What Is a Sexual Script and How Might Couples Benefit from Sexual Script Flexibility?

What Is a Sexual Script and How Might Couples Benefit from Sexual Script Flexibility?

Sexual script theory suggests that sexual behavior follows a script on a cultural, interpersonal, and individual level. In partnered sexual activities, a sexual script outlines which sexual behaviors are appropriate and/or expected in each situation, including the types of sexual activity, the person who performs them, and the order in which activities are performed.

While some individuals may have more rigid sexual scripts (i.e., fixed expectations of how sexual behavior should unfold in a given situation), other people have more flexible sexual scripts. In essence, sexual script flexibility refers to taking a flexible approach to sex, especially when facing sexual health difficulties.

Unfortunately, sexual health challenges are common, and an estimated one-third of adults have experienced one or more sexual problems in the previous 6 to 12 months. This may be particularly difficult for individuals who have rigid expectations of how sex should go if they cannot perform their regular sexual activities in the face of a sexual issue. Therefore, researchers hypothesize that greater sexual script flexibility could lead to greater sexual satisfaction in couples who are coping with sexual challenges.

Seventy-four mixed- and same-gender couples in long-term relationships participated in an online survey related to sexual script flexibility. The couples were surveyed at two points in time: baseline and four months later. They were asked about their demographics, sexual script flexibility, dyadic sexual desire, (i.e., sexual desire existing between the two partners), sexual satisfaction, and sexual distress.

The researchers used the 6-item SexFlex Scale to measure the participants’ sexual flexibility, which includes items for the respondents to rate such as, “I can easily change my approach to sex if necessary because of my sexual problem(s).” They also used the Sexual Desire Inventory–2 to measure the participants’ dyadic sexual desire, the Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction to measure sexual satisfaction, and the Sexual Distress Scale–Short Form to measure sexual distress.

As hypothesized, the researchers found that greater sexual script flexibility was associated with higher sexual satisfaction in the couples. Additionally, individuals who reported greater sexual script flexibility had greater dyadic sexual desire and lower sexual distress.

Interestingly, however, participants who had greater sexual script flexibility tended to have partners with lower dyadic sexual desire at baseline. These individuals then reported their own lower dyadic sexual desire 4 months later. The authors of this study speculated that being focused on working through sexual problems might unintentionally become a turn-off for partners by drawing more attention to the sexual problems and going against a more spontaneous sexual experience.

Still, overall, greater sexual script flexibility was associated with greater sexual satisfaction in most couples who were faced with sexual challenges. As such, couples may do well to consider how they could benefit from being more flexible in their sexual experiences, especially if one or more sexual activities are temporarily off the table.


  • Bouchard, K. N., Cormier, M., Huberman, J. S., & Rosen, N. O. (2023). Sexual script flexibility and sexual well-being in long-term couples: a dyadic longitudinal study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 20(7), 945-954. https://doi.org/10.1093/jsxmed/qdad067

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