In the previous article, we go over the shift from Puritan views to Victorian-era views of men and women to the current time. Sexual scripts continue to base on beliefs that for men/male-identified individual sex is for orgasm and physical pleasure; and for women/female-identified individual sex is for love and the pleasure that comes with emotional intimacy.


The Era of Love (aka The Sexual Revolution)

The 1960s were a tumultuous time in the US – the baby boomer’s desire to find their way led to the growth of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Movement, the Gay Liberation movement, and the Sexual Revolution. These movements were the impetus for ideological and technological breakthroughs.

Ideological shifts: During women’s sexual autonomy (the right to determine when, with whom, and under what circumstances they engage in sexual activity; to only engage in sexual activity to which they consent) was a political goal. As such, sexual activity became a political behavior. Women were taking charge of their bodies and their sex lives. The Stonewall Riots (1969) began when patrons of the Stonewall Bar resisted harassment by the police. At the time the LGBTQ community had no rights; in fact at that time homosexuality was considered a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM). These riots sparked the gay rights movement and eventual Pride celebrations. In 1973 homosexuality was removed from the DSM.

Technological Breakthroughs: A contributing factor to the sexual revolution was birth control. The pill became available, first to married couples and then in 1972 to single women. The following year, Roe vs Wade decriminalized abortion, making 1st and 2nd-trimester abortions legal (again). Sexual freedom became the right to have sex or not; however, one liked, and for any reason, without social consequences.

Contemporary Sexuality and the Coital Imperative:

These changes brought us to the contemporary sexuality we know today. The primary assumption of most Americans is that everyone they meet is heterosexual and committed to monogamy. Our institutions are organized around these assumptions. In a heteronormative society, we “do sexuality” by the rules – these rules tell us whom we should be attracted to, what is attractive, how to be sexual, and with whom to be sexual. They also tell us what we should and shouldn’t do with each other. The coital imperative is the notion that any sexual activity must include penile-vaginal intercourse constraining options and prioritizing orgasms.

Object or Subject?

American culture teaches that to be a sex object is to be valuable – with severe consequences for women – as is discussed below TED Talk.

The male gaze

Media privileges male desire and assumes a heterosexual male gaze. The imagery is designed to appeal to a hypothetical heterosexual man – the audience (viewers) are then put into the perspective of a man.

Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person solely as an object of sexual desire. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity. This in turn makes hurting a person (one who has become an object) easier.

Sexual violence

Sexual assault is an umbrella term that is often used to encompass different types of criminal sexual violence, including rape. Following the sexual script that includes the “push and resist dynamic” for most people will not set up a sexual assault situation; however, there are people who move beyond the script – research shows that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual violence.

Rape Culture describes an environment in which ideas, interactions, and institutions justify, naturalize, and even glorify sexual pressure, coercion, and violence. Rape culture views men as naturally aggressive and women as inherently vulnerable to men. The “push and resist” dynamic also plays a part here, as the idea of “she’s just playing hard to get” can be encouraged by rape culture and then normalized.

Two video clips below are about the sexual assault and rape culture:

More than our parts – living in a rape culture

And from the male perspective: Charlie Coleman talks about Rape Culture

Wade and Ferree (author of Gender) argue that the historical pressure to say no to sex has been replaced by a new pressure to say yes. Do you think this is true?

Additional resources

10 Sexualities To Know About

Bill Nye on Sexuality and Gender

Sexuality and Gender – straight & narrow or round & bouncy? TED Talk – Danielle McClelland

Stephen Fry meets an ex-gay therapist

Good luck!

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