Viewing the self as a sexual person: Sexual self-schemas and implications for sexual well-being

By Grace Adele Wang

This blog is a summary of our published article: Huberman, J. S., Bouchard, K. N., Wang, G. A., & Rosen, N. O. (2021). Conceptualizing Sexual Self-Schemas: A Review of Different Approaches and Their Implications for Understanding Women’s Sexual Function. Current Sexual Health Reports, 13(3), 68-75.

How do we see ourselves as people? You might think of yourself and who you are as a friend, a sibling, a parent, a partner, a student, a professional… and you may also have an idea of who you are as a sexual person. Over time, through different experiences with sexuality, we develop a view of ourselves as a sexual person – researchers call this our “sexual self-schema”. [1] How we view ourselves as a sexual person can influence how we respond in a new sexual situation. For example, someone with a positive sexual self-schema who views themselves as more passionate and open to sexual experiences might be more likely to have more satisfying sexual experiences than someone with a negative sexual self-schema, who may views themselves as embarrassed or timid. [1, 2]

Over the past 30 years, researchers have recognized that women’s sexual self-schemas are related to their sexual well-being – women with more positive and less negative sexual self-schemas tend to have better sexual functioning, such as more sexual desire and arousal. [1-3] Given that the ways we view ourselves as a sexual person relates to our sexual well-being, a key goal of this research was to summarize and compare different ways that women’s sexual self-schemas can be understood and measured. Doing so would help improve future research on the role of women’s sense of sexual self in their sexuality and sexual well-being, and may help in the assessment and treatment of women’s sexual difficulties.

What did we do?

First, we searched the literature to find research and theory related to sexual self-schemas, and identified different ways that these schemas have been assessed. Then, we summarized existing methods and identified their advantages, disadvantages, and implications for understanding sexual function for women. Finally, with the goal of understanding women’s sexuality in mind, we outlined some recommendations for how each measure can be used in different research and clinical contexts, in hopes of improving assessment and treatment outcomes for people with sexual difficulties.

In the end, we reviewed three ways of assessing sexual self schemas:

  1. The Sexual Self-Schema Scale (SSS), a self-report measure [1]
  2. The Sexual Self-Schema Density Task (SSSDT), a computerized self-report task [4]
  3. The Meaning Extraction Method (MEM), a type of computerized text analysis for extracting themes from open-ended responses [5]

What did we find?

Here is a summary of the unique characteristics and key advantages of different ways we can measure sexual self-schemas and their implications for women’s sexual well-being:

  1. With the SSS, a view of the sexual self is measured with self-reports on two positive and one negative domains.
    • Key advantages/disadvantages: the SSS has been widely used to study women’s sexuality and provides a global assessment of positive and negative self-schemas. It is relatively easy to administer and score.

  2. The SSSDT is a new measure that considers sexual self-schemas as networks of information related to the sexual self (where positive experiences foster interconnectedness of positive schemas, and aversive experiences might promote interconnectedness of negative schemas).
    • Key advantage/disadvantages: the SSSDT is not as simple to administer and score as the SSS, but provides added information on the organization of sexual self-schemas. The SSSDT may be especially useful in treatment outcome research for sexual difficulties or to understand the process of sexual response.

  3. The MEM allows women to describe their sexuality in an open-ended manner and extracts themes from their description.
    • Key advantages/disadvantages: the MEM is more time-intensive to administer and score than the other measures, but offers a broader and more flexible characterization of views of the sexual self. The MEM may be most helpful in assessment contexts and for monitoring treatment progress.

What does this mean?

Existing measures of women’s sexual self-schemas each provide a unique way of considering sexual self-schemas, and help capture different aspects of the ways women think of their sexual selves. If we develop and use these measures further, we could gain more information regarding sexual function and well-being that would enhance our understanding of women’s sexuality. From a clinical perspective, the integration of these measures has the potential to improve therapy and interventions for women’s sexual difficulties. Overall, looking at how we view our sexual selves, and potentially how these views evolve over time, can be important for understanding our sexual processing, responses, and behaviours.


[1] Andersen, B. L., & Cyranowski, J. M. (1994). Women’s sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(6), 1079–1100.

[2] Cyranowski, J. M., & Andersen, B. L. (1998). Schemas, sexuality, and romantic attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1364–1379.

[3] Katz, J., Farrow, S. Discrepant self-views and young women’s sexual and emotional adjustment. Sex Roles, 42, 781–805 (2000).

[4] Huberman, J.S., & Chivers, M.L. (2020). Development of a novel measure of women’s sexual self-schema organization. Personality and Individual Differences, 155, 109665.

[5] Stanton, A. M., Boyd, R. L., Pulverman, C. S., & Meston, C. M. (2015). Determining women’s sexual self-schemas through advanced computerized text analysis. Child Abuse & Neglect, 46, 78–88.