Sexual scripts among young heterosexually active men and women: continuity and change

J Sex Res. 2013;50(5):409-20. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.661102. Epub 2012 Apr 10.


Whereas gendered sexual scripts are hegemonic at the cultural level, research suggests they may be less so at dyadic and individual levels. Understanding "disjunctures" between sexual scripts at different levels holds promise for illuminating mechanisms through which sexual scripts can change. Through interviews with 44 heterosexually active men and women aged 18 to 25, the ways young people grappled with culture-level scripts for sexuality and relationships were delineated. Findings suggest that, although most participants' culture-level gender scripts for behavior in sexual relationships were congruent with descriptions of traditional masculine and feminine sexuality, there was heterogeneity in how or whether these scripts were incorporated into individual relationships. Specifically, three styles of working with sexual scripts were found: conforming, in which personal gender scripts for sexual behavior overlapped with traditional scripts; exception-finding, in which interviewees accepted culture-level gender scripts as a reality, but created exceptions to gender rules for themselves; and transforming, in which participants either attempted to remake culture-level gender scripts or interpreted their own nontraditional styles as equally normative. Changing sexual scripts can potentially contribute to decreased gender inequity in the sexual realm and to increased opportunities for sexual satisfaction, safety, and well-being, particularly for women, but for men as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Young Adult