A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior revealed that women with insecure attachment and women with higher pornography use are more likely to experience body image self-consciousness during sex. The findings also suggest that women who are anxiously attached and currently in a relationship are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of pornography use on body image.
Body image self-consciousness during sexual activity refers to a preoccupation with appearance concerns during sex. Studies suggest that the experience is harmful for sexual functioning, pleasure, and satisfaction. A research team led by Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan sought to explore how the interplay between attachment and pornography use might impact body image self-consciousness.
Attachment theory contends that a person’s intimate relationships in adulthood are in part a reflection of the early bonds they formed with caregivers during infancy. For example, inconsistent or unresponsive caregiving can pave the way for insecure attachment in adulthood. Gewirtz-Meydan and her colleagues say that pornography use has been associated with both attachment and body image concerns and proposed that pornography use might mediate the link between the two variables. People with insecure attachment might be more likely to use pornography to quell attachment concerns like fears of rejection or intimacy.
A sample of 1,001 Israeli women completed an online survey that assessed body image concerns during sexual encounters with items such as, “While having sex I am concerned that my hips and thighs will spread out and appear larger than they actually are.” Participants also completed a measure of attachment style that included two subscales. The anxious attachment scale assessed fear of rejection and need for approval from a partner, and the avoidant attachment scale assessed a fear of intimacy and avoidance of self-disclosure. Finally, the respondents indicated how often they had viewed pornography in the past six months. The women were between 18 and 56 years of age, 81% identified as heterosexual, and 62% were either in a relationship or married.
The results revealed that pornography use, anxious attachment, and avoidant attachment were all positively correlated with body image self-consciousness. These findings are in line with previous studies suggesting that insecure attachment can impact women’s body image. Unreliable caregiving in infancy can lead to fears of being abandoned or fears of intimacy which can then be carried into adulthood. These fears may surface during sexual encounters, manifesting as concern over bodily imperfections.
Interestingly, pornography use was positively linked to anxious attachment but not avoidant attachment. Furthermore, among women in relationships, pornography use mediated the link between anxious attachment (but not avoidant attachment) and body image self-consciousness. This suggests that the use of pornography can amplify attachment concerns among women with anxious attachment, awakening body image self-consciousness during sex.
Gewirtz-Meydan and her team point out that people with anxious attachment fear rejection from their partner which likely stirs feelings of jealousy. When viewing pornography, these individuals may be especially susceptible to internalizing the unrealistic beauty standards they see. One implication of the findings would be for therapists to consider the attachment history of patients who present with body image concerns since cultivating a secure attachment style might protect against body image issues.
The study authors note that longitudinal or experimental research will be needed to explore causality between variables. Additionally, studies involving both members of a couple would add insight into how body image self-consciousness is influenced by partner characteristics.
The study, “Attachment insecurities and body image self-consciousness among women: The mediating role of pornography use”, was authored by Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, Kimberly J. Mitchell, Zohar Spivak-Lavi, and Shane W. Kraus.