Scripting sexual function: a qualitative investigation

Sociol Health Illn. 2011 May;33(4):540-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01318.x.


The biomedical model assumes universal agreement in what it means to have a functioning sex life. In reality there is significant variation in the criteria that individuals employ in assessing their sex lives. We use a scripting approach to understand the meaning of sexual function from a lay perspective. Based on the accounts of 32 individuals representing a range of sexual function experience, we identified three scripts employed by participants to describe their sexual experiences: the biomedical script emphasised genital function and physical release (orgasm), the relational script focused on relational aspects of encounters and valued emotional intimacy and security; and the erotic script focused on pleasure and valued novelty and excitement. Respondent accounts usually contained elements of more than one script, but often one of these was prominent. At the intra-psychic level each script serves as a schema, comprising priorities, expectations and evaluative criteria. In the context of sex therapy, this scripting approach may help shed light on the sources of sexual difficulties. Our findings also challenge the current domination of the biomedical script in measuring, diagnosing and treating sexual dysfunction, since the construct does not adequately reflect the priorities of those who prioritise alternative scripts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Coitus / physiology*
  • Coitus / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Young Adult