Sexual scripts are schemas that guide individuals’ interpretations of, and behaviors in, sexual situations. They operate at both the institutional and individual level. Norms regarding sexuality are internalized by indi­viduals within a culture and influence their beliefs about appropriate thoughts and actions. Before we discuss these sexual scripts, it may be helpful to first examine the ways in which gender is constructed in our culture.

Gender is created through a complex developmental process. As chil­dren develop, they internalize messages about their gender identity and appropriate gender roles through interactions with family, friends, teachers, and others around them. They also are exposed to messages about gender in schools, churches, books, movies, and other cultural products. As young girls develop, they may learn the importance of pleasing others, of yeilding to others’ needs, even at the expense of their own needs and wishes. Young women also may learn to defer to men and to question their own judgment (Warshaw & Parrot, 1991). Young boys, however, may learn that they are entitled to have their needs met. In addition, they may learn that it is acceptable to use whatever means are necessary to win in a conflict, even aggression.

Sexual scripts define young men as dominant sexually (Jackson, 1978) and women as passive sexually. Men are prescribed to be seducers, whereas women are to repond with at least token resistance lest they appear loose. Men may be taught that if they honor women’s hesitance and resistance, they will miss many sexual opportunities (Clark & Lewis, 1977). Men also may be taught to seek out sexual opportunities and, for young men who have internalized these masculine ideals, to engage in sexual intercourse as frequently as possible (Box, 1983). Malamuth and his colleagues (Mala­muth et al., 1995; Malamuth, Sockloskie, Koss, & Tanaka, 1991) have found that an orientation toward promiscuous-impersonal sex is predictive of men who report engaging in sexually aggressive behavior. These messages also can lead to beliefs in men’s sexual entitlement and women’s victimi­zation (Rapaport & Burkhart, 1984; Warshaw & Parrot, 1991). Adherence to these sexual scripts may result in a young man’s persistence in engaging in sexual intercourse despite his partner’s expression of nonconsent (i. e., rape). These scripts may result in a tragic combination—a woman who sincerely does not want to engage in sexual intercourse and a man who believes sincerely that a woman is only teasing even if she does protest. Indeed, some men believe women mean yes when they say no (Muehlen – hard, 1988). Thus, continued sexual advances in the presence of noncon­sent are justified as seduction; sexual assault becomes an extension of tra­ditional sex role socialization patterns (Medea & Thompson, 1974).

Sexual scripts create a prototype of the consenting woman. The pro­totype consists of a cluster of attributes and behaviors indicative of will­ingness to engage in sexual intercourse. It is assumed that (a) the presence of this cluster is tantamount to consent; and (b) once this cluster is present, the woman has relinquished her right to say no. Consequently, people attend to, and find credible, certain behaviors (i. e., dress, willingness to kiss and pet, prior sexual history, etc.) while ignoring other behaviors (i. e., a woman’s verbal and/or physical resistance). These sexual scripts allow men to justify their sexually aggressive behavior and define it as acceptable. They may view their coercive strategies as legitimate and feel less respon­sible for or deny the occurrence of a sexual assault (Jackson, 1978; Scully, 1990). The man may justify his actions by stating that “no harm was done; it was just sex,” “she wanted it,” or “she deserved it” (Burt, 1991). Only when the indicators of nonconsent are so extreme as to violate the pro­totype is the woman’s resistance accepted as genuine rather than token and the man judged guilty of rape (Weis & Borges, 1973). Only then is the woman believed not to have consented to sexual intercourse and is ab­solved of responsibility for her victimization. Therefore, traditional views render nonconsent highly questionable. Without evidence of nonconsent, there can be no crime, and the problem of acquaintance rape becomes trivialized—it is really just sex (Jackson, 1978). The woman’s experience is unacknowledged; her self-determination is denied (Griffin, 1971); her sexual expression is restricted. This script also may be internalized by women who then may fail to label an experience as rape because these traditional rape scripts do not acknowledge rape experiences between ac­quaintances (Kahn, Mathie, & Torgler, 1994; Kahn, chapter 15, this vol­ume).