The Meaning of My Sexual Self

The Meaning of My Sexual Self‌‌‌‌

ANNIE LAURA COTTEN,1 Central Connecticut State University


Whereas measures have been developed for assessing sexual self-schemas as cognitive representations of one’s self view (Andersen & Cyranowski, 1994; Andersen, Cyranowski, & Espindle, 1999) and for associations between sexual self-concept and self-efficacy (Rostosky, Dekhtyar, Cupp, & Anderman, 2008), a measure for the meaning of the sexual self has been lacking. Using the technique of Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957) for the measurement of meaning, bipolar adjectives were deter- mined for measuring “my sexual self.”


The scale’s development was a continuation from previous dissertation research that included 125 college students who responded to 18 bipolar choices, nine of which determined the three dimensions of meanings: evaluation, potency, and activity. Students were also given the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1974) for comparison. The hypothesis for that research was significantly confirmed; the more androgynous, the more positive were the responses on the meaning of “my sexual self” (Cotten-Huston, 1981). Participants rated the bipolar adjectives on a scale from 1 (Most Positive) to 7 (Least Positive).

Bipolar adjectives were derived from eight business and psychology class responses to the question of what bipolar adjective pairs respondents would use to evaluate each of the three dimensions. For sexual evaluation meanings, most frequent responses were good-bad, valuable-worth- less, and honest-dishonest. Most frequent adjective pairs for sexual activity meanings were assertive-nonassertive, involved-uninvolved, and flexible-rigid. For most frequent meanings of sexual-self potency, the most frequent adjective pairs were together-alone, loved-unloved, and strong- weak. Within each dimension, other suggested adjective pairs were included for a total of 18 bipolar choices that were rotated from left to right, so that on every other adjective pair the order of numbers was reversed to avoid rater bias. The design included demographic variables for age, gender, lifestyle, religiosity, and sexual experience, which were included on a separate page.

Research was conducted with a larger sample to examine in particular the construct of the semantic measure and,

again, any associations with masculinity and femininity trait responses from the BSRI (Bem, 1974). Androgyny and undifferentiated scores were not computed; however, the masculinity and femininity traits were included along with demographic variables. There were 294 participants, ages 17–87, divided into three age groups: 17–25; 26–55; 56–87. Participants in the age group 17–55 were under- graduates and graduate students at Central Connecticut State University. Those over age 55 were Elderhostelers enrolled in programs at the University from diverse geo- graphical regions of the country. The measure was suitable for all adult-age groups.

Response Mode and Timing

Participants included those who wished to assist in research about the meaning of “my sexual self.” Instructions included a one-sentence request to circle the number that came closest to how they felt about their sexual selves. Most participants completed the measure in 30 minutes.


Other Information

Statistical collaboration was provided by the Biostatistics Laboratory, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Address correspondence to Annie Laura Cotten, 5 Melstone Turn, Durham, NC 27707; e-mail: [email protected]



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

Andersen, B. L., Cyranowski, J. M., & Espindle, D. (1999). Men’s sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 645–661.

Bem, S. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42,155–162.

Cotten-Huston, A. L. (1981). Androgyny and the sexual self. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, OH.

Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Rostosky, S. S., Dekhtyar, O., Cupp, P. K., & Anderman, E. M. (2008). Sexual self-concept and sexual self-efficacy in adolescents: A possible clue to promoting sexual health? The Journal of Sex Research, 45, 277–286.