It is well-known fact that for most people the first sexual encounter is the most memorable. But how exactly this impacts one's sense of self-worth and body image has remained elusive. A 2011 study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University investigated this subject and shed some light on how the self-valuations of post-pubertal youngsters are affected by their first sexual experiences. During college years, the feelings of young males and females about their appearances tend to evolve in different ways. And this is strongly influenced by the first experience of sex, researchers believe.
Formative years of body image
The concept of body image begins to develop during adolescence and continues until adulthood. Changes to the body during puberty can be dramatic, deeply affecting boys’ and girls' self-images. Researchers wanted to see how this process is intertwined with first sexual experiences, which are common during post-pubertal age. To do so, they surveyed 434 fresh college students. All students were 17 to 19-year-olds at the beginning of the survey. They answered questions about how they viewed and handled relationships with other people, and whether (and when) they had already had sex for the first time. The students also rated themselves on an attractiveness scale. The questionnaires were administered four times to each student over the course of four years.
After collecting and analyzing the data, researchers found that females tended to grow more satisfied with their own appearances while males displayed the opposite trend. Curiously, the patterns reversed when the first sexual encounter entered the picture: after first-time sex, females became less satisfied with their body image while males grew more pleased with it. These findings were based on the 100 participants that reported to have experienced sex for the first time during the four-year survey.
Nurturing healthy sex attitudes at young ages
Researchers highlighted the importance of the first sexual experience on people's lives and mental health. Scientific literature documents a correlation between positive body image and risky sexual behavior. Graduate student Sara A. Vasilenko stressed that these findings should incentivize educational authorities to promote positive body images for both boys and girls in ways that curb reckless behavior while also promoting healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships. The researchers also highlighted that more studies are necessary to better understand females' subjective experiences and psychological outcomes after the loss of virginity.