Sexuality & Couples

Sophie Bergeron  Ph.D


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?

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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

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