Body Appreciation & Protective Sexual Behaviors Among a Community-Based Sample of Women
Sexually transmitted infection (STIs) and unintended pregnancy in women are social problems with many consequences. Understanding the risk and protective factors for risky sexual behaviors that can lead to negative health outcomes can have far-reaching implications for the health and well-being of women. Negative body image is one of the factors researched as a predictor of risky sexual behaviors.
Using objectification theory and the strengths perspective as frameworks, the aim of this study is to explore the relationships between body appreciation, a measure of positive body image, and protective sexual behaviors among a community-based sample of adult women. This study adds to the literature in two ways. First, most of the existing literature focuses on body dissatisfaction. A change in focus to positive body image can begin to clarify relationships between women’s strengths and protecting against risky sexual behaviors. Second, the majority of previous studies on these relationships have been conducted with college-age women, whose experiences of body appreciation and sexual behavior may be different than community-based samples. Thus, this sample may provide important insight into an understudied population. Three hypotheses were tested in this study: Higher body appreciation will predict higher rates of current condom use; higher body appreciation will predict STI testing in the previous 12 months; and higher body appreciation will predict receiving a gynecological exam in the previous 12 months.
289 women completed a cross-sectional study conducted online. Measures include the 13-item Body Appreciation Scale (BAS), current condom use, STI testing in the previous 12 months, and gynecological exams in the previous 12 months. Control variables include sexual orientation, partner status, age, and body mass index (BMI). Descriptive statistics first determined the characteristics of the sample. Next, correlations and logistic regressions were run.
46% of the sample reported current condom use, 45% reported having an STI test in the previous 12 months, and 73% reported having a gynecological exam in the previous 12 months. The results of the logistic regressions, at a .10 significance level, found support for hypotheses 1 and 2, but not 3. For every one point increase in the BAS score, women were 1.44 times more likely to be currently using male condoms (OR = 1.441, p = .056) and 1.44 times more likely to have had an STI test in the previous 12 months (OR = 1.44, p = .057). The only significant finding predicting a gynecological exam in the previous 12 months was BMI (OR = .973, p = .060).
Body appreciation was related to engagement in protective sexual health behaviors in this sample of women. Objectification theory would suggest that women with higher body appreciation are able to buffer against sexual objectification and, thus, engage in protective sexual behaviors. Our results suggest that a strengths approach intervention to increase body appreciation among women may impact risky sexual behaviors, thereby possibly affecting rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies.