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How sexual scripts shape our expectations of hookups

By Jilly Mcbane and Sam Judd-Kim

When you’re hooking up with someone, you might feel like there are certain things you’re supposed to do during that encounter—as well as things you’re not supposed to do after. But chances are, you’re not thinking about what prompts you to engage in that behavior or act the way you do. Scripts, in general, allow us to make assumptions about what the people around us may want and then to act accordingly.

One script many of us are familiar with is when we go to the grocery store. We get a cart, grab the food we need, bring it to a cashier who rings us up and then we pay and leave. Another one: As college students, when we’re in our classes we expect our professors to stand at the front and lecture or discuss the course material with us. At the same time, they have expectations of us to listen and participate. Although we may not realize it, there are scripts when it comes to sex and hookups, too.

Sexual scripts are all about the expected behaviors or series of events that are supposed to happen in a sexual context. They get created and reinforced over time, in social circles where friends talk and share their experiences, as well as with what we see on TV or in movies, messages get in music lyrics or things we hear about in the news. They also have a whole lot more to do with our gender and sexual identities than we like to admit. Because societal scripts assume heterosexuality a lot of the time, scripts in queer communities can be nuanced and obscured, but they are very much existent and important to learn from.

When hookups are initiated, cisgender/heterosexual scripts make men out to be always ready to engage in sex and women the ones to make the final decision about whether or not sex will actually happen. And while it’s not exactly the same in queer relationships, sometimes queer individuals are led to emulate traditional masculine and feminine roles during sex, such as acting more confident and assertive or more coy and passive, respectively.

Another way this might look is the older, more experienced partner pursuing the hookup, while the younger partner is put in the position of communicating how far they’re comfortable going. The good thing about all this is when queer people are navigating sex, it can lead to better communication and over time, the development of healthier sexual scripts. But even with this improved communication, it’s hard to see an end to people wanting to please their partner. In almost all sexual scenarios, there is this sort of interactional smoothing: Nobody wants to disappoint or embarrass the person they’re with, which can lead to keeping the hookup or sex going in order to avoid the perceived effort and awkwardness it would require to stop the interaction.

It is no surprise that over-relying on scripts can lead us to make harmful assumptions. When sex is seen as definite and we have certain expectations before, during and after sex, ongoing consent can easily be overlooked. We have been thinking about how when you’re hooking up with someone, you’re with a real person with real emotions. Rather than assuming you know their intentions, ask them what they want to do. And ask yourself, too. What would a “good” and respectful hookup look like for you? What do you want out of this? Trust your feelings and intuition. None of us are playing a part in a movie or reenacting another friend’s experience, so why do we keep acting like it?

Jilly Mcbane (she/her/hers) is pursuing a degree in psychology and is a member of Greek Life at the University of Utah. She is a student staff member of the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research & Education.




Sam Judd-Kim (he/they) is in his fourth year studying philosophy and music at the University of Utah. He is a student staff member of the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research & Education.