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Exploring the sexual self-schemas of adult female survivors of childhood incest

Cynthia M Baker, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a debilitating crime resulting in significant consequences to a survivor’s mind, body, and spirit. Although there is much awareness of, and a plethora of research regarding the sequelae of CSA for survivors, there is nonetheless a scarcity of research focusing on how this population constructs their sexual self-schemas and self-concepts, and subsequently, how they see themselves as a sexual being in adulthood. Whereas there is some explanation of sexual self-schemas for survivors of CSA, most of this research combines survivors of extrafamilial and intrafamilial (i.e., incest) CSA into one sexually abused group, typically comparing the findings with persons who have not experienced sexual abuse. This creates difficulty in determining the experiences of different types of survivors. For these reasons, the mental health community is limited in awareness of how to best assist survivors of incest who struggle with developing healthy sexual views of self and identity. To address this gap in the literature and provide practitioners with suggestions of therapeutic strategies when working with survivors of incest, the ambition of this dissertation was to identify the ways incest has influenced the trajectory of adult female survivors’ sexual self-schemas and views of one’s sexual self, using a narrative inquiry approach. The investigation included interviewing nine women who have survived childhood incest, as well as analyzed a picture each submitted that symbolized their current view of how they see themselves as a sexual being. The data was analyzed using a thematic coding approach, presented as a re-storying of each survivors’ experience, as well as in a cross-case analysis of the themes that present the unfolding process of one’s sexual self-schemas as it is threaded through the history of the participants’ abuse and sexual history experiences. The hope in conducting this study is that it may assist in developing further understanding of the survivors’ views of themselves as sexual beings, and assist with the development of theory and practice directions for clinicians, with the ultimate goal of learning how to best aid survivors with attaching a positive healthy meaning to sex and themselves.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Baker, Cynthia M, "Exploring the sexual self-schemas of adult female survivors of childhood incest" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3718702.