When we think of scripts, we tend to picture movies or plays. However, the concept of scripts permeates our everyday life. In 1973, Simon & Gagnon presented Sexual Script Theory, which suggests that our verbal and nonverbal sexual behaviors are shaped by society and follow consistent patterns. In other words, our sexual behaviors are scripted much like a movie.
Since the inception of Sexual Script Theory, psychologists have used this concept to analyze a variety of sexual scripts including gender, relationship status, and sexual orientation. Media is one lens that researchers use to examine sexual scripts because it is a good representation of the stimuli that society is exposed to. Several studies have looked at sexual scripts in television, but few studies have measured sexual scripts in film and even fewer studies have measured the change in sexual scripts over time.
This study examined sexual scripts for the initiation of sexual interactions in top grossing movies from 1940-today. I randomly selected one action film, one comedy, and one drama from among the five top-grossing films in each category within each 5-year time period from 1940 to the present (e.g. 1940-1944 and 1945-1949). This yielded a total of 48 films. Scenes in which a sexual interaction was initiated were coded for the characteristics of the actors (e.g. gender, age, race/ethnicity, social status), strategies of initiation (direct/indirect action, verbal/nonverbal, use of force or coercion, etc.), and the film’s evaluation of the actors and actions (positive/negative). I performed a statistical analysis and a qualitative analysis of the data to examine the sexual scripts that are prevalent in pop-cultural films across this time period.