Sexual Contingent Self-Worth

Written by: Maria Glowacka

People might base their self-esteem on all kinds of things in their lives, including their relationships with others. When people think they have succeeded in these areas, they feel good about themselves, but when they think they’ve failed, it’s a blow to their self-esteem. I am interested in when people evaluate their self-worth based on the success of their sexual relationship.

This is called sexual contingent self-worth (CSW) and we have developed the first measure of sexual CSW. Items on this measure include, “When my sexual relationship is going well, I feel better about myself overall”, and “When my partner and I fight about a sexual issue, I feel bad about myself in general”.

Image credit: Flickr user a-md
Image credit: Flickr user a-md

We asked people to complete this measure along with related measures and found that the Sexual CSW Scale is a valid and reliable measure. We also discovered that sexual CSW is composed of two distinct but related components: [1] When my sexual relationship is going well, I feel better about myself, and [2] When my sexual relationship is going badly, I feel worse about myself.

Another interesting finding was that people who reported having a sexual problem were more likely to base their self-esteem on the success of their sexual relationship than those who did not report a problem. Why is this? I have a couple of theories. Maybe people who have sexual problems become really focused on the area where they see problems (i.e., the sexual relationship). Or, maybe when people have high sexual CSW, they are more likely to believe they have a problem in this important part of their life. Either way, it seems there’s an important link between having greater sexual CSW and reporting a sexual problem.

Now I’m interested in finding out if this is bad or good? Perceived failures in CSW domains might result in negative psychological, relational, and physical health outcomes, such as greater anxiety, depression, and stress-related health symptoms, as well as poorer relationship and sexual functioning. If we find that greater sexual CSW is a risk factor, then it could be a potential treatment target.



Glowacka, M., Rosen, N.O., Vannier, S., & MacLellan, M. (under review). Development and validation of the Sexual Contingent Self-Worth Scale.