Research on Body Image and Esteem Among CSA Survivors

Research has suggested that the body image or body esteem of women with CSA histories could account for the higher rates of sexual dysfunction reported by this group. Body esteem refers to cognitive and affective appraisals of one’s own body that are influenced by individual experiences and socialization. In the general population of women, higher body image is associated with better sexual function, and negative appraisals of the body during sexual activity negatively affect sexual function. We (Kilimnik & Meston, 2016) found women with abuse histories report lower overall body esteem than their non-abused peers, particularly for the sexual attractiveness element of body image. In the same study, we found abuse history moderated the relation between overall body esteem and sexual excitation (defined as brain processes related to approaching sexual stimuli), and that the sexual attractiveness element of body esteem explained the most variance in the sexual excitation of women with CSA histories. In other words, decreases in body esteem were associated with decreases in sexual excitation, but only for women with histories of CSA. We speculated that during CSA a child might learn to associate her body with the abuse, thereby leading to negative appraisals of her body that continue into adulthood and impair sexual function.

Recommended paper: 

Kilimnik, C. D., & Meston C. M. (2016) Role of body esteem in the sexual excitation and inhibition responses of women with and without a history of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Sexual Medicine13(11), 1718-1728. PDF (195 KB)