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.
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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.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2003 Emerging Adulthood Conference, Boston, MA.
Doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include body image, sexuality, and gender in adolescence and emerging adulthood.
Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She received her PhD in developmental psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include sexuality, interpersonal relationships, and gender role development during adolescence and emerging adulthood.
Doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include gender, adolescent development, and family relationships
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Gillen, M.M., Lefkowitz, E.S. & Shearer, C.L. Does Body Image Play a Role in Risky Sexual Behavior and Attitudes?. J Youth Adolescence 35, 230–242 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-005-9005-6