Psychology Faculty Research


Women's Experiences of Sexual Attention: A Cross-Sectional Study of U.S. University Students

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Publication Date

Fall 10-2-2014


This cross-sectional investigation of women's experiences of sexual attention examined the role of dispositional and situational variables in how women experienced sexual attention (as positive, negative, or neutral). Methods: Participants were 350U.S. college women recruited from undergraduate psychology courses. They completed questionnaires on objectified body consciousness, social physique anxiety, self-esteem, body esteem, and social desirability. A subset (N = 275) also reported retrospectively on experiences with sexual attention in 1 of 4 contexts: at a bar/club, at a gym, at school, or at work. It was hypothesized that the context where sexual attention occurs would be associated with how positive or negative the encounter was experienced. Results: The relationship between context and experience of sexual attention approached but did not achieve significance. When controlling for demographic variables and social desirability, self-esteem and body esteem were negatively associated with self-objectification and social physique anxiety. White women younger than the age of 25 with higher body mass index were most likely to engage in self-objectifying behaviors. Themes identified from responses to open-ended questions describe reasons for experiencing sexual attention to be uncomfortable or pleasurable. Conclusions: There is wide variability in women's experiences of sexual attention. Self-esteem and body esteem may protect against self-objectification. Future studies should examine how contextual factors influence women's experiences of sexual attention.

Publication Title

International Journal of Sexual Health





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