Date of Degree

10-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Margaret Rosario

Subject Categories

Psychology | Women's Studies

Keywords

female sexual desire, female sexuality, highly sexual women, sexual inhibition, sexuality and parental relationships, sexual self-concept

Abstract

Background: Psychoanalytic and sociocultural thinkers and researchers suggest that the etiology of low female sexual desire, the most prevalent sexual complaint in women, is multi-determined, implicating biological and psychological factors, including women's early relational experiences and sexual self-concept that stem from gender dynamics of a patriarchal culture. Further, recent studies indicate that highly sexual women exhibit heightened sexual desire, and high levels of sexual agency and sexual esteem. The study evaluated a model that hypothesized that sexual self-concept (sexual subjectivity, self-objectification, genital self-image) explains (i.e., mediates) the relations between internalized representations of parental relationships (attachment, separation/individuation, parental identification) and sexual desire in heterosexual women. Methods: Six hundred participants completed self-report questionnaires, assessing the above-mentioned variables. Subsequently, 20 women (10 with inhibited desire, 10 with heightened desire) were individually interviewed about their experiences of sexual desire to examine the differences in the phenomenology of female sexual desire between highly sexual and sexually inhibited women. Results: The results partially supported the hypotheses: internalized representations of parental relations (attachment and separation-individuation) significantly predicted sexual self-concept (sexual body esteem, self-objectification, genital self-image), which, in turn, was significantly related to sexual desire. Contrary to the study hypothesis, parental identification did not have a significant relationship with the construct of sexual self-concept. The narratives of highly sexual women embodied powerful and cherished experiences of bodily and relational desire, including a wish for merger, while those of the sexually inhibited women reflected negative affects and cognitions in a sexual context as well as a split between the bodily and the relational aspects of sexual desire. Conclusions: Current findings demonstrate the importance of investigating not only the sexually inhibited women but also the highly sexual women with a particular focus on women's internalized working models of early parent-child relations and their experiences of their bodies in a sexual context in understanding the origins of female sexual inhibition. Treatment of low or absent desire in women would benefit from modalities that emphasize early object relations as well as interventions that foster mind-body integration.

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