Reformulating sexual script theory: developing a discursive psychology of sexual negotiation

Hannah Frith, Celia Kitzinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sexual script theorists present sexual encounters as learned interactions that follow predictable sequences or ‘scripts’. Feminist research on heterosexual negotiation uses self-report data to argue that these scripts are gendered such that it is difficult for women to refuse unwanted sex. In this paper, we suggest that, notwith-standing claims made for script theory as a form of social constructionism, it incorporates individualistic and cognitive assumptions that ignore the social context in which self-report data are produced. Illustrating our argument with our own data from young women in focus group discussions talking about refusing unwanted sex, we provide an alternative theoretical perspective on this kind of self-report data, drawn from Edwards’ (1995, 1997) concept of ‘script formulations’. In particular, we show how the ‘scripted’ quality of sexual interaction is actively produced as part of speakers’ orientation to issues of accountability. We describe five devices used to construct sexual encounters as scripted: (i) references to predictable stages; (ii) references to common knowledge; (iii) the production of consensus through seamless turn-taking and collaborative talk; (iv) the use of hypothetical and general instances; (v) active voicing. Through the use of script formulations, young women present the difficulty of saying no to unwanted sex as normatively difficult—as a commonplace, ordinary problem—such that they cannot be held accountable for their own specific difficulties, nor can negative dispositional attributes be made on that basis. Finally , we consider the differing implications of ‘script’ and ‘script formulation’ theories in working with young women to prevent unwanted sex.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-232
Number of pages24
JournalTheory and Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2001

Bibliographical note

Deposit=final, Romeo yellow,, TI, 02/05/12


  • discursive psychology
  • sexual negotiation
  • sexual scripts


Dive into the research topics of 'Reformulating sexual script theory: developing a discursive psychology of sexual negotiation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this