Sexual Script: Meaning, Overview, and Theory

Sumita Johnson, Natalie Boyd
  • Author
    Sumita Johnson

    Sumita Johnson has worked as an instructional design manager and a learning and development professional for more than 15 years. She has also taught English to Primary and high-school students. She has a Masters degree in English Literature. She also has numerous professional certificates, such as 150-hour TESOL Certificate, Gamification, TAA40104 in Training and Assessment, Online Course Facilitation and Diplomas in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and Information Technology.

  • Instructor
    Natalie Boyd

    Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Learn what sexual scripts are. Read a sexual script definition, explore the different types of sexual scripts, and discover the origins of sexual script theory. Updated: 12/28/2021

Table of Contents


What are Sexual Scripts?

Sexual scripts are thoughts, expectations, behaviors, mental patterns, and reactions in response to a person's romantic or social move or the lack of it. These scripts are very individualistic in nature and are influenced by a number of factors, such as culture, societal norms, education and values, personal beliefs, and people's notions about love, romance, and sex. These messages are also influenced by friends, families, authority figures, and institutions that a person believes in. The media, in all its forms, has a significant role to play in shaping sexual scripts.

Although these scripts are highly individualistic, there are few elements found in most sexual scripts. People behave and think as per the romantic and sexual expectations they think others have of them or they have of themselves. Similarly, they also have expectations from other people and how they should behave. These scripts are mental and are predominantly heteronormative. That is, they usually take place between people of opposite genders.

Sexual scripts have traditionally been heteronormative

Sexual scripts have traditionally been heteronormative

Sexual Script Theory

The sexual script theory is a sociological theory. According to this theory, human sexual behavior follows a type of social script. This sexual script theory was introduced by sociologists John H. Gagnon and William Simon in their 1973 book Sexual Conduct.

Sexual scripts always begin as cultural scripts, and then they transform into interpersonal scripts. Over time, these interpersonal scripts become a pattern when the person internalizes the same. The internalizing of a sexual script shapes their identity and makes them who they are. They act as per the years of conditioning or their internal idea of who they are as a person sexually or who they want to be seen as.

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  • 0:04 What Is Sexual Script Theory?
  • 0:58 Script Types
  • 3:53 Script Development
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Script Types

Most sexual scripts start out as cultural scripts, and as they develop along, they change to interpersonal scripts. Interpersonal, as the name suggests, means between people.

Cultural Scripts

This is how it all starts. As a person grows up, whatever society tells them, they tend to accept it. Now, it will shape their sexual scripts as time progresses and increase their awareness of themselves. Scripts handed down from the society are called the cultural script. For example, a woman should get married at an earlier age is a cultural script; she should bear children at an early age is also a cultural script.

Interpersonal Scripts

Cultural scripts are passed on by society. For instance, all along with her childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood, a woman might think of herself as someone who knows what she wants. But the messages passed on from the society are something different. These cultural scripts recommend that she be coy and shy in bed. Or the fact, it's the man who needs to take the lead or initiative in bed. When other people get involved in the situation, and they start interacting with the owners of these cultural scripts, it transforms into an interpersonal script.

Intrapersonal Scripts

When the interpersonal script is carried on for a long time, the person internalizes it, which is when it becomes an intrapersonal script. Taking the previous example, the woman knows what she wants, but she plays it cool and shy when she interacts with the guy she meets. Over a period of time, this behavior gets cemented in her brain. This is it becomes intrapersonal because she has now internalized the exact behavior of being shy when in the company of her male partner.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the two sexual scripts?

  • A sexual script that has been passed down by society is a cultural script. For example, a cultural script is that women should get married at an earlier age and should bear children early on in their lives. Or that man should take the lead in bed.
  • When a person starts internalizing their head's behavior and thought patterns, it transforms into an intrapersonal sexual script.

What is the meaning of sexual scripts?

Sexual scripts are thoughts, patterns, or behavior that a person has about themselves in a romantic or sexual context. It is how they picture themselves or want to project themselves in front of others. Society, media, friends and family, authority figures, and institutions play a vital role in shaping these cultural scripts.

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