The effects of sexual abuse on body image, self-image, and sexual activity of women

J Gend Specif Med. 2000 Sep-Oct;3(6):54-60.


Objectives: To evaluate the differences between females who had been sexually abused and those who had not been sexually abused in body image, self-image, self-consciousness, and relationships; to determine the effect of sexual abuse on sexual intimacy and behavior; and to identify consequences of sexual abuse.

Methods: A sample of 1664 females (832 sexually abused and 832 not sexually abused) who responded to a survey in Shape magazine were strictly matched on age and body mass index.

Results: Females who had been sexually abused reported more body dissatisfaction and self-consciousness, less satisfaction with themselves and in relationships, and less comfort with having sex with the lights on and undressing in front of their sexual partner than females who had not been sexually abused. Additional consequences of sexual abuse included lack of control over the body, eating disorders, and sexual identity confusion. Females who had been sexually abused were less likely to use contraception regularly than those without a history of sexual abuse.

Discussion: Results are presented with respect to limitations of the study and suggestions for treatment interventions.

Conclusions: The impact of sexual abuse permeates all areas of survivors' lives. Clinicians have the opportunity to help their clients respond to the trauma of abuse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Body Image*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Self Concept*
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*