Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 961–969 | Cite as

Communicating Interest in Sex: Verbal and Nonverbal Initiation of Sexual Activity in Young Adults’ Romantic Dating Relationships

Original Paper

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Sexual behavior Initiation Gender differences Young adults Diary 

References

  1. Anderson, P. B., & Aymami, R. (1993). Reports of female initiation of sexual contact: Male and female differences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 335–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 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.
  4. Brown, B. V. (2008). A federal monitoring system for early adult health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 43, 277–284.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B., & Woodall, W. G. (1989). Nonverbal communication: The unspoken dialogue. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  6. Byers, E. S., & Heinlein, L. (1989). Predicting initiations and refusals of sexual activities in married and cohabitating heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 26, 210–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 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
  8. Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  9. Dworkin, S. L., & O’Sullivan, L. (2005). Actual versus desired initiation patterns among a sample of college men: Tapping disjunctures within traditional male sexual scripts. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 150–158.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 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
  11. Gilbert, L. A., Walker, S. J., McKinney, S., & Snell, J. L. (1999). Challenging discourse themes reproducing gender in heterosexual dating: An analog study. Sex Roles, 41, 753–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. Grauerholz, E., & Serpe, R. T. (1985). Initiation and response: The dynamics of sexual desire. Sex Roles, 12, 1041–1059.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Greer, A. E., & Buss, D. M. (1994). Tactics for promoting sexual encounters. Journal of Sex Research, 31, 185–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harvey, S. M., Bird, S. T., Henderson, J. T., Beckman, L. J., & Huszti, H. C. (2004). He said, she said: Concordance between sexual partners. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 31, 185–191.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hickman, S. E., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (1999). “By the semi-mystical appearance of a condom”: How young women and men communicate sexual consent in heterosexual situations. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 258–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hoppe, M. J., Morrison, D. M., Gillmore, M. R., Beadnell, B., Higa, D. H., & Leigh, B. C. (2008). Agreement of daily diary and retrospective measures of condom use. AIDS and Behavior, 12, 113–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Humphreys, T., & Newby, J. (2007). Initiating new sexual behaviors in heterosexual relationships. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 16, 77–88.Google Scholar
  20. Kim, J. L., Sorsoli, L., Collins, K., Zylbergold, B. A., Schooler, D., & Tolam, D. L. (2007). From sex to sexuality: Exposing the heterosexual script on primetime network television. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 145–157.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McAuliffe, T. L., DiFranceisco, W., & Reed, B. R. (2007). Effects of question format and collection mode on the accuracy of retrospective surveys of health risk behavior: A comparison with daily sexual activity diaries. Health Psychology, 26, 60–67.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McCormick, N. B. (1979). Come-ons and put-offs: Unmarried students’ strategies for having and avoiding intercourse. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 4, 194–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Michael, R. T., Gagnon, J. H., Laumann, E. O., & Kolata, G. (1995). Sex in America: A definitive survey. New York: Warner Books.Google Scholar
  24. Mitchell, K., & Wellings, K. (1998). First sexual intercourse: Anticipation and communication. Interviews with young people. Journal of Adolescence, 21, 717–726.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Morgan, E. M., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2007). Wanting sex and wanting to wait: Young adults’ accounts of sexual messages from first significant dating partners. Feminism & Psychology, 17, 515–541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Muehlenhard, C. L., & Hollabaugh, L. C. (1988). Do women sometimes say no when they mean yes? The prevalence and correlates of women’s token resistance to sex. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 872–879.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. O’Sullivan, L. F. (2005). Sexual coercion in dating relationships: Conceptual and methodological issues. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 20, 3–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. O’Sullivan, L. F., & Allgeier, E. R. (1998). Feigning sexual desire: Consenting to unwanted sexual activity in heterosexual dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 234–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. O’Sullivan, L. F., & Byers, E. S. (1992). College students’ incorporation of initiator and restrictor roles in sexual dating interactions. Journal of Sex Research, 29, 435–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ortiz-Torres, B., Williams, S. P., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (2003). Urban women’s gender scripts: Implications for HIV. Culture, Health, & Sexuality, 5, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Park, M. J., Mulye, T. P., Adams, S. H., Brindis, C. D., & Irwin, C. E. (2006). The health status of young adults in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 305–317.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Perper, T., & Weis, D. L. (1987). Proceptive and rejective strategies of U.S. and Canadian college women. Journal of Sex Research, 23, 455–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Seal, D. W., Smith, M., Coley, B., Perry, J., & Gamez, M. (2008). Urban heterosexual couples’ sexual scripts for three shared sexual experiences. Sex Roles, 58, 626–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Simon, W., & Gagnon, J. (1984). Sexual scripts. Society, 22, 53–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 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
  36. Simon, W., & Gagnon, J. H. (2003). Sexual scripts: Origins, influences, and changes. Qualitative Sociology, 26, 491–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Van Swol, L. M. (2003). The effects of nonverbal mirroring on perceived persuasiveness, agreement with an imitator, and reciprocity in a group discussion. Communication Research, 30, 461–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Vannier, S. A., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2009). Sex without desire: Characteristics of occasions of sexual compliance in young adults’ committed relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

Personalised recommendations