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Gender Scripts

The sexual scripts males and females follow on first dates

Courtesy of Snapwire
Source: Courtesy of Snapwire

In a previous post, I discussed research that I had conducted on first dates, which highlighted gender differences when it comes to perceptions of how successful a date was. Being that gender differences are still so prevalent in early dating, this topic warrants further discussion.

Gender Scripts

A great deal of the gender differences that are observed during first dates are a result of sexual scripts. Gender scripts give people control over a situation, as a result of enabling them to fall into patterned responses (Rose & Frieze, 1993). Many traditional rules of courtship put men in the seat of authority (Guarerholz & Serpe, 1985, as cited in Rose & Frieze, 1993). For example, men tend to enact proactive power, in which they initiate sexual activity, whereas women use reactive power, which involves either accepting or rejecting the initiators' attempts (Guarerholz & Serpe, 1985, as cited in Rose & Frieze, 1993).

Rose and Frieze (1993) conducted a study with a largely Caucasian sample of 74 women and 61 men from a Midwestern public university to examine gender differences during first dates. Participants were told to list 20 action or events that would occur during a first date (with a hypothetical person of the same sex), as well as to describe their most recent first date.

Rose and Frieze (1993) noted the strong occurrence of gender typing in first-date scenarios. Women’s scripts were much more reactive (i.e., evaluate the date), and men’s were much more proactive (i.e., initiate sexual activity, make out). Specifically, men were the ones who planned the date, controlled the public domain (i.e., opening doors), and initiated sexual contact. Females were much more concerned with the private domain (i.e., her appearance). While this study was from the 1990s, it demonstrates that people have a clear picture of how a date unfolds and what behaviors should occur.

More recent research has sought to determine how dating scripts influence individuals’ behavior when entering into a relationship. In a study conducted by McCarty and Kelly (2015), researchers examined a sample of 176 undergraduates from the Midwest who read gender stereotypic, gender counter-stereotypic, or egalitarian vignettes about a hypothetical couple. The researchers predicted that participants would rate targets in gender stereotypic dates as more appropriate, warm, and competent than those in gender counter-stereotypic dates.

The behaviors of the targets were manipulated in the vignettes. In the gender stereotypic condition, the male engaged in seven chivalrous behaviors, such as driving to pick the date up, paying the bill, etc. In the gender counter-stereotypic condition, the woman engaged in these chivalrous behaviors (except pulling out the chair and offering a jacket, so as not to arouse suspicion of the manipulation).

Rawpixel com/Shutterstock
Source: Rawpixel com/Shutterstock

The results supported the researchers’ hypotheses and demonstrated that gender stereotypic dates were rated more positively than counter-stereotypic encounters. The man in egalitarian and gender counter-stereotypic dating scenarios was rated negatively in terms of warmth, competence, and appropriateness, but was rated as more competent, warm, and appropriate than the woman in the gender stereotypic condition. Therefore, it was shown that men are supposed to play a specific role in a date, and when the script is violated, the perceptions of them are not as favorable.


The research presented here demonstrates that when it comes to dating in heterosexual relationships, we still rely on scripts that largely differ for males and females. These scripts should continue to be explored, especially with regard to how our perceptions of what we should do on a date relate to or differ from our actual behavior on a date.


McCarty, M. K., & Kelly, J. R. (2015). Perceptions of dating behavior: The role of ambivalent sexism. Sex Roles, 72(5-6), 237-251.

Rose, S., & Frieze, I. H. (1993). Young singles' contemporary dating scripts. Sex Roles, 28(9), 499-509.