The Relationship Between Body Image and Domains of Sexual Functioning Among Heterosexual, Emerging Adult Women

Sex Med. 2016 Sep;4(3):e182-9. doi: 10.1016/j.esxm.2016.02.004. Epub 2016 Mar 29.


Introduction: Research suggests that body image affects sexual functioning, but the relationship between specific types of body image (evaluative, affective, and behavioral) and domains of sexual functioning (desire, arousal, and orgasm) has not been investigated.

Aim: To determine whether, and to what degree, body image concerns (evaluative, affective, and behavioral) influence aspects of women's sexual functioning (desire, arousal, and orgasm).

Methods: Eighty-eight sexually active women in heterosexual romantic relationships completed surveys assessing evaluative, affective, and behavioral body image and sexual functioning. Body composition data also were collected using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry.

Main outcome measures: Sexual functioning was assessed using the desire, arousal, and orgasm subscales of the Female Sexual Functioning Index.

Results: Hierarchical multiple regression analysis indicated that poor evaluative, affective, and behavioral body image were detrimental to women's sexual functioning. Specifically, dissatisfaction with one's body predicted decrements in desire (β = -0.31, P < .05) and arousal (β = -0.35, P < .01). Similarly, feeling that others evaluate one's body negatively predicted decrements in desire (β = 0.22, P < .05) and arousal (β = 0.35, P < .01). Feeling negatively about one's appearance predicted decrements in arousal (β = 0.26, P < .05). Negative thoughts and feelings about one's body during a sexual encounter (body image self-consciousness) predicted decrements in arousal (β = -0.37, P < .01) and orgasm (β = -0.25, P < .05).

Conclusion: Findings from this study suggest important linkages between body image and sexual functioning constructs and indicates that interventions to improve body image could have concomitant benefits related to sexual experience.

Keywords: Body Image; Sexual Functioning; Women's Sexual Health; Young Women.