Predictors of sexual satisfaction: the role of body image and fitness.

Author:Penhollow, Tina M.

A satisfying sex life is an important element of overall health and quality of life. The media plays an important role in shaping adolescents' physical appearance ideals and promoting a "perfect body" to the young as a means to achieve sexual success. The purpose of the study was to determine if a set of body image and fitness variables could be identified that would account for a significant amount of variation in sexual satisfaction.

Data were collected from a convenience sample of undergraduate students. Results indicated that body image and fitness variables were significant predictors of sexual satisfaction. These findings may have implications for those working to help individuals and couples enhance the quality of their sexual relationships.


Sexuality is an integral part of human existence and plays an important role in sustaining and improving quality of life and wellness for a large proportion of the population. A satisfying sex life is a critical element of overall health and happiness for many individuals, as sexuality plays a considerable role in intimate relationships and is an important aspect of overall emotional and physical health (Bridges, Lease, & Ellison, 2004 ). The National Commission on Adolescent Health states that a major developmental task of young adulthood is to achieve a healthy sense of sexuality, which includes positive feelings toward sexuality (sexual satisfaction) and encouraging mature, consensual relationships, while at the same time developing healthy sexual decision-making (Auslander, Rosenthal, Fortenberry, Biro, Bernstein, & Zimet, 2007; Haffner, 1995). Research exists on young adult sexual behaviors, however, a paucity of research has been conducted relative to sexual satisfaction within these sexual relationships.

Sexual satisfaction is defined as a multidimensional experience involving thoughts, feelings, personal and socio-cultural attitudes and beliefs, combined with biological factors (Gil, 2007). The sense of enjoyment with one's sexual life varies given that sexual satisfaction may be related to prior sexual experiences, current expectations, and future intentions. The literature reveals that the strongest predictors of sexual satisfaction include overall relationship satisfaction (Byers, Demmon, & Lawrance, 1998; Sprecher, 2002) , commitment, stability (Perrone & Worthington, 2001), marital quality (Young, Denny, Luquis, & Young, 1998; Young, Denny, Young, & Luquis, 2000), partner initiation, and communication (Bridges et al., 2004).

An area of study previously neglected in the research literature is the relationship between sexual satisfaction and body image for both males and females. Body image is defined as a multidimensional construct of the self, consisting of how individuals think, feel, and behave relative to their own physical attributes (Gil, 2007). In modern society, the body is considered a representation of oneself, and thus appearance allows for individual social meaning, such as young or old, ugly or beautiful. A person's body image is constructed throughout one's lifetime through interactions with processes taking place within one's own body and the outside world (Haavio-Mannila & Purhonen, 2001). Body image is created by society and determined by values and socio-cultural norms. The media plays an important role in shaping young adults' physical appearance ideals and promoting a "perfect body" to the young as a means to achieve sexual success.

Previous research has linked body image attitudes to self-esteem, interpersonal confidence, eating and exercise behaviors, grooming activities, sexual behaviors and experiences, and emotional stability (Auslander et al., 2007; Cash & Fleming, 2002; Russell, 2002; Weaver & Byers, 2006; Wiederman, 2000). A negative body image impacts an individual's entire sense of self and one's global self-evaluation. A number of studies have identified a negative relationship between body dissatisfaction and self-concept (Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001; Tiggemann & Williamson, 2000; Webster & Tiggemann, 2003). Individuals with higher body satisfaction have more frequent sexual experiences, engage in a wider range of sexual activities, feel more sexually desirable, and report fewer sexual difficulties than those with lower body satisfaction (Weaver & Byers, 2006). An investigation by Leopold (2003) revealed body image self-consciousness was a significant determinant of satisfaction with one's sex life among women. Those with a negative body image reported lower sexual satisfaction scores compared with women who reported a positive body image. Wiederman (2000) found that greater levels of body image self-consciousness during sexual intimacy were associated with lower sexual self-esteem and assertiveness, greater sexual avoidance and anxiety, and more restricted sexual experience among college women. A recent investigation by Holt and Lyness (2007) revealed a statistically significant positive relationship between body image and sexual satisfaction for both male and female college students. No significant differences were identified between males versus females, which supports the idea that body image concerns are not strictly a female problem.

Previous research on body image has predominantly focused on female participants, however, cultural ideals have been shown to shape individual body image among men as well. It has been suggested that body dissatisfaction in males is associated with feeling underweight rather than overweight (Blouin & Goldfield, 1995). For example, low self-esteem, depression, and overall body dissatisfaction have been shown to occur in males who are underweight. This relatively recent behavior pattern has been referred to as the "Adonis complex of attractiveness" as a result of increased efforts among males to build muscle and stay lean (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000). Agliata and Tantleff-Dunn (2004) indicated men exposed to advertisements which conveyed an ideal image of attractiveness and muscularity became significantly more depressed and had higher levels of muscle dissatisfaction compared to those exposed to neutral ads. It has been reported, similar to the standards set for women, the ideal male body of the new millennium is increasingly unattainable (Pope et al., 2000; Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, & Ahrens, 1992).

It has been well established that an active lifestyle decreases the risk of chronic diseases, however, exercise may also have implications for enhancing sexual health. An earlier investigation by Frauman (1982) found increased time spent participating in physical activity was significantly associated with a higher reported frequency of sexual behavior and frequency of desired sexual activity among college students. Penhollow and Young...

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