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Body Image and Sexual Functioning

Angela Weaver, my former doctoral student, and I have been researching the relationship between women's body image and their sexual functioning. So far, we have conducted three studies. In our first study, we examined the associations between various aspects of women’s sexual functioning and their body image, body mass index, and exercise levels. We found that body image was related to sexual functioning. Specifically, women with low situational body image dysphoria and low body image avoidance reported higher levels of sexual assertiveness and sexual self-esteem, and lower levels of sexual anxiety and fewer sexual problems. Further, body image uniquely predicted these areas of sexual functioning even after equating women on exercise levels and body mass index. However, contrary to past research, we found that body mass index and exercise were not associated with women's sexual functioning. This study was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Our second study expanded on this research by exploring socio-cultural  factors in the relationship between body image and sexual well-being among 149 heterosexual women who were in a romantic relationship. We found that women who believed that they do not match their male partner's ideal for their body reported poorer body image which, in turn, was associated with poorer sexual well-being. The results suggest that heterosexual women's beliefs about  how their partner views them are important to their sexual well-being. This study was published in the International Journal of Sexual Health.

Our third study involves a qualitative exploration of women's experiences of body image in the context of their relationship with male partners; there has been little reserach on women's experiences of body image within the interpersonal domain. This study involved conducting semi-structured interviews with 17 women. Preliminary thematic analysis revealed that women tend to report a mix of positive and negative body image experiences within their relationships. We are currently preparing a manuscript based on these data.

In a related study, my graduate student Kaitlyn Goldsmith along with my former Honours student Nicole Johnston are investigating the types of verbal and nonverbal of messages young adults have received about their appearance from their partners. We are also examining their perception of how these messages affect their body image and sexuality. We have one manuscript under review and another in preparation based on these data.

Here are our publications and recent presentations based on this work:

Weaver, A. D., & Byers, E. S. (2013). Eye of the beholder? Sociocultural factor in the body image and sexual well-being of heterosexual women. International Journal of Sexual Health, 25, 128-147. doi: 10.1080/19317611.2012.737446  

 Weaver, A. D., & Byers, E. S. (2006). The relationship between body image, body mass index, and exercise and heterosexual women’s sexual  functioning. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 333-339.

Goldsmith, K. M., & Byers, E. S. (2014, June). Do you think I look sexy? A qualitiatve exploration of messages from romantic partners. Poster presented at the meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Goldsmith, K. M., & Byers, E. S. (2014, October). Body image, sexual satisfaction, and the impact of partner messages on women. Poster presented at the meeting of the Canadian Sex Research Forum, Kingston, ON.

Goldsmith, K. M., & Byers, E. S. (2013, October). Sex, relationships, and body image: Exploring the impact of messages from romantic partners. Poster presented at the meeting of the Canadian Sex Research Forum, Charlottetown. 

Weaver, A. D., Byers, E. S., & Eatmon, J. (2012, June). Women's exerience of   body image in the context of sexual relationships with men: A qualitative study. Paper  presented at the Section on Women and Psychology, Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, N.S.



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