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Sexual Objectification Experiences of Sexual Minority Women

Esther Tebbe, MS

University of Florida

Award Year: 2012

Initial Abstract

Sexual objectification experiences are linked with a range of risk factors and health concerns for women, including body image problems, disordered eating, and depression (APA Task Force, 2010). While much of the existing sexual objectification literature reflects heterosexual women’s experiences, there is some evidence of the distinctiveness of sexual minority women’s experiences. Specifically, sexual minority women’s sexual objectification experiences (a) appear to be related directly to health outcomes, in contrast to indirect relations for heterosexual women (Kozee & Tylka, 2006); (b) include more severe forms such as sexual harassment and assault (Balsam, Rothblum, & Beauchaine, 2005) and (c) may be shaped by the intersection of heterosexism, such as harassment for gender non-conforming appearance (observed with sexual minority men, Moradi & Wiseman, 2010) or heightened objectification of women’s same-sex behaviors (Yost & McCarthy, 2012). But, sexual minority women’s experiences have remained marginal in the broader literature on sexual objectification, prompting multiple calls to address this gap (e.g., Fischer, Bettendorf, & Wang, 2011; Moradi, 2010). This study responds to these calls with the specific objectives to (1) delineate the content of sexual objectification experiences for sexual minority women, (2) develop an assessment tool for use in research and practice and (3) investigate the links of these experiences with theoretically relevant risk factors and health outcomes. These objectives are achieved through a mixed methods research design comprised of two phases. In Phase 1, four to five focus groups (N = 32 to 40) will be conducted to investigate the content of sexual minority women’s sexual objectification experiences using grounded theory analyses. These data are used to develop a preliminary item pool for the measure of sexual minority women’s sexual objectification experiences. In Phase 2, data from a larger sample of sexual minority women (N = 400) will be gathered to evaluate the factor structure and reliability of the measure. Phase 2 data will also test the objectification theory-based hypotheses that sexual minority women’s reports of sexual objectification are correlated positively with body surveillance (H1), body shame (H2), depressive symptoms (H3), and eating disorder symptoms (H4); that body surveillance mediates the link of sexual objectification experiences with body shame (H5); and that body shame mediates the links of body surveillance with depressive symptoms (H6) and disordered eating (H7). Path analyses and bootstrap procedures will be used to test a model of these hypothesized relations and to compare full and partial mediation. The findings of this study can facilitate needed integration of sexual minority women’s experiences into theory, measurement, and research on objectification processes and their health consequences. This research also provides the measurement tools and preliminary data for proposals for federal funding to test the longitudinal relations posited in objectification theory and to extend this framework to other health outcomes implicated in objectification theory (e.g., substance use and sexual risk behaviors). This research program can help researchers, health care providers, and policy makers develop theoretically and empirically informed interventions that attend to the unique experiences of sexual minority women, and ultimately, better address the needs of this population.

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