20), Jackson, Cram, and Seymour (2000) found that 81.5% of their female participants reported an experience of emotional abuse in their dating relationships, 17.5% reported having had at least one experience of physical violence, and 76.9% reported incidents of unwanted sexual activity. Unfortunately, these all too common negative experiences likely set the foundation for women's sexual self-perceptions, as for many young women they represented the women's first forays into the exploration of their sexuality.

Women's Sexual Self-Definitions

Often young women's sexuality is explored not as primary, but rather as a secondary desire, that is, as a response to men's sexuality (Hird & Jackson, 2001). The tendency for women to define their sexuality within the context of the intimate relationship, or as secondary to that of their male partners, means that the quality of interpersonal functioning within the relationship may directly serve to strengthen or undermine women's sexual self-perceptions. Thus, an intimate relationship characterized by abuse and a lack of mutual respect might be expected to impact women's sexual self-perceptions negatively.


 


The research on women's sexual self-perceptions is sparse, and studies of sexual self-perceptions in relation to experiences of abuse are even fewer. Most notable is the work of Andersen and Cyranowski (1994), who focused on women's cognitive representations of the sexual aspects of the self. They found that women's sexual self-schema contained both positive and negative aspects. Women with more positive sexual schema tended to view themselves as romantic or passionate and as open to sexual relationship experiences. Conversely, women whose schema contained more negative aspects tended to view their sexuality with embarrassment. Andersen and Cyranowski suggested that schematic representations are not simply summaries of past sexual history; schemas are manifest in current interactions, and they guide future behaviors as well. The present study was designed to assess the positive and negative dimensions of young women's sexual self-perceptions, particularly as a function of the extent to which their current relationships are characterized by abusive interactions.

How we learn to think of ourselves as sexual beings is greatly influenced by our experiences in dating relationships.The Effects of Abuse on Women

Violence in an intimate relationship can take many forms including physical assault, psychological aggression, and sexual coercion (Kuffel & Katz, 2002). Much of the research that has assessed the impacts of abuse in dating relationships has focused on physical violence (Jackson et al., 2000; Neufeld, McNamara, & Ertl, 1999). However, the adverse messages that experiences of psychological abuse convey can also impact woman's emotional health and well-being (Katz, Arias, & Beach, 2000), and they may even outweigh the immediate effects of overt physical violence (Neufeld et al., 1999). The presence of sexual violence may also interact with physical abuse to undermine well-being (Bennice, Resick, Mechanic, & Astin, 2003). Much of the research in this respect has focused on the effects of date rape (Kuffel & Katz, 2002).

Currently, there is lack of understanding of how different experiences of abuse (i.e., physical, psychological, and sexual) within dating relationships impact young women's sense of self, including the development of sexual self-perceptions. However, some understanding of the potential impacts might be gleaned from research conducted to assess the sexual perceptions of women in abusive marital relationships. For example, Apt and Hurlbert (1993) noted that women who were experiencing abuse in their marriages expressed higher levels of sexual dissatisfaction, more negative attitudes toward sex, and a stronger tendency to avoid sex than did women who were not experiencing abuse. The psychological sequelae of abuse (e.g., depression) may further reduce a woman's sexual desire, and hence her sense of herself as a sexual being. In addition, physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse within the intimate relationship can create feelings of inferiority and worthlessness in women (Woods, 1999), and feelings of security may be replaced by a sense of powerlessness within the relationship (Bartoi, Kinder, & Tomianovic, 2000). To the extent that abuse undermines a woman's sense of control, she may learn that she should not express her own sexual needs, desires, and limits. Although these impacts were identified in the context of marital relationships, it is likely that they would be evident at earlier stages of a relationship, particularly among young women who often lack voice or sometimes even knowledge of what they do or do not want in a dating relationship (Patton & Mannison, 1995). Even more disturbing is the possibility that women who are experiencing sexual violence may view such experiences as their own fault, and thus internalize the responsibility for the violence (Bennice et al., 2003). Unfortunately, such internalization may again be more likely among young women in the early stages of their relationships, particularly if they begin to define abusive incidents as normal.

Women experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships might demonstrate a change in sexual self-perceptions in the form of lower levels of sexual satisfaction (Siegel, Golding, Stein, Burnam, & Sorenson, 1990). Such changes may be most evident during times of upheaval and instability. Indeed, Rao, Hammen, and Daley (1999) found that young people's vulnerability to developing negative self-perceptions in general (e.g., depressive affect) increased during the transition from high school to college, as they coped with the insecurities that emanate from developmental challenges. Given that one of the most frequently identified buffers against the impacts of stressful events is a secure social support system (Cohen, Gottlieb, & Underwood, 2000), young women who undergo transitional life events in the context of an abusive intimate relationship may be particularly vulnerable to feelings of relationship insecurity and negative self-perceptions. Further, although Rao et al. (1999) noted that these negative feelings dissipated over time, to the extent that women's abusive relationships continue, their negative sexual self-perceptions may continue to be evident.


This Study

The purpose of this study was to assess the relations between experiences of abuse in dating relationships and young women's sexual self-perceptions. Of particular interest were women's self-perceptions over the course of their first year at university. This study was designed to examine the following hypotheses:

1. Women who experienced abuse in their current dating relationships were expected to have more negative, and less positive, sexual self-perceptions than women had not experienced abuse.

2. Women's negative sexual self-perceptions were expected to be most evident at the beginning of the academic year (transitional phase) and to dissipate over the course of the year. However, among women in abusive relationships, the reduction of negative self-perceptions over time may not be as evident.

3. Although depressive symptoms and reduced self-esteem were expected to be associated with more negative and less positive sexual self-perceptions, it was hypothesized that even after controlling for these relations, current involvement in abusive relationships would be directly related to women's sexual self-perceptions.

METHOD

Participants

At the outset of the study, the participants were 108 women who ranged in age from 18 to 26 years (M = 19.43, SD = 1.49). All of the women invited to participate had indicated in a prior mass-testing forum that they were currently in heterosexual relationships. Participants' length of involvement in an intimate relationship ranged from a few weeks to 5 years (M = 19.04 months, SD = 13.07). Approximately 38% of participants withdrew before the final session of the study, which left a total of 78 women at the second measurement time, and 66 women in the third phase. A series of t tests revealed no significant differences between women who withdrew and those who continued in the study in terms of their initial levels of satisfaction with the amount of time spent with their partners, satisfaction with the quality of time spent together, or age. Although we could not determine whether those women who did not continue had terminated their relationships, at the second measurement time, only eight of the women reported having ended their relationships, and all of them had been in nonabusive relationships. A further five women in nonabusive relationships, and four who had been abused, had ended their relationships by the final measurement phase. All of these women were included in all of the analyses. None of the women had commenced a new serious relationship prior to the completion of the study.


 


Of those women who reported their ethnic or racial status, the majority were White (n = 77, 77.8%). The visible minority women self-identified as Hispanic (n = 6), Asian (n = 5), Black (n = 5), Arabic (n = 4), and Native Canadian (n = 2). Of those women who were not in abusive relationships, 82.6% were White, whereas only 66.7% of the abused women were White. The reason why a higher proportion of minority women indicated involvement in abusive relationships is unknown. Although it may stem from social circumstances that leave minority women more vulnerable to abusive relationships, it is also possible that the styles of conflict resolution defined as abusive are culture-bound, either in practice or in terms of reporting biases (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002).

Although the focus of this study was on the ongoing effects of current date abuse, the possibility of past experiences of abuse must also be considered. To this end, the women completed a Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire (Kubany et al., 2000). A minority (n = 16, 29.6%) of the women in nonabusive relationships reported past traumatic experiences of assault, including threats to their lives (n = 5), assault from a stranger (n = 4), or past intimate partner (n = 4), or child physical abuse (n = 4). Of the 21 women in abusive relationships who completed this measure, 52.4% reported past traumatic experiences of assault, including childhood physical assault (n = 6), previous partner abuse (n = 5), their lives being threatened (n = 3), and being stalked (n = 2). In several instances, women reported more than one of these experiences. Thus, as noted in previous research (Banyard, Arnold, & Smith, 2000), the effects of current abuse cannot be entirely isolated from the effects of previous traumatic experiences of assault.

Procedure

Female first-year university students involved in heterosexual dating relationships were selected on the basis of a premeasure of relationship status that was administered in over 50 first year seminar classes in a variety of disciplines. Participants were informed that the study consisted of completing questionnaires at three times during the academic year. The first session was in October/November, the second in January (midyear), and the final session was in March (just prior to final exams).

All three sessions were conducted in small group settings. As incentives, participants were informed of their eligibility to receive course credit for their time (if they were in the introductory psychology course), as well as their inclusion in a draw for $100 that was held at the end of each week of data collection during the second and third phases of the study (7 weeks total). Informed consent was obtained in each phase. The initial questionnaire package included a measure of sexual self-perceptions, the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale, the Beck Depression Inventory, and the State Self-Esteem Scale. A Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire was included in the second phase. Only the sexual self-perceptions scale was administered in all three phases (imbedded among other measures, some of which were not relevant to this study). Participants were debriefed in the final phase of the study.


Measures

Sexual Self-Perceptions

A sexual self-perceptions scale was compiled for this study by writing some original items and selecting others from a variety of scales that covered different areas of women's sexuality. Sixteen items were taken from a measure of sexual attitudes (Hendrick, Hendrick, Slapion-Foote, & Foote, 1985), three items were taken from a measure of sexual awareness and control (Snell, Fisher, & Miller, 1991), and a further 12 items were created to assess perceptions of sexual interactions with partners. The 31 items about how they perceived their own sexuality were rated on a scale that ranged from -2 (disagree strongly) to +2 (agree strongly).

A principal components analysis was conducted to assess the factor structure of this scale. On the basis of a scree plot, three factors were identified that explained 39.7% of the total variance; the factors were then subjected to a varimax rotation. The subscales, which were based on factor loadings greater than .40 (see Table I), included an index of negative sexual self-perceptions (Factor I) with 12 items (e.g., "Sometimes I'm ashamed of my sexuality") and a positive sexual self-perceptions factor (Factor II) with nine items (e.g., "I consider myself a very sexual person"). Mean responses were calculated for each of the negative and positive sexual perceptions subscales (r = -.02, ns), and these demonstrated high internal consistency (Cronbach's [alpha]s = .84, and .82, respectively). The third factor (Factor III) included five items that appeared to concern perceptions of power (e.g., "I think good sex gives one a feeling of power"). However, not only did this factor explain less variability (6.3%) in the factor structure than the others did, its internal consistency was also less satisfactory (Cronbach's [alpha] = .59). Thus, this factor was not analyzed further.


 


Abuse

We administered the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS-2; Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996), which represents a commonly used measure to assess the presence or absence of abuse within an intimate relationship. Of particular interest were responses to the items that assessed the tactics women's partners used to resolve conflicts within the past month. The tactics that involved physical assault, psychological aggression, and sexual coercion were used to establish the presence or absence of abuse targeted at women in their intimate relationships. Responses were made on a 6-point scale that ranged from 0 (never) to 5 (more than 10 times in the past month). Internal consistencies for the physical assault (Cronbach's [alpha] = .89) and psychological aggression (Cronbach's [alpha] = .86) subscales were high. Although the inter-item consistency for sexual coercion was lower (Cronbach's [alpha] = .54), similar consistency has been found in other samples (e.g., Kuffel & Katz, 2002). Because reports for the past month (rather than the past year) were solicited, responses of even one occurrence of physical assault or sexual coercion were considered to constitute abuse. Within the past month, 10.2% (n = 11) of the women reported having experienced physical assault, whereas 17.6% (n = 19) reported having experienced sexual coercion from their current partners. The most common form of abuse was psychological aggression; 25.9% (n = 28) of the women scored 3 or greater (i.e., at least three to five instances within the past month). Though this cutoff score of 3 or greater for defining psychological abuse is necessarily arbitrary, we viewed it as a relatively conservative criterion that maximized the likelihood that aggressive acts (e.g., my partner shouted at me) were considered in the context of broader conflict (Kuffel & Katz, 2002). Moreover, the mean number of events that constituted psychological aggression reported by women whom we categorized as being in a psychologically abusive relationship (M = 8.27, SD = 5.69) was not considerably different from the number of such events reported by women who self-defined their relationships as psychologically abusive in Pipes and LeBov-Keeler's (1997) study (however, due to differences in scaling, a direct comparison of the means could not be made). In many instances, the women who experienced physical abuse also reported psychological abuse, r = .69, p < .001. Thus, women in the present study were categorized as being in an abusive relationship if they indicated any instances of physical assault, or if they scored 3 or greater on the psychological aggressiveness subscale. On the basis of these criteria, 31 (28.7%) of the women were identified as currently involved in an abusive relationship, whereas 77 women were not in an abusive relationship. Sexual coercion also tended to co-occur with the other forms of abuse: sexual and psychological subscales, r = .44, p < .01; sexual and physical abuse, r = .27, p < .01. However, given the specific interest in sexual self-perceptions, the effects of the presence or absence of such coercion were examined separately.

Self-Esteem

The State Self-Esteem Scale (Heatherton & Polivy, 1991) is a 20-item measure that is sensitive to changes across time and situations. Responses are made on a 5-point rating scale that ranges from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely true of me) to indicate the extent to which women believed that each statement applied to them at that moment. Mean responses were calculated, such that higher scores represent greater self-esteem (Cronbach's [alpha] = .91)

Depression

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a commonly used self-report measure of subclinical depressive symptomatology. We used the 13-item version (Beck & Beck, 1972) due to its brevity and demonstrated validity. This 13-item inventory uses a 4-point scale, such that responses of 0 indicate a lack of symptomatology and responses of 3 indicate high depressive symptomatology. Responses were summed, and scores could range from 0 to 39.

Trauma History

The Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire (Kubany et al., 2000) is a 23-item self-report questionnaire that assesses exposure to a broad spectrum of potentially traumatic events. Events are described in behaviorally descriptive terms (consistent with the DSM-IV stressor criterion A1). Participants report the frequency with which each event occurred by indicating the number of incidences on a 7-point scale from 0 (never) to 6 (more than five times). When events are endorsed, respondents indicate whether they experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror (the PTSD stressor criterion A2 in the DSM-IV). Trauma history is defined in relation to four discrete categories: shock event (e.g., car accident), death of a loved one, trauma to other (e.g., witnessing assault), and assault. Scores can be determined by summing the frequencies associated with each traumatic event that participants also reported as causing fear, help-lessness, and/or horror (Breslau, Chilcoat, Kessler, & Davis, 1999). Of particular interest in the present study were events involving past assault, which included childhood physical or sexual abuse, physical assault, spousal assault, rape, being stalked, or having one's life threatened.


RESULTS

To test whether abuse was associated with women's negative or positive sexual self-perceptions, 3 (time of measurement) X 2 (abused or not) mixed measures analyses of covariance were conducted, with length of time women had been in their current relationships as the covariate. Abuse was either defined by the presence or absence of physical/psychological abuse or by the presence or absence of sexual coercion.

The length of time women had been in their relationships represented a significant covariate in relation to negative sexual self-perceptions, F(1, 63) = 6.05, p < .05, [[eta].sup.2] = .088, in that, on the whole, the longer women were in their current relationships, the lower their negative sexual self-perceptions. A significant main effect for physical/psychological abuse was also evident, F(1, 63) = 11.63, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .156, such that experiencing abuse was associated with more negative sexual self-perceptions (see Table II). Neither time of measurement, F(2, 126) = 1.81, ns, [[eta].sup.2] = .036, nor the interaction between time and physical/psychological abuse, F < 1, was significant.

When the effects of the presence or absence of sexual coercion on negative sexual self-perceptions were examined, there was a significant main effect for coercion, F(1, 63) = 11.56, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .155, as well as a significant interaction between coercion and time of measure, F(2, 126) = 10.36, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .141. Simple effects analyses indicated that changes of negative sexual self-perceptions occurred among women who reported having experienced sexual coercion, F(2, 18) = 4.96, p < .05, but not among women whose relationships did not involve coercion, F < 1. As seen in Table II, women who experienced sexual coercion from their partners reported more negative self-perceptions overall than did women in nonabusive relationships, but these negative perceptions were attenuated somewhat by the middle of the academic year, and then remained stable.


 


Analyses of women's positive sexual self-perceptions indicated that the length of time women had been in their current relationships was not a significant covariate, F < 1. Moreover, neither the presence or absence of physical/psychological abuse or sexual coercion affected women's positive sexual self-perceptions, nor did these perceptions change significantly over the course of the year (see Table II). Thus, it appears that the primary effect of abuse in women's dating relationships was more negative self-perceptions.

As seen in Table II, women who reported having experienced abuse showed greater depressive symptomatology, F(1, 104) = 11.62, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .100, and lower levels of self-esteem, F(1, 104) = 14.12, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .120, than women who had not experienced abuse. Similarly, the presence of sexual coercion in women's relationships was associated with greater depressive symptomatology, F(1, 104) = 4.99, p < .05, [[eta].sup.2] = .046, and lower levels of self-esteem, F(1, 104) = 4.13, p < .05, [[eta].sup.2] = .038, than was evident among women who did not report sexual coercion.

To assess whether the negative sexual self-perceptions held by women in abusive dating relationships were an artifact of the greater depressive affect and reduced self-esteem of these women, a hierarchical regression analysis was conducted in which negative sexual self-perceptions at Time 1 were regressed onto length of time in the relationship on the first step, depressive affect and self-esteem scores on the second step, followed by the presence or absence of psychological/physical abuse and sexual coercion. As expected, greater depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem were both related to more negative sexual self-perceptions, [R.sup.2] = .279, F(2, 101) = 20.35, p < .001, although only depressive symptomatology accounted for unique variance (see Table III). After these variables were controlled for, abusive experiences explained an additional 13.9% of the variance in negative sexual self-perceptions, F(2, 99) = 12.40, p < .001. As seen in Table III, these findings suggest that experiences of sexual coercion especially, and physical/psychological abuse as well, had a direct relation to women's negative sexual self-perceptions, irrespective of depressive affect.

DISCUSSION

Although developing an intimate relationship is often a challenging experience, it can be more so when combined with experiences of abuse (Dimmitt, 1995; Varia & Abidin, 1999). In accordance with past research (Apt & Hurlbert, 1993; Bartoi et al., 2000; Bartoi & Kinder, 1998; McCarthy, 1998), experiences of physical or psychological abuse or sexual coercion were found to be related to women's sexual self-perceptions, in that women who had experienced abuse in their dating relationships reported more negative sexual self-perceptions than did women who were not abused. It should be noted, however, that many of the women who were in abusive relationships had experienced prior abuse or assault, a finding that is not unusual (Banyard et al., 2000; Pipes & LeBov-Keeler, 1997). It may be that prior abuse set in motion a cascade of changes related to belief systems, and perceptions of self and others, that increased the likelihood of subsequently encountering abuse (Banyard et al., 2000). Thus, given the high correspondence between current and previous experiences, these factors could not be separated, and so some caution is merited regarding the impact of current dating abuse.

Negative sexual self-perceptions among women experiencing sexual coercion in their relationships were particularly marked the outset of the study, which represented a transitional phase in these young women's lives. Women who were in abusive relationships not only lacked a key source of social support, namely that of their intimate partners, but in fact likely experienced their intimate relationships as an additional source of stress. Thus, when the stress associated with the transition to university was superimposed upon this backdrop of abuse, women's distress may have been exacerbated. This may have had the effect of undermining women's self-perceptions (Rao et al., 1999). However, given the correlational nature of this study, it may have been that women who already had negative self-perceptions were particularly vulnerable during this transition time. In line with this, women's negative self-perceptions were found to be associated with reduced self-esteem and more depressive symptoms. It is also possible, however, that within this new environment, women who were abused may become aware of how other intimate relationships compared to their own. This relative comparison might serve to increase negative sexual self-perceptions if the women question their own self-worth. Alternatively, given that the exaggerated negative sexual self-perceptions at the outset of the academic year were evident only among women who reported having experienced sexual coercion, as opposed to psychological or physical abuse, it is possible that the sexual dynamics within the relationship may have altered during this period. For example, partners may have been more neglectful in light of perceiving an increased number of alternative relationships, or conversely, may have been more coercive if they perceived a threat due to potential alternatives available for the women. As the year progressed, women and/or their partners may have readapted and their relationships stabilized (for better or worse). Hence, the women's negative sexual self-perceptions attenuated somewhat over time, although they continued to be more negative than those of women in nonabusive relationships. This interpretation is clearly speculative, and it requires a closer examination of the ongoing sexual dynamics within intimate relationships that involve coercion.


It is interesting that experiences of abuse were not associated with women's positive perceptions of their sexuality. It is possible that this reflects a lack of sensitivity of our measure of positive perceptions. Indeed, an important next step may validate our positive and negative sexual self-perceptions against other measures that make this distinction. Assessing the relations between the current measure of sexual self-perceptions with the positive and negative sexual schemas defined by Andersen and Cyranowski (1994) might be particularly interesting for both psychometric and theoretical reasons. As schemas are internalized representations that serve to filter incoming information and guide behaviors, it is important to determine the degree to which the sexual self-perceptions of women in abusive relationships are incorporated into these relatively stable schematic structures. Integration of these beliefs into women's self-schema may have implications for women's well-being not only within their current relationships, but as well for their interactions in future relationships. The finding that positive perceptions appeared to be resistant to abuse, and were independent of women's negative sexual self-perceptions, suggests that women seem to be able to compartmentalize different aspects of their intimate relationships (Apt, Hurlbert, Pierce, & White, 1996) as well as distinguish between aspects of their sexual self-perceptions. This may be encouraging, in that, if women exit these relationships, their positive self-perceptions may provide a basis for establishing healthier relationships with more supportive partners. However, in the present study we did not assess the longer term effects of abuse on sexual self-perceptions either within women's current relationships or upon the termination of their relationships.

Consistent with previous research, women who experienced abuse in their dating relationships also reported reduced self-esteem (Jezl, Molidor, & Wright, 1996; Katz et al., 2000) and more depressive symptoms (Migeot & Lester, 1996). Thus, women's more negative sexual self-perceptions might have been a by-product of their feelings of general negative affect. Depressive affect or low self-esteem might result in the suppression of women's sexual desire or generalize to their self-perceptions in the sexual domain. Indeed, self-esteem and depressive symptoms were associated with more negative sexual self-perceptions. However, when esteem and depressive symptomatology were controlled for, women's experiences of abuse continued to have a direct relation to their more negative self-perceptions. This finding is consistent with those of others who have noted that the lack of intimacy and compatibility within the intimate relationship may impact sexual self-perceptions (Apt & Hurlbert, 1993). Moreover, the presence of abuse may promote a woman's perception of her sexuality as secondary to her partner's (Hird & Jackson, 2001) and reduce the importance of her own needs and her ability to voice those needs (Patton & Mannison, 1995).


 


It ought to be noted that the generalizability of the results of this study may be limited by its focus on university women. For example, these women may have a relative wealth of resources to rely on (e.g., postsecondary education, a highly social day-to-day milieu), all of which may affect their responses within the intimate relationship and, in turn, their sexual self-perceptions. Future researchers in the area of young women's experiences of date abuse should select a stratified sample of young women, both in and out of educational settings.

Table I. Items and Factor Loadings for Sexual Self-Perception Scale

Factor loading

Item I II III
4. I think sex is a good way to resolve a fight. .45    
5. I have sex without a condom if my partner doesn't like them, even if I want to use one. .61    
6. I think creating sexual desire in someone is one of the best ways to keep that person. .70    
9. I may initiate sex because I enjoy it.   .67  
11. I avoid talking about sex with my partner.   -.64  
13. Talking about sex with my partner is fun.   .68  
23. I let my partner know if I want him to touch me sexually.   .69  
26. I put my mouth on my partner's genitals if he wants me to, even if I don't want to. .63    
27. I may initiate sex just to get it over with. .57    
28. If I say no, I won't let me partner touch me, even if he pressures me. -.53    
30. I have sex with my partner when he wants me to even if I don't want to. .74    
From Hendrick et al. (1985)      
1. Sometimes I am ashamed of my sexuality. .65    
3. I could live quite well without sex.   -.60  
7. I think sex is mostly a game between males and females. .61    
8. I believe it is possible to enjoy sex with a person and not like that person very much. .48    
10. I feel it is all right to pressure someone into having sex. .48    
12. I feel sex gets better as a relationship progresses.   .50  
14. I feel a sexual encounter between two people deeply in love is the ultimate human interaction.     .64
16. I feel, at its best, sex seems to be the merging of two souls.     .54
19. I think sex is primarily the taking of pleasure from another person.     .52
22. I believe sex is fundamentally good.   .64  
24. I think good sex gives one a feeling of power.     .67
25. I think sex has nothing to do with power.     -.49
From Snell et al. (1991)      
15. I am in control of the sexual aspects of my life. -.72    
21. I'm the type of person who insists on having my sexual needs met.   .45  
29. I consider myself a very sexual person.   .74  

Table II. Means and Standard Deviations for Negative and Positive Sexual Self-Perceptions over Time and Depressive Affect and Self-Esteem

  Physical/psychological abuse Sexual coercion
Absent Present Absent Present
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD

Negative
Perceptions

Time 1 -1.50 (a) .45 -.99 (b) .91 -1.50 (a) .41 -1.59 (b) 1.09
Time 2 -1.56 (a) .41 -1.15 (b) .78 -1.50 (a) .49 -1.11 (c) .80
Time 3 -1.54 (a) .39 -1.15 (b) .77 -1.47 (a) .49 -.97 (b,c) .72

Positive
Perceptions

Time 1 1.06 .61 .90 .65 .96 .63 1.18 .59
Time 2 .94 .62 .84 .64 .90 .65 .95 .47
Time 3 1.08 .52 .86 .62 1.00 .59 1.05 .41
Depressive affect 4.32 3.54 7.53 6.02 3.97 2.55 7.39 6.62
Self-esteem 2.64 .58 2.15 .66 2.55 .62 2.22 .68

Note. Means are adjusted for length of time in relationship. Means that do not share superscripts differ at p < .05.

Table III. Regression Analysis to Assess Relations Between Negative Sexual Self-Perceptions and Abuse After Controlling for Length of Time in Relationship and General Negative Affect

  Pearson r B [R.sub.change.sup.2]
Step 1     .029
Length of time -.17 -.16*  
Step 2     .279***
Self-esteem -.35*** -.02  
Depressive symptoms .53*** .37***  
Step 3     .139***
Physical/psychological .35*** .24**  
Sexual coercion .42*** .31***  

Note. Although the proportion of variance explained is the contribution made at each step of the hierarchical regression, the standardized regression coefficients represent final step weights. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We greatly appreciate the contributions made by Irina Goldenberg, Alexandra Fiocco, and Alla Skomorovsky. This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.


 


next: Sexual Healing After Sexual Abuse


SOURCES:

Andersen, B., & Cyranowski, J. (1994). Women's sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1079-1100.

Apt, C., & Hurlbert, D. (1993). The sexuality of women in physically abusive marriages: A comparative study. Journal of Family Violence, 8, 57-69.

Apt, C., Hurlbert, D., Pierce, A., & White, C. (1996). Relationship satisfaction, sexual characteristics and the psychosocial well-being of women. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 5, 195-210.

Banyard, V. L., Arnold, S., & Smith, J. (2000). Childhood sexual abuse and dating experiences of undergraduate women. Child Maltreatment, 5, 39-48.

Bartoi, M., & Kinder, B. (1998). Effects of child and adult sexual abuse on adult sexuality. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 24, 75-90.

Bartoi, M., Kinder, B., & Tomianovic, D. (2000). Interaction effects of emotional status and sexual abuse on adult sexuality. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26, 1-23.

Beck, A., & Beck, R. (1972). Screening depressed patients in family practice: A rapid technique. Postgraduate Medicine, 52, 81-85.

Bennice, J., Resick, P., Mechanic, M., & Astin, M. (2003). The relative effects of intimate partner physical and sexual violence on posttraumatic stress disorder symptomatology. Violence and Victims, 18, 87-94.

Breslau, N., Chilcoat, H. D., Kessler, R. C., & Davis, G. C. (1999). Previous exposure to trauma and PTSD effects of subsequent trauma: Results from the Detroit area survey of trauma. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 902-907.


 


Cohen, S., Gottlieb, B. H., & Underwood, L. G. (2000). Social relationships and health. In S. Cohen & L. G. Underwood (Eds.), Social support measurement and intervention: A guide for health and social scientists (pp. 3-25). London: Oxford University Press.

Dimmitt, J. (1995). Self-concept and woman abuse: A rural and cultural perspective. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 16, 567-581.

Ferraro, K., & Johnson, J. (1983). How women experience battering: The process of victimization. Social Problems, 30, 325-339.

Heatherton, T., & Polivy, J. (1991). Development and validation of a scale for measuring self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 895-910.

Hendrick, S., Hendrick, C., Slapion-Foote, M., & Foote, F. (1985). Gender differences in sexual attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1630-1642.

Hird, M., & Jackson, S. (2001). Where "angels" and "wusses" fear to tread: Sexual coercion in adolescent dating relationships. Journal of Sociology, 37, 27-43.

Jackson, S., Cram, F., & Seymour, F. (2000). Violence and sexual coercion in high school students' dating relationships. Journal of Family Violence, 15, 23-36..

Jezl, D., Molidor, C., & Wright, T. (1996). Physical, sexual and psychological abuse in high school dating relationships: Prevalence rates and self-esteem. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 13, 69-87.

Katz, J., Arias, I., & Beach, R. (2000). Psychological abuse, selfesteem, and women's dating relationship outcomes: A comparison of the self-verification and self-enhancement perspectives. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 349-357.

Kubany, E., Leisen, M., Kaplan, A., Watson, S., Haynes, S., Owens, J., et al. (2000). Development and preliminary validation of a brief broad-spectrum measure of trauma exposure: The Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire. Psychological Assessment, 12, 210-224.

Kuffel, S., & Katz, J. (2002). Preventing physical, psychological, and sexual aggression in college dating relationships. Journal of Primary Prevention, 22, 361-374..

McCarthy, B. (1998). Commentary: Effects of sexual trauma on adult sexuality. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 24, 91-92.

Migeot, M., & Lester, D. (1996). Psychological abuse in dating, locus of control, depression, and suicidal preoccupation. Psychological Reports, 79, 682.

Neufeld, J., McNamara, J., & Ertl, M. (1999). Incidence and prevalence of dating partner abuse and its relationship to dating practices. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 125-137.

Patton, W., & Mannison, M. (1995). Sexual coercion in high school dating. Sex Roles, 33, 447-457.

Paul, E., & White, K. (1990). The development of intimate relationships in late adolescence. Adolescence, 25, 375-400.

Pipes, R., & LeBov-Keeler, K. (1997). Psychological abuse among college women in exclusive heterosexual dating relationships. Sex Roles, 36, 585-603.

Rao, U., Hammen, C., & Daley, S. (1999). Continuity of depression during transition to adulthood: A 5-year longitudinal study of young women. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 908-915.

Siegel, J., Golding, J., Stein, J., Burnam, A., & Sorenson, J. (1990). Reactions to sexual assault: A community study. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5, 229-246.

Snell, W. E., Fisher, T. D., & Miller, R. S. (1991). Development of the Sexual Awareness Questionnaire: Components, reliability and validity. Annals of Sex Research, 4, 65-92.

Straus, M., Hamby, S., Boney-McCoy, S., & Sugarman, D. (1996). The Revised Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS2): Development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 283-316.

Varia, R., & Abidin, R. (1999). The minimizing style: Perceptions of psychological abuse and quality of past and current relationships. Child Abuse and Neglect, 23, 1041-1055.

Watts, C., & Zimmerman, C. (2002). Violence against women: Global scope and magnitude. Lancet, 359, 1232-1237.

Woods, S. (1999). Normative beliefs regarding the maintenance of intimate relationships among abused and nonabused women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 479-491.

Alia Offman (1,2) and Kimberly Matheson (1)

(1) Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

next: Sexual Healing After Sexual Abuse

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2004, November 1). The Sexual Self-Perceptions of Young Women Experiencing Abuse in Dating Relationships, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/sex/abuse/the-sexual-self-perceptions-of-young-women-experiencing-abuse-in-dating-relationships

Last Updated: May 2, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

advertisement