Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology

Committee Director

Robin J. Lewis

Committee Member

Scott M. Debb

Committee Member

Abby L. Braitman

Committee Member

Barbara A. Winstead

Committee Member

Valerian Derlega


Sexual stigma is associated with impaired relationship functioning among sexual minority couples and is associated with a variety of negative outcomes that result in an inequitable burden for members of this population. While there is considerable evidence that sexual stigma and minority stress are related to individual health outcomes, less research has examined relationship health. The present study provides an important contribution to the literature because it was the first to offer a dyadic model that tested the relatedness between all three individual-level manifestations of sexual stigma (i.e., enacted, internalized, and perceived sexual stigma) and relationship satisfaction among same-sex couples.

Data were drawn from a larger study of sexual minority relationship functioning. Participants were recruited by a third-party market research firm and completed an online baseline questionnaire and then subsequently completed a two-week daily diary component. In total, 163 female same-sex couples were recruited. This study examined data gathered from the baseline questionnaire portion of the larger study, which included measures of sexual stigma (i.e., enacted, internalized, and perceived stigma) as well as relationship functioning. The present study found support for a novel model investigating how sexual stigma may impact relationship functioning among female same-sex couples and developed two novel latent variables that operationalize the impact that perceived sexual stigma may have on interpersonal functioning.

The final model suggests that internalized homonegativity and experiences of being discriminated against due to one’s sexual orientation are associated with expectations of rejection by others. These expectations are associated with negativistic expectations of their romantic partner’s behaviors and cognitions, which are associated with diminished personal relationship satisfaction and, in some cases, diminished partner relationship satisfaction. Thus, the present study presents initial evidence for a self-fulfilling prophecy in which expectations of rejection may lead the individual and their partner to feel less satisfied with their relationship. By focusing on the potential impact of sexual stigma at the dyadic level, researchers may develop an improved understanding of sexual minority health within the context of same-sex romantic relationships. This work may also inform efforts to develop culturally tailored and sensitive approaches for providing sexual minority couple’s therapy.


The VIRGINIA CONSORTIUM PROGRAM IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY is a joint program of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University.


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