Sexuality & Couples

Sophie Bergeron  Ph.D


Did you know that people who experienced childhood neglect tend to develop identity difficulties, which in turn are associated with sexual concerns and dysfunctional sexual behaviors?

A growing body of research suggests that childhood neglect is associated with a range of psychological and interpersonal difficulties in adulthood including insecure attachment style, difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships, loneliness, social isolation and low self-esteem. However, we know little about how victims navigate their sexuality. A recent study by Noémie Bigras, a postdoctoral fellow and Myriam Bosisio, Ph.D student in our lab and colleagues from the team SCOUP, examined the associations between childhood neglect, identity impairment and sexual disturbances in adulthood paying particular attention to the potential mediating role of identity difficulties in the relationship between childhood neglect and sexual disturbances. Moreover, since child sexual abuse has frequently been found to be associated with sexual difficulties, we controlled for this type of interpersonal trauma and hypothesized that childhood neglect (CN) would contribute, above and beyond child sexual abuse (CSA), to sexual disturbances.

To do so, 374 adults from the community were recruited and answered online questionnaires about their childhood, psychological adjustment and sexual and relational functioning.

What did we find?

Childhood neglect was more prevalent in our sample than what is generally found in previous research. Main analyses revealed that childhood neglect was associated with more identity impairment, which in turn, was associated with greater sexual concerns and dysfunctional sexual behaviors. The association between childhood neglect and sexuality was significant above and beyond the presence of CSA, showing that not only sexual traumas were associated with impaired sexuality in adulthood. As sexual behaviors and affects are likely to be influenced by relationship status, we controlled for its effect. As expected based on previous studies, results showed that being single was associated with more dysfunctional sexual behaviors.

Results highlight the relevance of addressing identity difficulties in people who experienced childhood neglect and are struggling with sexual difficulties. The results also suggest the importance of investigating not only the presence of sexual trauma, but also a history of neglect when people have sexual problems. Fostering a greater sense of self in therapy could help men and women to more easily recognize their sexual preferences and boundaries, claim their right for sexual pleasure, gain enough confidence to communicate their sexual needs and interests and potentially diminishing the presence of sexual disturbances.

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

Bigras, N., Bosisio, M., Daspe, M.-E., & Godbout, N. (2020). Who am I and what do I need? Identity difficulties as a mechanism of the link between childhood neglect and adult sexual disturbances. International Journal of Sexual Health. Preprint.

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