Identification of Nonconsensual Sexual Experiences and the Sexual Self-Schemas of Women: Implications for Sexual Functioning
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Many individuals who experience nonconsensual sexual experiences (NSEs) do not identify their experiences with common sexual violence labels (e.g., sexual assault, rape, or abuse), and cognitive mechanisms of identification have yet to be examined. Identification may involve the integration of the experience into sexual self-schemas, which would have implications for sexual well-being. Women were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (N = 818) to take part in an anonymous online study of sexual experiences. The current study assessed the relationship between textually derived sexual self-schemas and sexual function (measured by the Female Sexual Function Index) in women (M = 35.37 years, SD = 11.27) with NSEs who both did (identifiers, n = 305) and did not (non-identifiers, n = 176) identify with common sexual violence labels, in comparison with those with no NSEs (n = 337). Text analyses revealed nine sexual self-schema themes in participants’ essays: Virginity, Openness, Erotophilia, NSEs, Romantic, Sexual Activity, Warmth, Relationships, and Reflection. Analyses demonstrated that identifiers reported significantly poorer sexual functioning and less use of both the Warmth and Openness themes than those with no NSEs. Identifiers also invoked the NSE theme more frequently than both those with no NSE histories and non-identifiers. While greater prominence of the Warmth theme was predictive of greater sexual functioning for both non-identifiers and those with no NSEs, this was not true for identifiers. Instead, the NSE theme was significantly predictive of lower sexual functioning in identifiers. The results suggest that NSE identification may result in greater internalization of the NSE into one’s sexual self-schema and, in turn, predict decrements in sexual functioning. The results are discussed in relation to identification interpretation and clinical intervention.
KeywordsRape Sexual assault Sexual abuse Sexual self-schemas Sexual functioning
This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Funding Reference Number: 152269, awarded to Chelsea Kilimnik in May 2017).
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