Shilpy Singh

Sexual Script Theory

Sexual script theory, or “SST”, is the theory that suggests “sexual encounters (are) learned interactions that follow predictable sequences or 'scripts'” between two sexually attracted parties (Frith & Kitzinger, 2001). Michael Wiederman, author of the article “The gendered nature of sexual scripts” suggests that “the two sexes follow separate but overlapping (and often complementary) scripts” (Wiederman, 2005).

Gagnon and Simon first applied “Social Script Theory” to human sexuality in 1973, which “rests on the assumption that people follow internalized scripts when constructing meaning out of behavior, responses, and emotions” (Wiederman, 2005). Gagnon and Simon also made a comparison between scripts that actors use in theater to the “scripts” people enact sexually seen in their patterned (Wiederman, 2005). The script that SST refers to gives people an internal sense of direction that they can ascribe to sexual cues and therefore a sense of security on how to behave in sexual scenarios (Wiederman, 2005).

Similar to scripts that stage actors use to guide their behavior, Sexual Script Theory holds that members of a society follow a “sexual script” that guides what is appropriate behavior and the meaning of behaviors
Similar to scripts that stage actors use to guide their behavior, Sexual Script Theory holds that members of a society follow a “sexual script” that guides what is appropriate behavior and the meaning of behaviors

“As long as both individuals in a sexual couple are following complementary scripts, anxiety should be relatively low. Both people more or less know what to expect of the other, each shares similar perceptions as to the motives and ascribed meanings held by the other, and a minimal amount of explicit communication or negotiation is necessary” Wiederman, 2005). In other words, SST serves as the “rules” to the dating “game” that individuals of sexual maturity implicitly know.

Sexual Norms

Sexual script theory can be likened to sexual norms in that sexual “script” is established by learned, cultural norms. The predictable behaviors of the “script” in SST are culturally defined and therefore vary among different cultures as well as between the genders. In the context of heterosexual, American relationships, there are various behaviors that are cultural agreements as to how each person in a sexual relationship should act. However, SST does not account for the increasing uncertainty in sexual relationships. Modern websites for college-aged individuals, such as “Failbook”, point to the many different states a relationship can be in outside of clear-cut relationship statuses (Failbook, 2011). Nevertheless, even considering the broadened definition of sexual relationships within societies of college-aged individuals, there are still norms that members of a society form and abide by.

Gender Roles

Gender roles are a key aspect of Sexual Script Theory, influencing how the script, or interaction between individuals, plays out. At a very basic level, scholars attribute the predominant role of men as the initiator of sexual activity and the predominant role of women as the “gatekeeper” who employs strategies for avoiding sex (LaPlante, McCormick, & Brannigan, 1980). The primary difference between the scripts of the two genders is the number of partners “permitted” by a member of either sex (Jones & Hostler, 2002).

Gender roles are a key aspect of Sexual Script Theory. Males typically play the role of the aggressor while females typically play the role of the seductive stimulus
Gender roles are a key aspect of Sexual Script Theory. Males typically play the role of the aggressor while females typically play the role of the seductive stimulus

Male Sexual Script

Michael Wiederman cites an article by Gilfoyle & Wilson (1992) in defining the masculine role as being assertive, playing the aggressor, and “orchestrating sexual performance, as in ‘making love to’ a woman (Wiederman, 2005). Although the female’s role is to entice and “invite” a male to begin sexual interaction, the role of a male is to take the responsibility after the initial consent from the female (Wiederman, 2005). “The man’s perception of himself as a desirable sexual partner is traditionally tied to his skill as a lover. Those skills may entail ability to maintain an erection, hold off ejaculation (thereby satisfying his female partner via an extended session of penile thrusting), and ideally reading her sexual needs and responding behaviorally” (Wiederman, 2005).

Female Sexual Script
“Women’s roles revolve more around being an attractive and seductive stimulus; she may focus on “setting the mood” and donning sexy lingerie” (Wiederman, 2005). “The woman’s perception of herself as a desirable sexual partner may include her skill at certain behavior (e.g., performing oral sex), but is more likely than his self-perception to include notions of being visually attractive and sexually responsive to his behavioral performance” (Wiederman, 2005).

Also, according to Jones & Hostler, women tend to choose to have sex in loving, committed, exclusive, and emotional intimate relationships (2002). They look for qualities in a man that show he will share in the “heavy burden” of potential pregnancy (Jones & Hostler, 2002). Due to the greater burden of responsibility that females have in pregnancy and rearing a child, women are more selective in the quality and number of sexual partners. Thus, women seek a partner who will provide long-term care (Jones & Hostler, 2002).

Three levels of experience

Jones & Hostler refer to the findings of Atwood & Dershowitz and Simon & Gagnon of the three levels of “human experience” within the context of SST (2002). These levels include:
1) the cultural level in which social norms are shared by individuals,
2) the “unique interpersonal experience of the individual”, and
3) “the unique intrapsychic experience of the person” (Jones & Hostler, 2002).

Potential for conflict within the Sexual Script Theory

“There is the potential for conflict if only one member of the couple follows the traditional script for his or her gender. If the man is more passive than the traditional male script calls for, the woman may experience anxiety having to initiate and perform behaviors outside of her usual role. If the woman is more assertive than the traditional female script calls for, the man may feel as though his role has been usurped” (Wiederman, 2005).
Conflict can also occur in ongoing relationships when the individuals’ views on sex change. The meaning given to sexual activity can differ due to the differences in traditional male and female sexual scripts, resulting in conflict (Wiederman, 2005). “The longer that a couple is together, the more likely the male may come to view sex simply as to the meaning it has for him: tension release and bodily pleasure. He may gradually take the maintenance of their relationship for granted, thereby overlooking the possibility that she has different meanings attached to sexual activity” (Wiederman, 2005).

The Influence of Media on Sexual Scripts

“Results demonstrate that sexual talk and behavior are highly frequent aspects of the television environment. Talk about sex is shown more often than sexual behavior, though both types of content increased significantly (in the past decade)” (Kunkel et al. 2007). According to Bradley Bond, the Cultivation Hypothesis suggests that “we learn through the portrayal of society on television” (2011). It is therefore plausible to conclude based on the findings of Kunkel et al. and the Cultivation Hypothesis that if the media portrayal of sexual talk and behavior in literal sexual scripts is occurring more often and openly that the sexual scripts as defined by SST of viewers will reflect similar patterns.

Bond, Bradley (2011). Sex & the Media [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Failbook. (2011, March). Retrieved from

Frith, H, & Kitzinger, C. (2001). Reformulating sexual script theory - developing a discursive psychology of sexual negotiation. Theory & Psychology, 11(2), Retrieved from[[file:/C:/Users/Owner/Documents/ http:/|]]

Jones, Michael Allen. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo. (2011) Retrieved April 10, 2011.

Jones, Stanton, & Hostler, Heather. (2002). Sexual script theory: an integrative exploration of the possibilities and limits of sexual self-definition .Journal of Psychology & Theology, 30(2), Retrieved from[[file:/C:/Users/Owner/Documents/ http:/ 5953-4f86-bfbb-4280338e380a@sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=107| 5953-4f86-bfbb-4280338e380a%40sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=107]]

Kunkel, D., Eyal, K., Donnerstein, E., Farrar, K.M., & Biely, E. (2007). Sexual socialization messages on entertainment television: comparing content trends. Media Psychology, 10(3), Retrieved from [[file:/C:/Users/Owner/Documents/ http:/ de=GeneralSearch&qid=3&SID=1CFPH8hm43K@A96G8GA&page=1&doc=2| de=GeneralSearch&qid=3&SID=1CFPH8hm43K@A96G8GA&page=1&doc=2]]

LaPlante,Marcia, McCormick, Naomi, & Brannigan, Gary. (1980). Living the sexual script: college students' views of influence in sexual encounters.The Journal of Sex Research, 16(4), Retrieved from

Photo 2. Unknown photographer. (2011). Retrieved April 8, 2011.

Wiederman, Michael. (2005). The gendered nature of sexual scripts. The Family Journal, 13//(4), Retrieved from