The differences between genders have been discussed in terms of numerous cultural aspects. The existing gender inequality, a pay gap, harassment, and the promotion of specific behavioral patterns and even appearance are only some of the areas that have been in the lenses of researchers’ attention (Rossetto and Tollison 62). People’s sexual behaviors have been a topic of detailed consideration as well. Although American society is regarded as an example of pure democracy with equity granted to all, sexual behaviors of genders are not associated with equality. Males and females are supposed to follow certain norms and patterns even in the intimate sphere of their life (Klein et al. 2). These norms and expectations are also referred to as female and male sexual scripts, which are considered in detail further in this paper.
Sexual Script Theory
The sexual scripting theory (SST) is related to people’s sexual behaviors based on established norms and perceptions. This theoretical framework was developed in the 1970s, and it concentrated on the way cultural norms concerning sexuality formed individuals’ sexual behaviors and scripts (Quinn-Nilas and Kennett 608). According to SST, sexual scripts “operate on three hierarchical levels and guide sexual behavior” (Klein et al. 2). The three levels include “cultural scenarios, interpersonal scripts, and intrapsychic scripts” (Klein et al. 2). The highest level is cultural scenarios that reflect the established cultural norms regarding sexuality that are resulting from the functioning of the media and social institutions. Families, schools, mass media all contribute to the generation of cultural scenarios. These scenarios tend to affect the other two levels to a considerable extent as people are fostered in terms of these conventions.
Interpersonal scripts encompass the sexual partners’ perceptions concerning certain behaviors and patterns. A person tends to shape one’s sexual behavior as a response to these perspectives (Klein et al. 2). In some cases, these considerations are only taken into account, while some people terminate relationships if their views on the matter differ dramatically. Finally, the inner level of sexual scripts is intrapsychic, referring to a person’s sexual desire and motives, as well as arousal patterns. The third level of sexual scripts affects the second one to a considerable extent.
Factors Affecting the Development of Scripts
As mentioned above, social institutions and media form sexual scripts in societies. At this point, it is necessary to consider exact mechanisms and sources of sexual script creation. Family is the primary and initial institution affecting the development of sexual scripts in young generations. Rossetto and Tollison stress that children are most affected at home, so their basic views on norms are established at a very early age (62). It has been found that in families where sex is tabooed or is not discussed openly, children develop more patriarchal sexual scripts (Rossetto and Tollison 65). On the contrary, in more egalitarian families, where parents communicate with their children freely, children adopt more egalitarian sexual scripts in the future. Parents’ education and the socioeconomic status of the family often have an effect as low-income families tend to be characterized by more patriarchal values.
Therefore, it is clear that school has a substantial impact on the development of sexual scripts. It has been acknowledged that adolescence is one of the most critical developmental stages associated with the formation of sexual scripts (Rossetto and Tollison 62). Recent research shows that sexual behaviors and scripts can change under the influence of other institutions, such as schools or media (Rossetto and Tollison 62). Middle and high-school education has a considerable influence on the development of behavioral patterns, including sexual scripts. Hence, the sexual education curriculum should be based on appropriate values and norms and promote equality, as well as decreasing double standards. Researchers applying the feminist approach emphasize the need to reconsider school and college curriculum and focus on the promotion of a more egalitarian way of life (Rossetto and Tollison 68). Thus, family and education are important factors affecting the development of sexual scripts.
The media play a substantial role in the development of sexual scripts in modern societies. This source can be regarded as a more potent influencer than the school or even the family. Stevens Aubrey et al. note that seventy percent of people aged between 13 and 24 see television as the major source of data on sex-related topics (1). Fictional television programs and such media as social networks have become important sources of knowledge for millions of young Americans (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). These sources have a tremendous impact on the formation of modern sexual scripts. Young people learn about sexual behavioral patterns from TV shows and tend to adopt them in their lives.
The implications of this impact are manifold, with positive and negative sides. For instance, millennials are more concerned with their health and family planning, which is manifested in a 15% decrease in the number of teenagers who have had sexual intercourse (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). In addition, sexual scripts have become more liberal as the attitude towards homosexual relationships changes, and fewer people see it negatively nowadays. On the negative side, the sexual scripts still promulgate the existing double standard that implies different roles assigned to genders. As decades ago, American males are expected to be sexually active and dominating, while women are supposed to be submissive and passive. Fictional television programs depict males as fearful of commitment but ready and willing to have as many sexual relationships (and contacts) as possible. Females are displayed as concentrated on monogamous relationships (and marriage) with a few partners. Other patterns are judged and discouraged in television products.
Male Sexual Scripts in the United States
As for sexual scripts for modern American males, it is expected that men should be assertive and confident. Their sexual script is characterized by dominance and sexual agency (Klein et al. 2). Males are expected to initiate sexual intercourse and dominate it as well. The existing scripts contribute to the development of the so-called “Casanova Complex” (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). Such patterns involve the avoidance of relationships and willingness to have sexual intercourse with multiple partners. It is noteworthy that heterosexual relationships are seen as a sign of masculinity and promoted, although the most recent shift shows a slightly more positive attitude towards male homosexual relationships. The double standard is manifested in males’ attitude towards female homosexuality that is positively viewed by men (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). The current male sexual scripts also justify risky and destructive behaviors if they secure sex.
It is noteworthy that in the USA, it is also expected that female partners are willing to participate. Sexual violence is viewed negatively in American society and is legally prosecuted. At the same time, the extent of partners’ willingness is often blurred or improperly defined, which leads to certain adverse effects. For instance, the essence of a female’s consent is not well understood, which leads to sexual violence. Moreover, the desire or need to dominate is sometimes the reason for violent sexual behavior (Rossetto and Tollison 64). Men have large sexual freedom as their sexual contacts can be multiple with quite limited negative attitudes and judgments, especially when discussed by men. Notably, men prefer sexually assertive females as their sexual partners, according to recent research (Klein et al. 3). However, other studies show that men disapprove of such women and avoid relationships with them.
As mentioned above, certain shifts in sexual scripts are becoming more pronounced. In addition to the changing views on homosexuality, men start endorsing both the traditional mal sexual script and “sex-positive woman script” (Klein et al. 2). The latter pattern encompasses men’s attention to women’s sexual satisfaction and desires. One of the reasons for the changes in sexual scripts is closely related to the family. More egalitarian families have less stereotypical views on gender roles. It has been found, for instance, that fathers who communicate with the children more often, have less traditional sexual scripts (Rossetto and Tollison 65). This shift is associated with these males’ involvement in nurturing rather than pure breadwinning, so social roles affect sexual scripts. Males are becoming more flexible regarding the aspects of masculinity.
Female Sexual Scripts
As far as female sexual scripts are concerned, they are rather different from the norms and boundaries established for males. Due to the prevalence of patriarchal values in American society, females’ sexual behaviors are confined to being submissive and decent (Quinn-Nilas and Kennett 604). It is noteworthy that assertiveness is negatively viewed by both males and females as women have to be quite passive in their sexual behavior (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). Decency is associated with having one sexual partner within the matrimonial tie or an equal relationship. Although feminist activism and considerable liberalization of women’s sexual behavior, in general, are leading to female empowerment, it is still preferable for an American woman to be submissive. Females are supposed to have a relationship-centered perspective of sexuality, so they are expected to have sexual intercourse with one partner who, eventually, should become their husband.
Importantly, deviations from sexual scripts often have long-term implications for women. This influence illustrates the way cultural scenarios and interpersonal scripts affect intrapsychic scripts. It has been found that the first sexual encounter, especially the one that is deviant from expected patterns, has long-term effects on females’ sexual life (Quinn-Nilas and Kennett 605). The impact is specifically great if a woman has been exposed to sexual violence during her first intercourse. The established scripts that are still associated with a significant degree of bias related to female consent tend to shape females’ sexual behavior as well as have an impact on their mental health (Quinn-Nilas and Kennett 606). Depression and anxiety are common mental health issues females develop based on their sexual experience.
At the same time, some females do not follow the assigned scripts, which has an effect on the way they are seen by others. Women’s sexual assertiveness is often judged and negatively viewed in society in general, but, as mentioned above, on the interpersonal level, it may make a female a more attractive sexual partner for a male (Klein et al. 3). The overall negative attitude towards female sexual assertiveness makes females follow the existing scripts even though they do not match their sexual desire (Klein et al. 10). Female sexuality is also viewed more positively as compared to male homosexual relationships. Although homosexuality is still stigmatized and an unwanted phenomenon in American society, male find it an acceptable sexual behavior, at least, in some instances (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). It is also notable that modern American society is becoming more egalitarian and homosexuality is viewed more positively by Americans.
Effects on People’s Lives
Some effects of sexual scripts on males’ and females’ lives have been mentioned in the paper, but they should be considered in more detail. The major implications of the existing cultural scenarios and interpersonal scripts and are associated with the development of intrapsychic scripts. More importantly, the external levels have an influence on the way people respond to the intrapsychic scripts they form earlier in their lives. In many cases, the scripts accepted in this or that society are not acceptable for individuals, which leads to people’s psychological issues.
As mentioned above, American males are expected to act as assertive pleasure-oriented physically strong individuals who are afraid of commitment (Stevens Aubrey et al. 2). Less assertive males or those who prefer monogamous relationships risk being seen as homosexual, which is associated with stigma and alienation or judging. Likewise, females who do not want to follow the assigned scripts may be viewed as immoral and worth judging and even certain treatment (Quinn-Nilas and Kennett 606). Males and females having intrapsychic sexual scripts deviant from the established norm choose to comply with the rules or accept the role of an alien. This choice is often required with psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation that can lead to serious physical health issues or even death.
In addition, socioeconomic issues can also arise due to the associated stigma. Irrespective of the shift to a more egalitarian society, thousands of Americans are still unprepared, for instance, to accept a homosexual person in certain social roles. Having a reputation of an assertive sexual partner can make it difficult for a woman to develop a strong relationship with a man and create a family. Therefore, it is possible to note that the implication of deviant sexual scripts can be manifold and can cause numerous uncertainties or inconveniences for people.
On balance, it is necessary to note that sexual script theory sheds light on people’s sexual behaviors and factors affecting them. Sexual scripts of men and women are different as they are majorly determined by the existing gender roles. American society is still rather patriarchal although the shifts towards more egalitarian values and norms are apparent. Male sexual scripts are characterized by dominance, agency, focus on pleasure, commitment avoidance, and assertiveness. Female sexual scripts are associated with submissiveness, decency, relationship-centeredness, and the role of a gatekeeper. It has been acknowledged that these scripts often have a negative influence on people’s mental health and sexual, as well as social, life, which is often related to the existing uncertainty and double standard.
Klein, Verena, et al. “Perceptions of Sexual Script Deviation in Women and Men.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 48, no. 2, 2018, pp. 631-644.
Quinn-Nilas, Christopher, and Deborah J. Kennett. “Reasons Why Undergraduate Women Comply with Unwanted, Non-Coercive Sexual Advances: A Serial Indirect Effect Model Integrating Sexual Script Theory and Sexual Self-Control Perspectives.” The Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 158, no. 5, 2018, pp. 603-615.
Rossetto, Kelly R., and Andrew C. Tollison. “Feminist Agency, Sexual Scripts, and Sexual Violence: Developing a Model for Postgendered Family Communication.” Family Relations, vol. 66, no. 1, 2017, pp. 61-74.
Stevens Aubrey, Jennifer, et al. “The Heterosexual Script on Tween, Teen, And Young-Adult Television Programs: A Content Analytic Update and Extension.” The Journal of Sex Research, vol. 57, no. 9, 2019, pp. 1134-1145.