Sexual Health
Laboratory

Sophie Bergeron  Ph.D

SCOUP News

Did you know that childhood sexual abuse is related to lower sexual self-efficacy in adolescents and that survivors tendencies to silence their self in romantic relationships may play a role?

Sexual self-efficacy, which is defined by the belief in one’s ability to engage in desired and to refuse unwanted sexual activities and handle a sexual context appropriately, is an important aspect of adolescents’ development. Poor sexual self-efficacy may place adolescents at risk for negative sexual experiences, pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Even if we know childhood sexual abuse may affect adolescents’ sexuality, how it may affect adolescents’ sexual self-efficacy remains understudied.

One of our recent study looked at the negative effects of child sexual abuse severity on sexual self-efficacy in adolescence. In this study, we wanted to know if silencing the self attitudes in romantic relationship – the tendencies to inhibit their needs – could explain the association between child sexual abuse severity and adolescent sexual self-efficacy.

This study is part of a larger research project in which 1078 adolescents were recruited for a longitudinal study in which child sexual abuse was measured at Time 1, silencing the self 6 months later and sexual self-efficacy one year and a half later.

What did we find?

The major finding is that silencing the self attitudes and behaviors in intimate relationships played a mediational role in the negative association between child sexual abuse severity and sexual self-efficacy in adolescents. Thus, the tendencies of child sexual abuse survivors to silence what they want or need in their romantic relationships is related to their difficulties to be confident in their ability to be assertive in sexual situations.

Trauma theories can help understand these associations as child sexual abuse may hinder the appropriate development of victims’ construction of self. Prevention and intervention programs that target the enhancement of an integrated sense of self in intimate relationships may help to promote assertive strategies in sexual situations.

For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:

Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Bergeron, S., Blais, M., & Hébert, M. (2019). Longitudinal associations between childhood sexual abuse, silencing the self, and sexual self-efficacy in adolescents. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2125-2135. doi: 10.1007/s10508-019-01494-z

Did you know that relational and sexual satisfaction relates to perceived lack of control over pornography use?

A recent study conducted by Marie-Ève Daspe, Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel, and Yvan Lussier, members of the SCOUP team, examined the associations between the frequency of pornography use, perceived lack of control over pornography use, and relationship and sexual satisfaction.

A total of 1 036 participants aged between 18 and 55 and involved in a romantic relationship completed online questionnaires about pornography use and relationship functioning.

What were the results?

We found that frequency of pornography use is associated with perceived lack of control over pornography use (i.e., difficulty controlling a strong urge, even in inappropriate moments, and trouble stopping or decreasing this behavior). Participants who reported a higher frequency of pornography use reported a greater feeling of losing control over this behavior.

Our results also showed that the frequency of pornography use and perceived lack of control are more strongly associated when relationship and sexual satisfaction are low than when relationship and sexual satisfaction are high.

These findings suggest that relationship and sexual dissatisfaction puts the individuals at risk of having a sense of loss of control over their use of pornography. This could be explained by a use of pornography as a means to cope with distress and negative emotions triggered by this dissatisfaction.

For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:

Daspe, M.-È., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Lussier, Y., Sabourin, S., & Ferron, A. (2018). When pornography use feels out of control: The moderation effect of relationship and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(4), 343-353. doi: 10.1080/0092623X.2017.1405301

Do you know the impact that Facebook use can have on your relationship?

Two recent studies by Marie-Ève Daspe, Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel, and Yvan Lussier, members of the SCOUP team, examined associations between Facebook use, Facebook jealousy and intimate partner violence perpetration among adolescents and young adults.

In the first study, 1 508 adolescents and young adults involved in a romantic relationship completed online questionnaires to assess Facebook use, Facebook jealousy–triggered by content related to partner–and intimate partner violence perpetration.

In the second study, 46 couples aged between 14 and 25 completed questionnaires to examine associations between Facebook jealousy and intimate partner violence perpetration from a dyadic perspective, using data from both romantic partners.

What did we find?

Our results showed that a greater Facebook use is associated with more Facebook jealousy, which in turn is associated with intimate partner violence perpetration.

We however found that Facebook jealousy is linked to intimate partner violence perpetration only when both partners show high levels of Facebook jealousy. This could lead to more heated arguments that escalate into violent behaviors.

Our results suggest that Facebook jealousy is a risk factor for intimate partner violence perpetration, particularly in couples in which both partners are prone to experience jealousy. Our findings highlight the importance of sensitizing youth about their use of social media and their potential impact on romantic relationships.

For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:

Daspe, M.-È., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Lussier, Y., & Sabourin, S. (2018). Facebook use, Facebook jealousy, and intimate partner violence perpetration. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(9), 549-555.

Did you know that mindfulness decreases the severity of depressive symptoms for adults seeking sex therapy who have experienced childhood cumulative trauma?

An ongoing study conducted by the Trauma and Couple Research and Intervention Unit (TRACE) led by Natacha Godbout focuses on the realities of adults who consult graduate interns in clinical sexology, in various settings through the province of Quebec. This article explored the role of mindfulness and dissociative symptoms, in the link uniting the accumulation of interpersonal trauma in childhood and depressive symptoms in adulthood.

A total of 234 adults who consulted an intern in clinical sexology for sexual and/or relational difficulties completed questionnaires at the beginning of their therapeutic process which assessed their experiences of childhood trauma, mindfulness disposition, dissociative and depressive symptoms.

What were the results?

We found a strong link between experiences of childhood cumulative trauma and depressive symptoms in adulthood, where victims of cumulative trauma reported more depressive symptoms than non-victims. On the other hand, results showed that the higher dissociative symptoms and lower disposition toward mindfulness in victims of cumulative trauma both acted as mechanisms explaining their increased levels of depressive symptoms. Thus, mindfulness seems to be a key variable to reduce depressive symptoms.

Overall, our findings suggest that focusing on mindfulness could reduce depressive symptoms in clients seeking treatment for sexual and/or relational difficulties, particularly survivors of childhood cumulative trauma.

If you would like to know more about this study, we invite you to read the full paper:

Bolduc, R., Bigras, N., Daspe, M. È., Hébert, M., & Godbout, N. (2018). Childhood cumulative trauma and depressive symptoms in adulthood: The role of mindfulness and dissociation. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1594-1603.

Did you know that early exposure to violence is related to later relationship violence and satisfaction?

A recent study conducted by Natacha Godbout and Marie-Ève Daspe, members of the SCOUP team, examined the associations between early exposure to violence, perpetration of relationship violence, and relationship satisfaction. These associations were examined during the critical time of adolescence/emerging adulthood were individuals form their first understanding of romantic relationships.

This study began at Time 1 with 1,252 adolescents who completed surveys concerning exposure to family violence, attachment, perpetrated relationship violence and relationship satisfaction. At Time 2, three years later, 234 participants completed a follow up survey.

What were the results?

We found that early exposure to family violence predicts later relationship violence both directly and indirectly. Indeed, participants who had been exposed to violence reported increased fear of abandonment, which in turn, was associated with relationship violence. Our results also highlighted that becoming more avoidant of intimacy was associated with experiencing more relationship distress.

Our findings suggest that the experience of early violence is an important factor to consider when dealing with relationship violence. Findings also support the importance of addressing attachment insecurities like fear of abandonment and avoidance of intimacy, in order to help young adults live more satisfying, violence free romantic relationships.

If you would like to know more about this study, we invite you to read the full paper:

Godbout, N., Daspe, M.-È., Lussier, Y., Sabourin, S., Dutton, D., & Hébert, M. (2017). Early exposure to violence, relationship violence, and relationship satisfaction in adolescents and emerging adults: The role of romantic attachment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(2), 127-137. Epub 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000136

Did you know that gender affects how parental maltreatment in childhood contributes to the development of borderline personality-related symptoms?

A recent study conducted by Natacha Godbout and Marie-Ève Daspe, members of the SCOUP team, in collaboration with the University of Victoria, examined childhood maltreatment caused by father and mother figures, and the presence of insecure attachment (fear of abandonment and avoidance of intimacy) as they predict symptoms related to borderline personality (BPRS).

We worked with 954 adult participants who completed surveys regarding parental maltreatment during childhood, attachment security, and trauma-related symptoms

What were the results?

We found differences in how maltreatment caused by the father or mother figure affect men and women. Both sources of maltreatment were directly associated with BPRS in women, whereas in men, only maltreatment from the father figure was directly related to BPRS. In women, maltreatment from the father figure was indirectly associated with BPRS for women who display fear of abandonment but not for those who display avoidance of intimacy. In men, maltreatment from the mother figure was indirectly associated with BPRS for those who display fear of abandonment but not for those who display avoidance of intimacy.

Our findings suggest that father-to-daughter and mother-to-son maltreatment are predictors of symptoms related to borderline personality, through the development of insecure attachment. These results highlight the importance of providing therapeutic interventions that are trauma- and attachment-focused, as well as gender-sensitive, for patients suffering from borderline symptoms.

If you would like to know more about this study, we invite you to read the full paper:

Godbout, N., Daspe, M.-E., Runtz, M., Cyr, G., et Briere, J. (2019). Childhood maltreatment, attachment, and borderline personality-related symptoms: Gender-specific structural equation models. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 11(1), 90-98. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000403

Did you know that blame affects couples in fertility treatment?

A recent study conducted in the Couples and Relationships Research Lab, led by Katherine Péloquin, have examined the role of self and partner blaming to explain psychological and relationship adjustment in couples presenting a fertility problem. This study used a dyadic approach to explore the links between blaming oneself and one’s partner and their symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as couple satisfaction. A total of 279 couples with fertility problems were recruited by their gynaecologist at their first visit in two fertility clinics in Montreal, and were questioned about the extent to which they blamed themselves and their partner for the couple’s fertility problems.

What did we find?

Feeling responsible: The results show blaming oneself for the couple's fertility problems is associated with more symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as lower relationship satisfaction.

In addition, when women feel responsible for the fertility problems, their partner also reports more depressive and anxious symptoms.

Blaming the partner: Women's tendency to blame their partner was associated with their own higher depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as to their lower relationship satisfaction. Moreover, when women blamed their partner, he also reported lower relationship satisfaction.

For more details, we invite you to consult the full article:

Péloquin, K., Brassard, A., Arpin, V., Sabourin, S., & Wright, J. (2018). Whose’ fault is it? Blame predicting psychological adjustment and couple satisfaction in couples seeking fertility treatment. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 39(1), 64-72. doi:10.1080/0167482X.2017.1289369

A new group intervention for couples in fertility treatment would be effective for reducing infertility-related stress.

A recent study conducted in Katherine Péloquin’s Couples and Relationships Research Lab, in collaboration with Audrey Brassard, has investigated the effectiveness of a group intervention for couples in fertility treatment. We wanted to know if a psychological intervention offered in a group format would reduce the negative impacts of fertility treatments in these couples, would reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms, and would increase these couples’ quality of life. In order to achieve this goal, 29 couples completed questionnaires about the psychological, relational and sexual consequences of fertility treatment before and after the group intervention.

What did we find?

This research supports the preliminary efficacy of the intervention...

• To reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression,
• To increase the quality of life, and
• To strengthen the relationship of men and women participating in the group.

We are continuing our work to establish the effectiveness of this new intervention!

For more details, we invite you to consult the full article:

Arpin, V., Brassard, A., El Amiri, S. & Péloquin, K. (2019): Testing a New Group Intervention for Couples Seeking Fertility Treatment: Acceptability and Proof of Concept, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2018.1526836

Did you know that attachment is related to sexual functioning in couples seeking fertility treatment?

It is now recognized that sexual difficulties are common in the context of infertility, but factors related to these difficulties remain unknown. Research conducted in Katherine Péloquin's lab looked at sexual difficulties in women and couples involved in fertility treatment. More specifically, this research examined the links between attachment insecurities (attachment-related anxiety and avoidance) among couples and their sexual functioning (sexual problems and sexual dissatisfaction). To do this, 88 women and 45 couples in fertility treatment completed questionnaires on attachment and adult sexual functioning (desire, arousal, erection, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and sexual pain).

What did we find?

We found that just over half of women would experience sexual difficulties (e.g, low desire, difficulty with arousal, dissatisfaction) during fertility treatment, whereas over one quarter of men experience these difficulties.

Our results also show that attachment insecurity is related to sexual functions in men and women. In fact, avoidance of intimacy in women (discomfort with intimacy and emotional distance) is associated with more sexual dissatisfaction and pain during sex. In men, anxiety over abandonment (doubts as to one’s personal value and fear of being rejected by the partner) is linked to erectile difficulties and difficulties in reaching orgasm, whereas avoidance of intimacy is linked to difficulties in achieving orgasm for their female partner.

For more details, we invite you to consult the full article:

Purcell-Lévesque, C., Brassard, A., Carranza-Mamane, B., & Péloquin, K. (2019). Attachment and sexual functioning in women and men seeking fertility treatment. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 40(3), 202-210. https://doi.org/10.1080/0167482X.2018.1471462.

Did you know that intimacy difficulties may be a factor explaining the associations between childhood maltreatment and higher sexual and couple dissatisfaction?

Childhood maltreatment, which includes all form of abuse and neglect such as physical, psychological, and sexual, affects an important proportion of the population, with around 40% of adults who report at least one type of maltreatment in childhood. In adulthood, childhood maltreatment may affect the functioning of couple relationships in several ways and many studies showed that childhood maltreatment is associated with lower couple and sexual satisfaction.

A recent study conducted in our laboratory looked at what may explain the link between childhood maltreatment and the development of couple and sexual dissatisfaction. In this study, we wanted to know if difficulties in some components of intimacy could explain the association between childhood maltreatment and couple and sexual satisfaction.

To answer this question, we recruited 365 couples in the community for a longitudinal study in which childhood maltreatment and intimacy were measured at time 1 and couple and sexual satisfaction 6 months later.

What did we find?

Our results confirm findings of past studies, whereby childhood maltreatment is not associated with the victim’s capacity to disclose to a romantic partner in terms of quantity of disclosures.

What is interesting is that victims perceived their partner to be less disclosing and less empathically responsive. We also found that it is this effect on the perception of the partner’s empathic response that explains the couple and sexual dissatisfaction 6 months later.

Our results suggest using couple interventions specifically targeting intimacy, but especially the partner’s empathic responses, to improve the romantic relationships of childhood maltreatment survivors.

For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:

Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Rellini, A. H., Godbout, N., Sabourin, S., & Bergeron, S. (2019). Intimacy mediates the relation between maltreatment in childhood and sexual and relationship satisfaction in Adulthood: A dyadic longitudinal analysis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(3), 803-814. doi: 10.1007/s10508-018-1309-1

Do you know the risks of disclosing a child sexual abuse to a romantic partner?

What happens to a couple after the disclosure of a sexual abuse to a partner?

The denunciation movements of recent years have raised questions among many couples. What happens to couples where one partner reveals a history of sexual abuse? Researchers from the SCOUP team have recently looked into this issue, more specifically when the disclosure concerns a sexual abuse experienced during childhood. We aimed to document the responses received from the partner during the unveiling of a sexual abuse during childhood, as perceived by the survivor, as well as to examine the associations between these responses and the sexual and relationship satisfaction of both partners. To do this, we sent online questionnaires to 70 couples in the general population, in which one of them had experienced this trauma, and had revealed it to their spouse.

What did we find?

We found that most partners' responses were perceived by the survivors as being supportive, that is, they showed emotional support (94.3%) or tangible help (67.1%). A minority of survivors had perceived harmful responses, such as stigmatization (41.4%) and blame (14.3%). However, we noted that for half of the survivors, the supportive responses were accompanied by blame responses and/or stigmatization.

In addition, analyzes revealed that emotional support responses, as perceived by the survivor, were associated with greater sexual satisfaction for both partners, whereas stigmatizing responses were associated with lower relationship satisfaction for both partners.

These results suggest that survivors can receive both supportive and harmful responses from their partners. Emotional support seems to have a positive impact on the sexual satisfaction of both partners, while stigma has a negative impact on their relationship satisfaction. Hence, supportive responses are beneficial not only for the survivors having disclosed a sexual abuse experience, but also for their partners.

For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:

de Montigny Gauthier, L., Vaillancourt-Morel, M.P., Rellini, A., Godbout, N., Charbonneau-Lefebvre, V., Desjardins, F., & Bergeron, S. (2018). The risks of telling: A dyadic perspective on romantic partners’ responses to child sexual abuse disclosures and their associations with sexual and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12345

Is it always problematic to use online pornography?

Even if the effects of using Internet pornography use are still debated, it is a common sexual activity for an increasing number of individuals. Does pornography use a problematic sexual activity for everybody? A recent study, conducted by researchers from the SCOUP team, examined if different profiles of pornography use emerge. The profiles were created using three dimensions of a problematic pornography use: (1) compulsivity toward pornography, (2) intensity of efforts to access pornography, and (3) associated emotional distress. Our researchers also examined the associations between these obtained profiles and the pornography viewing time as well as various indicators of sexual well-being. To answer the research questions, a convenience sample of 830 adults was recruited to complete online questionnaires.

What did we find?

Results suggest the three following profiles: (1) the recreational profile, presenting low scores on the three dimensions of problematic pornography use and including 75% of the sample, (2) the highly distressed noncompulsive profile, reporting high scores on the emotional distress, and including 13% of the sample, and (3) the compulsive profile, reporting high scores on compulsivity and efforts to access pornography and including 12% of the sample. Only individuals in the compulsive profile report using pornography significantly more often than the individuals in the two other profiles. Individuals in the recreational profile do not report negative effects on their sexual well-being whereas individuals in the highly distressed noncompulsive profile and those in the compulsive profile report negative effects on many indicators of their sexual well-being.
These profiles highlight that pornography use is not problematic for most users, but that it can become problematic for one quarter of individuals while being associated with negative effects on sexual well-being.

For more details, we invite you to read the full paper:

Vaillancourt-Morel, M.-P., Blais-Lecours, S., Labadie, C., Bergeron, S., Sabourin, S., & Godbout, N. (2017). Profiles of cyberpornography use and sexual well-being in adults. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14, 78-85. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.10.016


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