Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 230–242 | Cite as

Does Body Image Play a Role in Risky Sexual Behavior and Attitudes?

  • Meghan M. GillenEmail author
  • Eva S. Lefkowitz
  • Cindy L. Shearer

Body image and sexuality, both physically-oriented domains of the self, are likely linked, but few studies have examined their associations. In the present investigation, we studied emerging adult undergraduates (ages 17–19), focusing specifically on risky sexual behaviors and attitudes. Participants (N=434) completed a survey on body image, lifetime sexual behavior, sexual double standard attitudes, and attitudes about condoms. Males who evaluated their appearance more positively and who were more oriented toward their appearance were more likely to report risky sexual behavior, yet females who evaluated their appearance more positively were less likely to report risky sexual behavior. For most sexual attitudes, patterns did not differ by gender. Individuals who were more oriented toward their appearance believed more in the sexual double standard, and those who had more positive evaluations of their appearance perceived fewer barriers to using condoms. Intervention implications are discussed.


body image risky sexual behavior risky sexual attitudes 



This research was supported by grant R01 HD 41720 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to Eva S. Lefkowitz. We gratefully acknowledge Tanya Boone, Graciela Espinosa-Hernandez, Shelley Hosterman, Eric Loken, Lisa Meyer, Kristie Patton, Lyndsey Sturm, and Amber Thompson for their help with study design, data scoring and entering, data cleaning, and statistical analyses. We also thank Susan McHale for her thoughtful comments on drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meghan M. Gillen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eva S. Lefkowitz
    • 2
  • Cindy L. Shearer
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkU.S.
  2. 2.The Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkU.S.

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