Longitudinal Associations Between Childhood Sexual Abuse, Silencing the Self, and Sexual Self-Efficacy in Adolescents

  • Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-MorelEmail author
  • Sophie Bergeron
  • Martin Blais
  • Martine Hébert
Original Paper


Sexual self-efficacy—the belief in one’s ability to engage in desired and to refuse unwanted, sexual activities and behaviors—is an important feature in promoting adolescent sexual health and well-being. One factor that may affect the development of sexual self-efficacy is child sexual abuse. However, little is known about the processes underlying the relation between child sexual abuse and sexual self-efficacy. Using longitudinal data from a sample of 739 adolescent girls and boys aged between 14 and 18 years, we examined the mediational role of two “silencing the self” attitudes and behaviors in romantic relationships—self-silencing, i.e., inhibiting fulfilling one’s own needs, and divided self, i.e., presenting an outer compliant self—in the associations between child sexual abuse severity and two dimensions of sexual self-efficacy: the ability to set clear sexual limits and the ability to use sexual protection. Results of path analysis showed that child sexual abuse severity was associated with more self-silencing and more divided self. In turn, self-silencing was associated with lower protection use self-efficacy, whereas divided self was associated with lower limit-setting and protection use self-efficacy. Thus, self-silencing strategies in romantic relationships mediated the associations between child sexual abuse severity and lower sexual self-efficacy. The overall findings may inform the development of prevention/intervention programs that target the enhancement of an integrated sense of self in intimate relationships to promote assertive strategies in sexual situations.


Child sexual abuse Silencing the self Sexual self-efficacy Sexual protection Sexual limits 



The authors would like to thank Manon Robichaud and Catherine Moreau for their assistance with data collection and management of the data bank.


This research project was supported by a Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) awarded to Martine Hébert (CIHR # TIR103944), and this study was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) awarded to Marie-Pier Vaillancourt-Morel.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Department of SexologyUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada

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