SEM and Self-Esteem

The Influence of Sexually Explicit Material on Body Image and Self-Esteem – Kaylee Skoda & Cory L. Pedersen

Social Comparison Theory asserts that individuals compare themselves to others across multiple domains in efforts to better understand how they measure up (Morrison, Ellis, Morrison, Bearden, & Harriman, 2004; Morrison, Harriman, Morrison, Bearden, & Ellis, 2006). Indeed, previous research on the effects of exposure to idealized images in mainstream media has highlighted the negative influences that it has on body image and self-esteem (Agliata & Tantleff-Dunn, 2004; Hald & Malamuth, 2008; McCabe, Butler, & Watt, 2007). As access to pornographic and sexually explicit material (SEM) has become increasingly easier in recent years due to the rise of the internet (Hare, Gahagan, Jackson, & Steenbeek, 2014; Owens, Behun, Manning, & Reid, 2012), researchers have turned their attention to whether oversaturation to SEM images has had a similar influence on individuals’ perceptions of self. While evidence has indicated that the depiction of unattainable, unrealistic, and idealized body proportions in SEM media has been found to be negatively correlated with measures of global self-esteem (Lundin Kvalem, Traeen, Lewin, & Stulhofer, 2014; Moran & Lee, 2014; Morrison et al., 2006; Owens et al., 2012), no research has investigated other domain specific aspects of self-esteem or the effects of SEM on body image.

The purpose of this study was to replicate that exposure to SEM has an effect on global self-esteem, but to also evaluate whether SEM exposure influences body and genital esteem as well. Results from a 2 (gender) X 3 (condition; control, non-SEM media images, SEM images) randomized quasi-experimental design indicated that male participants in the SEM-exposure condition reported genital esteem relative to those in the control and non-SEM conditions, thought this difference did not reach statistical significance. However, female participants reported lowered levels on all measures relative to males, regardless of experimental condition.

Poster presented at the Western Psychological Association convention, Long Beach CA, 2016