From the moment we are born, we are taught specific social norms and expectations. The behaviors and beliefs that we learn to be appropriate depend on our gender. For example, girls are taught to be emotional and sensitive whereas boys are expected to be tough and emotionless. As we grow, we develop our own sexual scripts that create the foundation for our sexuality. In order to understand sexual scripts, you must first understand the idea of sexual norms and the idea that humans create meaning from experiences, which is called social constructionism.
Sexual norms are behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes around sexuality that are deemed appropriate in society. For example, in western cultures children are not seen as sexual beings, and therefore are expected to be a certain age before they have sex. Sexual norms can also can change over time. For example, birth control used to be illegal in the united states and now it is available for any person with a prescription. Furthermore, sexual norms differ from culture to culture. In some cultures, serial monogamy is the norm whereas others it is the norm to have multiple partners. Not all follow or believe in sexual norms, but it plays an important role in the development of our own beliefs.
Social constructionism is a theory that states human beings develop and create meaning of the social world based on experiences and shared assumptions about reality. Sexual scripts state that our beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes about sexuality are constructed by cultural, social, and personal levels of interaction and development.
It is important to identify your scripts in order to get an understanding of your sexuality. Being able to recognize these scripts can help increase confidence and self-awareness that benefit our interpersonal relationships. When you recognize your sexual scripts you can decide if they work, and if they don’t then you are in a better position to change it. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you assess your sexual scripts:
1. What messages do you remember receiving from your parents about sex and sexuality growing up?
The messages that we receive in the household shape our belief system. The messages you receive about sex can shape either a positive or negative view around sexuality. If sex is not acceptable in the home, then the foundation for one’s belief system is built around this idea. This has an effect on the way that people experience and react relationships and pleasure when they start to explore their sexuality. Therefore, a person who receives more positive messages around sex usually become more comfortable with their sexuality as they grow.
2. When did you start masturbating? How oOften do you masturbate?
3. What are your views on masturbation? Is it healthy? What is the impact of masturbation on your sexual health?
Questions 3 and 4 relate to the connection to one’s pleasure and body. Masturbation has a relationship to the experience of pleasure because one may either feel guilty or completely comfortable. It takes a good amount of time to become connected to your body and know what feels good and what does not feel good. Masturbating is one way a person can become sexually satisfied. If you are unaware what feels good for your body than your partner probably might be unsure as well. Some religions are completely against masturbation, including Roman Catholics Eastern Orthodox Christian, Muslims, and Hasidic Judaism, which creates a different sexual script than a person who believes that masturbation is healthy.
4. What do you remember being told what it meant to be a boy/man or girl/woman?
5. What does your gender mean to you?
Men and women often have different sexual scripts because you are treated a certain way in society based on your gender. Transgender people have an even more complex set of expectations because they do not fit into western cultural norms For example, in western cultures trans-men may be seen as non-masculine because they were not assigned male at birth. Some men have learned they should constantly crave sex and last long, which places pressure on them to perform during every sexual encounter. This can lead men to experience performance anxiety, which is the fear that they will be unable to pleasure their partner during sex. Women often experience a double edged sword when it comes to the expectations of their sexuality. They are often told that if they have too much sex they are a slut, but if they do not have enough than they are prude. This unrealistic expectation creates a complete disconnect between women and their own unique sexuality. Additionally, people might have been told that as they age they will experience a decrease in their sex drive after they reach menopause. However, aging is a natural process and does not necessarily mean the loss of your sex life. There are ways to overcome the sexual effects of aging if it creates stress in your life or relationship.
6. When did you lose your virginity? What do you remember about the experience?
7. What would be your ideal age / stage in life to begin having sex?
Questions 5 and 6 target your scripts around virginity and first sexual experiences. Our first sexual experiences can be powerful in shaping our understanding of sex. Our first sexual relationships has an affect on our expectations for future experiences. For example, a 2 year long loving relationship, where sex was planned and you felt ready, might have felt fun, freeing and exciting. This is may be very different than if a person had sex for the first time drunk at a party with an acquaintance and contracted an STI. Furthermore A person may have a different idea about the ideal age to have sex and the actual age they had sex, which may have created an negative internal view of themselves.
8. How satisfied are you in your romantic and sexual relationships?
9. How important is your pleasure in your sexual relationships?
10. How important is your partner’s pleasure in your sexual relationships?
Questions 8, 9, and 10 assess your pleasure scripts. Think about your perception of the importance of pleasure in your sexual relationships. Notice if there is a discrepancy in the answers of both these questions. If your pleasure is less important than your partner’s pleasure, what does that tell you about your relationship? Vice versa as well. For some, this discrepancy may play a big role in their sexual satisfaction. For others, procreation is the goal not pleasure. It could be useful to ask your partner these questions and discuss what their answers mean to the other.
11. How did you learn about sex? Did you learn about sex in school? On the Internet? Did you walk in on your parents having sex?
12. What kind of conversations do you remember having with your friends, family and professionals (religious leaders, doctors, therapists, teachers etc) around sex?
13. What types of feelings did you experience when you spoke with your friends, family members, professionals and / or Lover?
Questions 11-13 aim to compare the different messages about sexuality. Messages about sexuality are not just learned through our parents/ caregivers but also are learned through our environment. Family, Friends, school, media, professionals and lovers all influence the way we talk about sex. Most likely our beliefs will mirror those around ourselves. Receiving different messages from different groups of people can be confusing, just as receiving the same message from everyone in our world could be confusing if it doesn’t match our own internal experience. These messages may begin to conflict with each other, which can be difficult to manage. If you received similar messages from your friends and family than your scripts become reinforced. You may remember feelings ashamed of your sexual urges, or maybe relieved or elated. Shameful feelings could create a negative internal view of sexuality, which may be expressed through low sexual satisfaction, low sex drive, or inability to communicate in future relationships.
14. How happy are you with your body?
The way we view our body affects the way we carry ourselves through the many avenues of life. Body image usually plays a factor in sex and sexual relationships. Becoming comfortable in your skin often leads to become more comfortable with your sexuality and pleasure. When we have body image issues it may be difficult to touch yourself in a sensual way because there is already a disconnection. Additionally, when we worry about how our body looks during sex than it takes away from being present in the moment.
It is important to start to think about these questions so you can become better equipped to know your sexual scripts. There is not a right or wrong answer, but instead creates an understanding of your beliefs and views about sexuality. It is helpful to assess your scripts with yourself and/or with a partner to communicate similarities and differences. You can also assess for yourself how your sexual script has helped / hurt you achieve your goals. Assessing your sexual script lends itself to a different type of conversation than you might normally have had. Exploring sexuality from these additional angles can help improve your sex life or just to become more cognizant of these sexual scripts and how they guide the choices that you make.
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