Body Image and Appearance Impacted by Sexual Encounters

Body image as a result of a first sexual relationship is a common concern during adolescence. “The first time” could alter a boy/girl’s perception of their appearance and their body. The present study examines whether individuals experience any such changes and the extent of the change they experience. The time of the first sexual encounter — early or late adolescence — seems to play a role in the person’s satisfaction quotient on self-appearance. Also, the study estimates the differences in how men and women view themselves post-intercourse. The contribution of socio-cultural and ethnic background was also investigated.

In normal healthy adolescent development, it is common to see the association of sexual behavior with a sense of well-being and admiration for one’s own body. So, it is natural for boys/girls who feel good about their appearance to indulge in sexual activities. However, whether the reverse is true, if the first sexual intercourse has any negative psychological effect on perceiving appearance, has not been analyzed until this study. Intercourse is known to be the most intimate sexual relationship with deep psychological implications. The timing of this event during adolescence has an impact on subsequent self-perception. Women tend to be more dissatisfied and guilty about the first time they have sex as compared to men. As a result, being very conscious of their looks, the first sexual encounter can affect sexual interest and future satisfaction after a sexual encounter.

* The study population comprised first year college students who engaged in their first instance of penetrative sexual intercourse during the study period.
* The participants were asked to fill in assigned questionnaires at four times across four years at college to evaluate their measure of satisfaction with their appearance before and after the event.
* Information about the timing of the first intercourse and their ethnic background was also collected. Statistical processing of data aided psychological analysis.

* There was a significant difference in the adolescents’ perception of self-appearance following their first sexual intercourse. This varied between men and women. Prior to intercourse, women reported more satisfaction with their looks than men did. This trend was reversed in the transition after the first intercourse. Men recorded an increase while women recorded a decrease in their satisfaction values for appearance just after intercourse.
* The long-term results also changed, with women being more pleased with their appearance over time but still being dissatisfied with their first sexual encounter. The opposite was true of men. Men were more dissatisfied with their appearance over time, but they still reported a good first sexual encounter.
*  Men who were abstinent at the beginning of the study equated sexual competence in their first sexual encounter resulting in a better self-image. Abstinent women were generally dissatisfied with their first sexual encounter due to the negative connotations that are placed by society on sex outside marriage.

The study represents only average negative trends in the outcome of the first sexual intercourse in women. The study could not include data on early intercourse, that is prior to entering college because those people weren’t included. The immediate short-term consequences of the first sexual act were missed due to the large interval between the actual event and filling the survey. This study evaluated the effect of only penetrative sex whereas other behaviors like oral sex are seen to influence people’s perception of self-appearance also. So, it is significant to examine these aspects of sexual behavior to obtain a complete understanding of the psychological changes that occur.

Initially adolescent men may not feel too positive about their looks as they don’t feel complete without a sexual encounter. Men report greater levels of satisfaction about their appearance after their first sexual intercourse because they feel that their masculinity is authenticated. Social norms are the main standards by which girls judge their appearance as they begin to see themselves as adults. However, social stigma is again a cause for women to feel less satisfied, guiltier and more self-conscious after engaging in a sexual encounter. Sex education programs can be helpful in aiding healthy sexual development in girls. This research was critical to understating the link between body image and sexual behavior, the pertinence of the timing of the first sexual intercourse, and the regulation of sexual development at the psychological level for better overall health.

For More Information:
Body Image and First Sexual Intercourse in Late Adolescence
Publication Journal: Journal of Adolescence, 2011
By Sara A. Vasilenko; Nilam Ram; Pennsylvania State University

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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