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Research

Sexual Esteem

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Many women with disabilities experience problems with body image and sexual esteem.

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A study of women with visible mobility impairments revealed that women who were older at onset of disability reported higher levels of positive sexual self-esteem than did women with early onset of disabilities.

Another study showed that sexual self-esteem predicted sexual adjustment above and beyond cognitive adaptive constructs such as optimism, self-esteem, and internally based personal control.

In a focus group study, many participants said that their physical impairment made them feel that their bodies were physically and sexually unattractive, but some felt comfortable with their appearance and did not desire to hide their disability or to be able-bodied.

Feedback from the environment, such as difficulty finding a sexual partner, was found to be a powerful mediator of body esteem. In other words, those unable to attract a partner would have lower body esteem, which includes feelings of physical attractiveness, sexual attractiveness to self and others, comfort with one's body, and comparison with a "normal" body.

Study participants preferred bodies without disabilities, but without necessarily believing that bodies with disabilities were unattractive. Body dissatisfaction stemmed more from functional limitations and pain than altered appearance.