Communicating Interest in Sex: Verbal and Nonverbal Initiation of Sexual Activity in Young Adults’ Romantic Dating Relationships
Relatively little is known about the day-to-day initiation of sexual activity between young adults in committed relationships, notably the ways in which young people communicate interest in sexual activity. Sexual script theory (Simon and Gagnon, Society 22:53–60, 1984) posits that men are traditionally the initiators and women the restrictors of sexual activity early in relationships. However, research suggests that these patterns may be different for individuals in committed relationships. The current study used a diary method to examine verbal/nonverbal and indirect/direct initiation strategies, responses to initiations, and patterns between initiations and responses. Participants included 31 men and 32 women between the ages of 18 and 24 years who were involved in committed heterosexual relationships. Men initiated more frequently than did women and most initiations were nonverbal initiation (91%) rather than verbal (65%). Responses to initiations tended to match the initiators’ choice of strategies, suggesting that synchrony plays an important role in initiation patterns. The findings have implications for understanding sexual communication as well as relationship and sexual satisfaction among young adults.
KeywordsSexual behavior Initiation Gender differences Young adults Diary
We gratefully acknowledge research support from NICHD R01-HD41721 (to Lucia F. O’Sullivan, Ph.D.). The authors thank the students for their participation in the project, Patricia Antoniello and the administration at Brooklyn College, Susie Hoffman, David Seal, Abigail Harrison, and Curtis Dolezal for help with designing the project, Giovanna Rodriguez and Megan McCrudden for help with recruitment and data collection, and Julie Sharp for assisting with data coding.
- Brousseau, M. M., Bergeron, S., Hébert, M., & McDuff, P. (2010). Sexual coercion victimization and perpetration in heterosexual couples: A dyadic investigation. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9617-0.
- Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B., & Woodall, W. G. (1989). Nonverbal communication: The unspoken dialogue. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Sexual and reproductive health of persons aged 10–24 years—United States, 2002–2007. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, 58 (No. SS-6).Google Scholar
- Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
- Gagnon, J. H. (1990). The explicit and implicit use of the scripting perspective in sex research. Annual Review of Sex Research, 1, 1–43.Google Scholar
- Gillmore, M. R., Gaylord, J., Hartway, J., Hoppe, M. J., Morrison, D. M., Leigh, B. C., & Rainey, D. T. (2001). Daily diary collection of sexual and other health-related behaviors. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 35–42.Google Scholar
- Gossman, I., Julien, D., Mathieu, M., & Chartrand, E. (2003). Determinants of sex initiation frequencies and sexual satisfaction in long-term couples’ relationships. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 12, 169–181.Google Scholar
- Humphreys, T., & Newby, J. (2007). Initiating new sexual behaviors in heterosexual relationships. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 16, 77–88.Google Scholar
- Michael, R. T., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O., & Kolata, G. (1995). Sex in America: A definitive survey. New York: Warner Books.Google Scholar
- Simon, W., & Gagnon, J. (1987). A sexual scripts approach. In J. Geer & W. H. Donohue (Eds.), Theories of human sexuality (pp. 363–383). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar