The Role Of Self Focus As A Function Of Siginficance In Sexual Dysfunction Introduction It is a popular belief that being physically attractive is of greater importance for women than for men in todays society, particularly in attracting the opposite sex. Several studies have found support for this difference in the context of dating and mate selection. In an early study, Strauss (1946) asked what traits would be most critical in a marriage partner and found that males rated physical attractiveness significantly higher than females did. Coombs and Kenkel (1966) asked a similar question about potential dating partners and found a similar gender difference. Harrison and Saeed (1977) examined a series of advertisements and found that females were more likely than males to emphasize their physical attractiveness. In a study conducted by Nevid (1984), subjects were asked to rate various physical, social, and personality characteristics in terms of their importance in determining choice of romantic partners.
The results of this study indicated that males placed greater importance on characteristics such as weight, body shape, and overall build, while females emphasized characteristics such as warmth, honesty, and fidelity. On the basis of this frame of reasoning, it can be appropriate to infer that women are socialized to believe that to be an adequate sex partner, they must conform to societal norms regarding physical attractiveness. As a result, women are continually faced with meeting the demands prescribed on them through society. They are expected to present themselves as attractive, appealing, sexy individuals. Accordingly, the low sexual esteem that may ensue from the pressures of conforming to the dictates of society among women is an often overlooked phenomenon It is abundantly clear that physical attractiveness among women serves a puissant element in sexual relationships. This emphasis on physical attributes continues as relationships become more solidified, and couples are married.
(Margolin and White, 1987). Contrary to the belief that the component of physical attractiveness declines in value through years of marriage, it has been demonstrated that this is clearly not the case. As marriages and spouses age, women may live with the increasing likelihood of comparisons and competition from women who are much younger than themselves (Margolin and White, 1987). Consequently, the relationship of physical attractiveness to marital sexuality and its immediate impact on cognitive processes serves as a vital component in amalgamating a synthesis for sexual dysfunction in women. Rationale Many factors have been identified in the development of sexual dysfunction, ranging from communication problems, sexual misinformation, deleterious relationships, and faulty learning processes.
The focus of this paper, however, is directed to an expansion of the original concept of spectatoring, proposed by Masters and Johnson (1970). Upon acquiring a basic level of comprehension on sexuality and its impact on relationships, I found myself speculating about plausible contributing factors to sexual problems between couples. In becoming more familiar with Masters and Johnsons (1970) work, I am motivated to unveil the affect of cognitive distractions (specifically, the impact of self-focus) on the level of satisfaction in sexual relationships. The Concept of Spectatoring Masters and Johnson (1970) originated the concept of spectatoring. Spectatoring, or excessive self-focus, refers to an inspection and monitoring of ones own sexual activity.
According to Masters and Johnson (1970), when cognitive interference occurs, it leads to arousal of the autonomic nervous system, thereby producing a negative emotional state that is not usually synonymous with sexual arousal and pleasure. Based on these fundamentals, it is postulated that anxiety about sexual performance, which may stem from an inward, self-focus on ones abilities and appearance, is the most important immediate cause of sexual dysfunction. Carver (1979) conceptualized self-focus in the following way: When attention is self-directed, it sometimes takes the form of focus on internal perceptual events, that is, information from those sensory receptors that to react to changes in bodily activity. Self-focus may also take the form of an enhanced awareness of ones present or past physical behavior, that is, a heightened cognizance of what one is doing or what one is like. Alternatively, self-attention can be an awareness of the more or less permanently encoded bits of information that compromise, for example, ones attitudes.
It can even be an enhanced awareness of temporarily encoded bits of information that have been gleamed from previous focus on the environment; subjectively, this would be experienced as a recollection or impression of that previous event. In Carvers classification of this construct, the individual focuses on internal information as opposed to external information. For instance, during sexual interaction, the mode of attention is directed to body image, and perception levels of attractiveness, rather than focusing on the current sexual act. Embedded in Barlows (1986) theoretical model of spectatoring is the notion that subjects who maintain negative conceptualizations about their bodies are expected to be more sexually avoidant than subjects who do not focus on negative aspects of their bodies. Barlow (1986) designed a working model of sexual dysfunction that differentiated sexually functional subjects from sexually dysfunctional subjects. Essentially, five factors were identified in comparing the two opposing groups (functional vs. dysfunctional) These factors included differences in affect during sexual stimulation, differences in self-reports of sexual arousal and perception of control over arousal, distractibility during sexual stimulation, and differential sexual responding while anxious. These findings suggest a cognitive interference process interacting with anxiety, is responsible for sexual dysfunction.
Research on Self-focus in Relation to Sexual Dysfunction Past research studies have documented the role of cognitive interference in sexual arousal. Henson and Rubin (1971) demonstrated that individuals could suppress erections while watching erotic films if asked to do so. When this suppression occurred, the mechanism by which individuals suppressed erections was self-distraction, or a shift in attention. In attempting to capture an instrument to measure sexual- esteem, Snell and Papini (1989) designed three aspects of human sexuality: sexual esteem, sexual depression, and sexual preoccupation. For the purposes of this paper, the factor of self-esteem will be addressed.
Sexual esteem was defined as a positive regard for and confidence in the capacity to experience ones sexuality in a satisfying and enjoyable way. (Snell and Papini, 1989). As defined in this manner, sexual-esteem deals with interpersonal sexual concepts. It is posited that the source of all three of these sexual tendencies (specifically, sexual esteem) is assumed to be prior learning experiences related to human sexuality. Interestingly enough, this finding lends support to meeting the ideals of physical attractiveness inherent in our attitudes pertaining to sexuality. In a recent study, Faith and Schare (1993) attempted to examine the relationship between excessive self-focus on bodily appearance and sexual experiences.
It was hypothesized that individuals who persistently evaluated their appearance negatively would tend to be sexually avoidant, and as a result, less sexually experienced. The results of the study confirmed that negative body image was related to lower levels of sexual experience. In a recent study aimed at examining the effects of cognitive distraction on sexual arousal in women, Dove and Wiederman (2000) found statistically significant results on the basis of four outcome variables: sexual esteem, orgasm consistency, pretending orgasm, and sexual satisfaction. Their findings indicate that women who reported greater cognitive distraction during sexual interactions reported lower sexual esteem, less sexual satisfaction, less consistent orgasms, and a higher prevalence of pretending orgasm with a partner. More importantly, when other variables that are thought to influence womens appraisal of their sexual experiences were controll …